Sossusvlei, located in the Namib desert, one of the oldest deserts in the world, is one of Namibia’s most spectacular regions and is perhaps one of, if not the most photographed places in Namibia. Sossus vlei, is a small salt pan, surrounded by sand dunes and the pan itself, together with the surrounding areas is commonly called Sossusvlei. It is Namibia’s scenic highlight situated 65km from Sesriem in the Namib Naukluft Park.
The dunes in Sossusvlei form part of the Namib Sand Sea which was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2013. The sand was transported by the Orange River in Lesotho and South Africa during flash floods millions of years ago, and was deposited at the mouth of the Orange River south of the Namib Desert. The cold Benguella currents of the Atlantic Ocean then moved the sand northwards along the shoreline. Then the tides brought the sand onto the shore and the wind blew it inland some 60, 000 million years ago. The spectacular red color of the dunes these days, is the result of the high iron content in the sand that changes the color through an iron oxidation process over years.
The name Sossus literally means ‘a place where water collects’ and vlei is an Afrikaans word for ‘pan’. Although this only happens once in every five years after good rains, the vlei or pan when filled with water by the ancient Tsauchab River, turns into spectacular lake flanked by ruddy and sparkling red dunes around it. The pan retains water for a long time due to the high clay content and this attracts a large number of tourists as it is such an unusual sight. Nearby Sossus Vlei is Dead Vlei which means ‘dead marsh’. Surrounded by some of the world’s highest dunes, some of which reach over 400m in height, this area is a photographer’s paradise. Once, like Sossus Vlei, the Tsauchab River, that once nourished the trees in Dead Vlei some 9000 years ago, was cut off by the sand dunes as the climate changed. Dead Vlei soon became dry and as a result the acacia trees died. The trees now stand in Dead Vlei simply scorched black in the sun, desiccated rather than petrified. These dead trees are said to be more than a 1000 years old and they form a barren forest which make for stunning photography.