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Crazy Dead Trees | Dead Vlei Namibia

June 19th, 2009 2 comments

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If Salavador Dali had stumbled upon this place, he might have found fodder for another interpretation of his masterpiece “The Persistence of Memory”. Dead Vlei is a flat clay pan embraced on all sides by large red sand dunes. It is one of the landmark features of the Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft park of southern Namibia. Many centuries ago, the Tsauchab river flooded this area, pushing deep into the dunes during a heavy rain year. The remaining water collected in the pan, and provided nourishment for numerous Camel Thorn trees. As the climate changed, and drought fell upon the area, the dunes moved in and isolated the pan from the river. The trees eventually died, and as a result of the extremely arid climate, have not yet fully decomposed. Instead they have assumed a rich, dark, and almost black patina resulting from the intense heat of the sun. The estimated age of these trees is almost 1000 years old.

A few remaining plants are able to eek out a living in this harsh climate. Small bushes grow on the surrounding dunes, creating a unique backdrop for this setting and challenging the mind to comprehend the juxtaposition of colors, textures and shapes. I could spend a week photographing all the nuances of this single place. It is truly one of the most unusual places I have ever visited.

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As this pan is completely surrounded by dunes, the early morning light takes a bit of time to reach the floor of the pan. All of the above shots were taken mid morning, after the sun had risen high in the sky. The perspective is what really makes this place unique, and although some of the trees are very small, others are quite big.

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Small tree or giant guy?

Often the only way to get a good composition is to lay down flat on the pan. Thankfully the pan is quite firm, and the dirt closely matched the color of my pants!

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The following morning, we got out early to visit Dead Vlei one more time to reach the pan before the sun had completely illuminated the trees.

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The folowing day, we boarded a small Cessna 210 for the 4 hour flight to the north. As we flew up the valley, we flew directly over the Dead Vlei. When viewed from the air, the scale of this place can be truly appreciated. Note the arrow which points to the end of the pan where all of these shots were taken.

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Dead Vlei from the air


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