One of the most photographed places in sub-Saharan Africa, the Sossusvlei region in Namibia is famous for its high swooping red sand dunes ringing white salt and clay pans.
Located in the largest conservation area in Africa, the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the dunes range in color from deep orange to bright pink. Moreover, the dunes are some of the largest in the world, occasionally exceeding 1,000 feet. The fascinating colors of the dunes are due to oxidation of the sand’s high iron content. The older dunes are more intensely red, and some of the more stable dunes are partially covered with vegetation. Underground and ephemeral rivers occasionally flood the pans, creating marshes known as vlei in the Afrikaans language. The other key source of water for Sossusvlei is the dense ocean fogs created when the dry desert air forces the humid ocean air downward.
The region has a number of plants and animals adapted for this unique climate, ranging from lizards to rodents to jackals to ostriches. With temperatures reaching up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit during the heat of the day only to plummet to below freezing at night, it is surprising how many animals have evolved to these harsh desert conditions. Beneath the red sands live many kinds of spiders, beetles, snakes, and geckos. In fact, the Namib desert beetle has adapted to extract water from the morning fogs via the bumps on its back.