The sky went from pitch black, dotted with a Milky Way of stars stretching from one corner to the other in an arc, to a royal blue. The sun was rising faster than my feet could carry me, and I worried that the peak would be unreachable in time.
There was a steady stream of people behind me, and I couldn’t simply stop. It was too narrow for anyone to pass, and we were on unsteady sand, after all. An inner voice urged me to keep going, just as it had when I climbed Rinjani, despite that for every two steps forward I was sliding one back.
I pulled my socks off and continued barefoot in the incredibly soft sand, and suddenly invigorated by the foot massage, doubled my speed. Huffing and puffing and reaching the peak of Dune 45 in the Namib Desert with time to spare, I plunked myself down and stared in awe as the sun began to peek over the hills. I’d been the second person to reach the peak and got prime positioning, just in the nick of time.
The first time I saw this place in photos I vowed that I would see it with my own two eyes one day. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s something magical about the peace and barrenness of a desert.
The sun finally rose completely and as I surveyed the beauty in every direction, my first time in a sandy desert, I felt exuberant at the sight unfolding before me.
The colors of the dunes varied quite a bit depending on the angle of the sun and the direction the dune was facing. The orange became more intense as the sun rose higher, reflecting on the desert as it morphed from one scheme of colors to another.
This is, without a doubt, a bucket list item. If you think you don’t love deserts, try this one on for size.
I watched as the crowd thinned after the sun had fully risen.
While they headed back down, I turned in the other direction, heading for a vista I could enjoy solo.
It didn’t take long to reach the dunes just behind Dune 45, spotted with hoofed kudu footprints and still slightly shaded. I stepped down a bit and with that, the last person disappeared and the 360-degree view was mine.
Be sure to do that if you find yourself in the Namib Desert. It was a humbling experience being surrounded by the sandy giants.
No visit to Sossusvlei, Namibia, would be complete without checking out the famous acacia trees of Deadvlei (English “dead” plus Afrikaans “vlei” meaning “marsh” combining to mean ‘dead marsh’), so after descending Dune 45, it was time to board jeeps and head to another dune.
The jeep driver laughed, a silver star implanted in one of his front teeth (a common fashion statement there), as he described climbing the next dune. Its name is “Big Daddy” as it reaches 350 meters high.
You have a choice to avoid climbing this dune and just walk along the dried salt pan to the acacia trees, but I honestly found it easier than Dune 45. It wasn’t nearly as steep, and lots of people before me had packed down the sand and left nice footprints for me to step in.
Besides, you get a great view:
From the top, simply step-slide (barefoot is best) down the side of the dune to reach the “dead marsh.”
The sand feels great on the feet!
These famous trees had the chance to grow when the nearby Tsauchab River flooded, creating shallow pools. As the climate changed, drought hit the area and the sand dunes moved in, thereby cutting off any water supply.
The remaining trees died, but due to the dryness, their scorched black skeletons still stand after 900 years.
I loved the way the branches eerily reach towards the sun.
Despite the fact that these trees are no longer living, they still seem to have a personality, and an energy, to them.
By noon, I made my escape as the desert heated up, and the ground became too hot to walk on. It was only my third day in Namibia, but already a sign of great things to come.
Have you been here? Would you like to go? Are you also thinking to yourself, “Hey, the snapseed trees!” (’cause I was).
Do It Yourself:
- Namibia is for camping. Those warm nights are meant to be enjoyed outside underneath the dazzling star display
- Sesriem Rest Camp is close to the dunes and has a great pool and beautiful sunset backdrop
- Self driving is possible with a 4×4 to Dune 45 and is easily accessible from the road
- I personally took a Safari tour with Acacia Africa
- Hiking shoes or even running shoes do you a disservice on the sandy dunes. The sand is so fine that it sneaks into the shoes and weighs you down. The sand isn’t hot enough yet in the mornings to burn your feet, so try just wearing socks, or even going barefoot
- Step into footsteps left by someone else. They’ve already packed down the sand slightly with their weight, which makes it a better foothold and sliding backwards less likely
- Bring a hat or something to shield your face – that sun is strong!
- The sunrise is a somewhat busy time to visit the dunes, but most people only stay for a few minutes then start to head back to their cars. Give it a bit more time and travel farther down the dune and you can get a lot of beautiful views to yourself