A 160 km round trip through the Welwitschia plains offers the visitor a unique opportunity to experience the Namib desert as a half-day trip from Swakopmund. The Welwetschia Drive falls within the Namib-Naukluft Park.
While the Namib desert may look dry and barren at first glance, a more careful look will reveal the presence of life forms. The ground and stones are covered in a great variety of lichens which depend on the mist that moves in from the Atlantic at night. One variety of lichens look like black fragments of dead plants. They lie loose on the surface and tend to collect in furrows. We tried the experiment of pouring a few drops of water on some and watch them unfold and turn green within seconds. Because of the Namib's exceptional climate with its misty nights, the lichens are more extensive than anywhere else in the world. One can easily mistake lichens for soil owing to their color. Those with orange or grey-green color are easier to recognize. These lichens fix and stabilize the soil.
Video: Lichens unfolding
We encountered two kinds of drought-resistant shrub - the Dollar Bush, so-called because of its coin-like round leaves and the Ink Bush with its fine leaves and spindly appearance. Both of these are well adapted to an environment that receives less than 20mm of rain a year, mostly in single downpours. Often there is no rainfall for several years.
The valleys of the Swakop River form a spectacular moonscape. It came into existence as the river cut through the softer surface deposits. These soft materials were laid down some 460 million years ago when the area's climate was more wet. The area has a relatively more recent human history. South African troops camped here for a few days during the First World War.
The black ridge of dolerite rock that runs along the spine of the surrounding hills make a striking appearance. The Dolerite is a hard rock that weathers more slowly than the surrounding rock. Molten lava had penetrated into a crack in the older grey granitic rock and formed these igneous rocks.
Video: Moonscape (2)
Video: Moonscape (3)
The landscape changes after descending into the Swakop River valley. Here one sees lush vegetation with camel thorn, the anaboom and the tamarisk.
And finally, the star of the show, the Welwitschia Mirabilis, which is unique to the Namib. It is a coniferous dwarf tree that is related to the pine tree. It looks like a plant with many leaves intertwined in a radial pattern, but it only had two leaves that continue to grow throughout its lifespan. As time passes, these are torn into thinner shreads making it appear like many intertwined leaves. The plants are unisexual with male and female plants. These are well marked along the trail with the universal symbols for male and female. We could not make any distinction between the two based on a cursory visual inspection. At the very end of the trail is a 1500 year old specimen.
One needs a permit from the Ministry of Finance, Republic of Namibia to visit the Welwitschia Trail. We did not have to show our permit to anyone as we had the entire site to ourselves.
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Of all the strange things you have done in your travels, surely pouring water on a lichen must rank near the very top !!!
Lots of parallels with the stans - huge area, not many people, desert and strange experiences ... From , on Mar 23, 2013 at 05:18AM