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Namibia's Dramatic Geology

April 17, 2016

 

Perhaps, as French novelist Marcel Proust said, we should consider that real voyages of discovery are not in seeking new horizons, but in having new eyes. 

 

Riding a horse across a desert lends itself to experiencing those ‘new eyes’ in a landscape stripped of all superfluous distractions.  Unexpectedly well preserved by aridity, these landscapes, no longer actively volcanic, never the less reflect a very violent past.

 

 

 

 

It was the rifting of continents that resulted in two cataclysmic rock-forming events which shaped much of the dramatic geology of Namibia’s ancient landscapes.  

About 600 million years ago with the breakup of Rodinia (Russian for ‘the motherland’), mountains higher than the Alps were uplifted.  Worn down over time by wind, rain, bacterial action and glaciation, parts of the ancient upliftment are still visible.  

 

 

 

One spectacular example is the edge of the escarpment where we drop down into the desert for the Namib Desert Safari (image top of article)

 

 

Further along the same ride, the core of the ancient Rodinia collision is still visible in the black ridges in the Swakop River (image right). 

 

These ridges are intruded basalt which is resistant to erosion unlike the softer materials they are embedded in – granite and sometimes even marble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second rock-forming phase occurred 300 million years later when Africa broke free of South America amidst violent volcanic eruptions.  Time and erosion have reduced the huge mountains from their former greatness, exposing some of the finest fold structures to be seen anywhere in the world.  

 

 On our Damara Elephant Safari we ride past the wonderful fluidity of the Ugab Folds. (image below)

 

 

Formed when limestone was squeezed like toothpaste between older, harder structures leaving the fabulous grey-blue colour contrasts in the folds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also on the Damara Elephant Safari we encounter those curious formations commonly called ‘Clay Castles’ or 'Dragon's Heads'.  (Image right)

 

 

Although only silt (clay), these sedimentary deposits are normally soft and friable and so easily eroded. 

 

Because they occur in very arid areas where there is little erosion however, they are magically well preserved. 

 

 

 

 

These dramatic landscapes, like the pages in an ancient book, tell of a time when our earth was quite different to what it is now.  To silently contemplate this majesty, not needing to know why, when or where, is to cultivate ‘new eyes’ for seeing another world in this quiet desert 

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