The journey into the Namib and the dunes begins well before dawn.
I travelled into the Namib Desert in Sossusvlei some months ago in the winter, following the dusty corrugated road from Sesriem into the starry darkness of a winter sky, the dawn not even a hint away.
After the Nikons, Ektachrome and Fuji and water, the only other necessities were sunglasses and lip ice and a couple of mugs of steaming black coffee with sugar. We were hunting the great waves of the Namib at sunrise, but not yet.
It is always strange to travel that road at night, imagining the grand sand pyramids out there in the quiet dark. As we find our way along the 60 km's into the 'Vlei' the skies with that hoard of errant suns caught in an inky deep, lightens and the shadows of the dunes form our horizon. The skies take on the blue, the sombre salmon dunes await the call of the Solar battalions.
We are enthralled by the eerie silence and the majesty of the great sand waves as they break upon the boulder plain of an ancient alluvial fan; I feel like a mote of mica in the eye of God!
A mighty river flowed here before even the inkling of men.
Now the parched vlei dust and the dunes sing the march of many aeons. The rounded dolomite rocks that surface in the plain, are sculpted like brazil nuts, and polished and faceted by the prevailing winds which pepper them most vigorously with millet seed sands. Rain falls very rarely here and the diverse desert community survives on the dew condensing from the coastal fogs, which roll inland nightly from the icy Benguela in the West.
The beautiful red colour of the Kalahari sands is the result of a thin layer of iron oxide deposited on the sand grains in long-bygone times when water was still abundant. The brazen furnace of daily sun bakes these oxides into a range of warm colours from brilliant yellow through rich oranges to terra cotta reds.
The wonderful ranges of colour are assisted by the atmosphere which filters light coming towards us. The distant hills are a blue red; those in the mid ground appear redder, while those nearest us are orange and sometimes a deep yellow. Leonardo would create the same effect in his studio with silk veils of yellow, red and blue to simulate this 'aerial perspective'.