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Namibia is a geologist's paradise

Season 5: Destination Unknown

1 August 2021

Namibia is a dream for geologists like me. Here you find volcanic craters that are not volcanic craters, burnt mountains and star shaped dunes. Some of these geological features are beautiful just because of their shape or size, but when you understand exactly what it is that you are looking at, you will realise how mind-blowing they really are. Let me share with you the 8 geological wonders of Namibia that impressed me the most! 

1. Diamonds of Namibia

When you enter Namibia from South Africa, you can’t escape the diamonds. All the way from the Orange river and the town of Oranjemund up to Luderitz, about 400 kilometers north, is diamond territory. Worldwide, Namibia is known for its high quality diamonds, and since the first diamonds were discovered, about 80 million carats have been recovered. That is about 6.000 kilograms of diamonds! 

Diamonds are not created easily. In order to create a diamond you need temperatures of about 1200 degrees Celsius and pressures of about 50 kilobars. Such conditions are only found at great depth, at least 160 kilometers deep, in the earth’s upper mantle. The only way diamonds can reach the earth's surface is through volcanic pipes. Such narrow pipes are created by gas explosions at depths of 200 kilometers below the earth’s surface. These explosions carry mantle rocks, including diamonds, at high speed to the surface. The pipe rocks are called kimberlites and most of the kimberlite rocks in South Africa for example, are between 90 and 120 million years old. 

The diamonds that reach the surface are much, much older, and most diamonds have been dated to be older than 3300 millions years. That means they date back nearly to the beginning of the planet! Knowing that, certainly gives a different appreciation for these shiny gemstones. 

TIP: There are still active diamond mines in Namibia. You can’t visit those, but in the ghost town of Kolmanskoppe you can learn more about diamond mining in the early days when they were first discovered.

2. Fish River canyon 

The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the USA. The canyon is an impressive 27 kilometers wide at its widest point and up to 549 meters deep! The Fish river plunges into the canyon and continues for about 90 kilometers until the end of the gorge at Ai-Ais. That is where I stayed when I visited this natural phenomenon. 

The formation of this huge canyon started about 300 million years ago. There are rocks in this area that are even much older: up to 1500 million years old! These rocks are part of the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex and are some of the oldest rocks found in Namibia. 

The canyon formed along something which is called a tectonic graben structure, meaning that a block of the earth’s crust subsided between two fault zones. In the early stages of the formation of this canyon, the river was flowing 300 meters higher than it is today. It could have lowered a lot more, but very hard rock layers prevented the river from going any deeper fast, so the erosion forces of the water went sideways, resulting in a much wider canyon. 

When the Gondwana supercontinent, the combined continents of Africa, South America, India, Antarctica and Australia, started to break up around 120 million years ago, the continental edges were lifted up. As a result, the gradient became steeper, the Fish river faster flowing, and the erosional powers larger. Over millions of years, the river finally cut through the hard quartzite rocks of the Nama Group, until it reached the deepest rocks of southern Namibia: the ancient gneisses of the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex. 

Isn’t it impressive that something that started millions of years ago has resulted in this natural beauty? 

TIP: You can visit the Fish River canyon along the well graded gravel roads, but for the more adventurous travelers, I recommend taking the other route. You will then ride along the edge of the canyon and most likely have the entire place to yourself. 

3. Brukkaros 

Looking at a satellite image of the Brukkaros, you might think it is a volcanic crater. Or that is was created by a meteorite hitting the earth! Researchers have thought it was a volcanic crater for a long time. The typical form and slope of the mountain resembles an (extinct) volcano so at that time it seemed to be the most logical conclusion. The only problem was that in the vicinity of the Brukkaros, not a single volcanic rock was found! 

Only later, research revealed the true nature of this impressive landmark. It turned out that even though there has been volcanic activity in this area, the magma didn’t break through the earth’s crust like with ‘normal’ volcanoes. The magna stayed under the ground and mixed with shallow groundwater. The groundwater immediately turned into steam and this pressure resulted into a huge explosion. So the crater that we see today was the result of this enormous steam explosion! In geological terms, such a volcanic event is called a phreatomagmatic explosion. So the crater is not truely a crater, but a caldera - a collapsed magma chamber. 

TIP: The Brukkaros can be reached via a 55 kilometer gravel road from the town of Tses, north of Keetmanshoop. Brukkaros is not a very popular destination, so expect to have the entire place to yourself! It took me about 1 hour of hiking to get inside the caldera. It’s also possible to hike to the top, from where you supposedly have magnificent views. When I visited the site, there was a strong wind though, that was about a gale force. So in order not to risk to be blown off the top, I didn’t attempt that hike! 

By Hp.Baumeler, CC BY-SA 4.0 By Hp.Baumeler, CC BY-SA 4.0

4. Giants playground

You can find Giants Playground just outside Keetmanshoop in the southern part of Namibia. According to the local legend, giants have played here with these huge rocks and created hundreds of rock piles. Small to them, impressive to us. A beautiful story, but not how geologists think this area was created. 

Giants playground consists of weathered dolerite dykes. Dolerite is a blackish, grey dyke rock which resembles basalt when you first see it. But whereas basalt emerges as lava to the earth’s surface, dolerites are classified as intrusive rocks. The lava they are made of solidified below the earth’s surface.

When the Giants playground was created it was still below the earth’s surface, but groundwater already infiltrated through the horizontal and vertical fissures in the rocks and created the dissection of the dolerite dykes into boulders. Over time, when erosion exposed the boulders to the elements, the boulders were rounded further and further by wind and rain until the way they look today. 

The so-called dolerite swarm outside Keetmanshoop covers a surface of 18000 km2 (!) and it originates from about 180 million years ago. This coincides with the initial activity of the splitting of the Gondwana supercontinent, which I mentioned before regarding the Fish River Canyon.

5. Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert

The Namib Desert is a narrow coastal desert, stretching all the way from the South of Angola through Namibia down to the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. It is considered by most to be the oldest desert in the world. Opinions on its exact age vary, but scientists agree that it is at least 35 million years old. 

The Namib desert was created through lack of rainfall. The cold Benguela current, that comes from the South Pole, is responsible for cooling off the year-round southwestern oceanic winds. That cold air pushes itself underneath the warm inland air masses, creating an air inversion. Such an air inversion prevents the formation of any turbulence, meaning no rain clouds can be formed. The result of this natural phenomena is an average rainfall of 15 mm per year for the Namib Desert, although some areas haven’t seen rain in the last 20 years. 

The only moisture you can find here is the coastal fog, which is also a result of the Benguela current. The atmospheric humidity of the cold oceanic air condenses at the boundary of the warm air masses on the coast and then fog is created. 

Riding through fog alongside the coast of Namibia is inevitable and part of experiencing coastal Namibia. On most days the fog will disappear during the morning, but if you are unlucky, it can be grey and foggy for weeks! 

What impressed me most about the Namib Desert, besides its vastness, was Sossusvlei. Just south of the Kuiseb river, the Great Sea of Sand begins or ends. It all depends on how you look at it. The area around Sesriem and Sossusvlei is one of the best known places to experience Namibia’s enormous dark red ochre sand dunes. This beautiful red colour is caused by iron oxides that cover the grains of sand in thin coatings. So what you are looking at is basically the rusting of sand! 

The Namib desert has many different dunes: transverse dunes, longitudinal dunes, Barchan dunes, and star dunes. Around Sossusvlei you can find star dunes. Star dunes are dunes overlapping each other, forming the shape of a star thanks to the winds of equal strength blowing from different directions. 

The dunes stand over 300 meters above the Tsausab river and are amongst the tallest sand dunes in the world. 

TIP: Sand storms are not uncommon in this area. When you are caught in one, consider stopping at the scientific research centre at Gobabeb. They will gladly host you and it’s a great opportunity to speak to some of the scientists that conduct all sorts of biological and geological research in the Namib Desert! 

6. Brandberg

The name Brandberg, which translates as ‘Fire Mountain’, was given to this mountain because of the red glow of the granite in the afternoon sun. 

The Brandberg is the highest mountain in Namibia and with an average height of 1800 meters above its surroundings, the mountain can be seen from far away. The mountain has a diameter of 20 kilometers and mainly consists of granite. The formation of the Brandberg took place about 130 million years ago, as a rising granite intrusion, solidifying at 2 kilometers below the earth surface. It took millions of years of erosion before the mountain as we see it today, got finally exposed. 

The Brandberg also hosts thousands of rock paintings made by the San people. They are estimated to be between 2,000 and 6,000 years old. The most famous of them all is called the ‘White Lady’, which, after more careful research, turned out to be a depiction of a traditional healer, instead of a woman. The paintings are definitely worth a visit. 

The area around the Brandberg is known for its quartz crystals. There are several places where locals mine large pieces of amethyst. These crystals were formed in the lava flows from the Goboboseb Mountains, not far from the Brandberg. 

TIP: Desert elephants regularly visit the area around the Brandberg, so keep an eye out for footprints and droppings/ Who knows, you might bump into one of these giants! 

By Harald Süpfle, CC BY-SA 2.5 By Harald Süpfle, CC BY-SA 2.5

7. Spitzkoppe

The ragged peaks of the Big Spitzkoppe are an amazing contrast with the surrounding flat desert and it looks dramatic even from far away. The two Spitzkoppe mountains have a similar origin as the Brandberg, except that they were formed slightly later. The granitic magma of Spitzkoppe intruded about 100 million years ago. Just like the Brandberg, the intrusions solidified several kilometers below the surface and were only exposed to daylight after millions of years of erosion that weathered away the softer rocks in which it intruded. 

This process is called Inselberg formation and it’s an example of how chemical weathering works. Because the granite was much more resistant to weathering, it ‘rose’ in height, relative to its surroundings. Both Spitzkoppe mountains are rich in all sorts of crystals, which the locals are selling everywhere in the region in little stalls. These minerals are found in pegmatites. Pegmatites were formed in the late cooling phase of the granite. The more abundant elements such as aluminium and potassium were already solidified into minerals such as the feldspar or mica in granite. Pegmatites, however, contain more rare elements such as beryllium, boron and lithium(!). Silver topaz is another collectors item which can still be found in this region. 

TIP: Around Spitzkoppe are lots of little dirt roads that you can ride, and with the two great landmarks of the Small Spitzkoppe and Big Spitzkoppe nearby, you won’t get lost!  

8. Burnt Mountain 

The Burnt Mountain in Namibia is perhaps the best example of a Namibian geological feature that is only impressive when you understand how it was formed. Many people visit this place and are disappointed because all they see is some purplish rock. 

But what you are looking at here is an impressive example of a process called contact metamorphism. A large amount of basaltic magma was pushed up here, right against a layer of shale. Shale is finely stratified sedimentary rock that was formed from consolidated mud or clay. This material can be split easily into fragile slabs. The touch of those molten rocks of over 1000 degrees Celsius immediately caused thermal and chemical changes to the shale. Because the shale was a former lake deposit, it is very rich in organic matter which vaporized when it got in contact with the basaltic magma. It was as if these shale rocks were suddenly cooked in a very hot oven! There were even thin layers of coal formed!

After the burnt mountain got exposed by erosion processes, oxidation of iron and manganese took place, giving it it’s purple and reddish glow. The entire place can be appreciated even more from the air, where you can see the full pallet of colours of the surroundings. It almost looks like an exquisite natural painting with all the colours you can imagine present in the landscape. A truly unique place! 

TIP: About 800 meters from the Burnt mountain, you can check out the ‘valley of the organ pipes’. You can admire some impressive dolerite columns here, which are hidden away in a small gorge. 

Comments
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Noraly, I thoroughly enjoyed this blog posting and while reading placed myself in each locality and allowed my memories and feelings to merge with your words. My favourite in your list is Burnt Mountain, a place I first visited many years ago and felt then a measure of mysticism. Perhaps it was the late hour with the sun dipping behind the mountains and highlighting the colours, or it was the whispering evening breeze, but it felt surreal and very special. I especially enjoyed the drone flight you made over Burnt Mountain. Another favourite not on your list was the Oanob river valley, (you went past there after calling in at Rehoboth for petrol on your way to Spreetshoogte.) I was involved in the geotechnical investigation for the dam foundation there and was touched by the beautiful colours and eroded forms of the exposed quartz-phorphyry and subordinate green schist in the river bed.

CJS  | 

Thanks CJS, Namibia is amazing indeed!

Noraly  | 

Noraly - I absolutely love your passion for the geology of this planet we live on! As an engineering geologist for 44 years now by profession and passion I also have an insatiable curiosity and fascination as to how the stunning landscapes we see everywhere formed. When my daughters were still at home and we would take our roadtrip vacations I can still hear them saying "Dad, do we really need to stop AGAIN so you can get a picture of that incredible example of some geolgic feature??" All I can say is that I admire you so much for following all of your passions and encourage my girls to follow theirs. You go Noraly!!

Dguy  | 

Great article Noraly. Your story telling skills bring the traveling experience to life. I enjoy driving around the Namib desert religiously. Just to add to your great article, check a typo on the name for the research center, it should read Gobabeb.

Simbi  | 

Thanks Simbi, I changed the typo right away ;-)

Noraly  | 

Thanks so much for taking the time to write such detailed but understandable explanations, super interesting! 🇬🇧🏍

Stewy62  | 

My pleasure!

Noraly  | 

Noraly thanks for the beautiful pictures and movies. When I watch your movies, In My brain I’m in the country. I like your proffesionality.

Peterprest  | 

Noraly I would love to try help you get your long range tank, I assume it is coming through Johannesburg's mail centre, I do have some contacts that can help speed up the clearance if you would like :)

Elspeth Bee C255  | 

Thanks for the offer, but I am doing fine so far with the two spare bags :-)

Noraly  | 

Noraly thanks for this blog, it's a fine piece about all the amazing things to see in Namibie and how they originated.

Rider  | 

Great read! Namibia is top of our list too and we hope to explore it next year :-)

ADV_Travelbug  | 

Thank you for your wonderful comments! So happy to hear that you enjoy this 'educational' blog ;-)

Noraly  | 

Although I am not a geologist like you, I am fascinated by what I see in the landscape when I travel, particularly on my bike.The information you provide on your travels is outstanding and can turn a sometimes bland landscape into a much more interesting ride. You talked about those sand dunes. We have sand dunes here in the middle of our Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It is, indeed, a strange place to see them. It was the result of water and wind creating and pushing them up against our Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. When you come to the U.S. you may want to consider this top in our Rockies. Thank you, Noraly, for your fascinating videos!

CO Mtn Rider  | 

Thanks Noraly for a great geologist's view! Although we share a geological education, you also have the admirable skill of seeing when you look at your surroundings. Not just the geology, but also the geography, biology, and the cultural diversity.

Please keep traveling at your own place while entertaining and educating us with such pleasure.

Ride Safe!

Andy  | 

Hi Noraly, I was born in 1967 in Welkom (Orange Free State) and I'm living in Portugal since 1971. I've never been in South Africa again and by chance YouTube sugested me a Itchy Boots video, after that one i saw all the videos from Season 2 and Season 5. I think soon i'll join the subscribers that took their licence and started riding a bike. Thank you so much for everything you are doing. Stay safe.

Sebastiao  | 

Haha... not a bad idea!

Noraly  | 

Noraly, thank you so much for an in-depth explanation of the geology of all the amazing places in the Namib Desert you have photographed. I love the study of geology. I hope you'll come to America soon. We have many beautiful geologic sites that would be very appealing to you for investigation. We have lots of RTW visitors here, but not many who can describe the beauty of this earth with as much knowledge as you. Look forward to more exciting blogs.
Take care, much love to you.
Jennalee

jennalee  | 

Wow, the geology of this part of the world is really exiting...funny thing is, me being from Sweden I actually understand the name of the places you visit, like "Brandberg"... brand in Swedish is fire and berg for me is mountain... So, Brandberg is actually in my language :-) Big thanks to you Noraly for working hard to produce blogs, vlogs and everyting else you do to keep the entertainment factor to absolute 100%




Nrgpack  | 

Excellent geology lessons! Thank you! Please continue with the geology interpretations...they certainly add a lot to the videos and your blog. Regarding thorns in your tires, I trust you carry "goo" or at least tube puncture repair material!!

JRT3  | 

Well done, Noraly! Most travelers would say "Ugh, another 200-300km of nothingness, just sand and rocks" Only you can make such an area amazing and interesting. You always see the beauty in the lands traveled.
(As a side note: the speaker on YT 'the common sense show' had some interesting things to say about you)
Highest Regards, Stay Safe and wishing you and Savannah many more Happy Trails.

TxBagman  | 

More please.
😁

MarkO  | 

Hi Noraly, Your channel is the best.... educational, entertaining, engrossing, aspirational, inspiring... and the list goes on. I have watched all your videos from S1E1 and it is so uplifting and inspiring to see how you have evolved your channel and continue to do so. You are really awe-inspiring. Keep up the great work and the content.
This blog is great and so very interesting especially with the background expertise you have provided.
Bravo and safe travels.

IBFan  | 

Noraly, our Earth is a fantastic, remote, and eclectic sphere immersed in an awesome, humbling void that is interspersed with billions of equally strange and unique spheres as ours, each in perfect balance and symmetry with every other object contained in the vastness of this universe. When speaking of our precious Earth, only the concept of "time", a vastness in it's own right punctuated by perfectly balanced processes and events, both slow and fast, allows us to begin to fathom the true nature of the place and time in which we live. No well-written fantasy can come close to telling a story so deep and splendid as the story through time our small planet portrays as we open our eyes. I stand in wide-eyed amazement of the intricate yet vast story that our Earth lays at our feet and places over our head. Thank you, Noraly, for opening our eyes just a little bit wider and expanding our thoughts just a little bit more.

GFrink  | 

Noraly, you give a wonderful insight to a country that many of us would love to visit but properly will not. Your explanations of the environment that you visit are really interesting to see and hear, thank you.

Gurty  | 

Thank you for the fascinating blog to accompany the videos. The oldest diamonds...and how they got to the surface - wow!

Lorraine Allen  | 

Isn't amazing indeed?

Noraly  | 

Noraly you a Gold Mine of information and teaching facts about your adventures. How a lot of viewers thing that one hour of videos a week is all you do is beyond reason.
What you experience and see the other 168 hours would be mind boggling.
Traveling for 16 years or so Noraly, I cannot imagine all the hidden trails and roads you have explored. What a news letter.
Always watch your six and God bless you as you are a special soul of knowledge and compassion. We are blessed that you share it.

Mike - P.  | 

Qué buena información Gracias por tus vídeos. Es un placer verlos, generan adicción y en cada nuevo video nos sorprendes!!! Saludos desde Buenos Aires, Argentina

Wittemoller  | 

Namibia has proven to be most interesting! However, seeing it through your eyes and getting the geology of the landscape has made it even more interesting. You are doing such a cool job of teaching us about the beauty of geology and this blog post backing up the videos is outstanding! I look forward to each one! Let’s go have some more fun!🏍🇺🇸

Debbie R.  | 

Noraly, Thank you for taking the time to share your geological knowledge with us. I never knew diamonds were so old and formed so deep. Your videos are the first ones I look for every day. And to see how you can keep on laughing ever day even when picking a thousand thorns out of your tires makes me smile.

JB  | 

Noraly
thanks for your technical summary.
very interesting.
here in chile, we have so much dessert in the north zone, that makes your comments much familiar.
We are affected by earthquakes frevuently and that, also is part of the earth fisonomy changes. Talking about lythium, there is a lot of that here, making its extraction an interesting bussines, due to the advance of electric cars.
Well, yoy crossed our frontier through the Andes mountains many times, so you made an idea of it.
Also, interesting for geologists.
rgds & take care on riding sandy roads..

juan guillermo  | 

While it is one thing to drive past these landscape features and admire their beauty, knowing what made them and having their tale to tell makes a huge difference. An otherwise boring, benign stone can become soul food, a dark spot in a bright desert can become an event. Deserts, the metaphor for livelessnes, can suddenly become thrilling and fascinating. That's how science education enriches your life, and it's one of the most precious bits for your followers to take from your travels!
And I love it, love it, love it! ^^)
**Doing the Wayne's "World Notworthy-Thing**

Zweispurmopped  | 

Hi Noraly, this is the best classroom studies I have ever had. Every lesson draws me in and on top of that we get a tour of the countries and their wonders, you have travelled as if we are actually with you, which of course we are. Most of us subscribers will never get to go to these places, so thanks for the next best way of doing it. I very much look forward to the next lesson. Thank you Miss Noraly.

Freewheelin Franklin  | 

Beste Noraly,

Dank voor je mailtje! Kan volgende keer gewoon in het nederlands!

Groeten, en geniet van je avonturen,

Arnout

Arnout  | 

Thanks, Noraly for all the Geology insight very interesting and entertaining. Cant wait for upcoming Videos. Keep on Riding and Stay safe. Best of Luck on upcoming Travels.

Mike J  | 

Hello Noraly and "good morning internet". Love the vidoes, today I am riding 40k on tarmac roads in Derbyshire, England, on my Triumph Bonneville T120 for a cup of tea. I think it's "doable". hahahahaha.. Have a lovely day.
Dave..

Dave Marriott  | 

Hope you enjoyed your ride!

Noraly  | 

Hi Noraly,
Thanks to you and your hard work on this trip through Namibia on my ( and yours) favourite means of transport , I’ve learned a tremendous lot about this country, its history ,people, animals, flora and geological formations.
Bonus: Magnificent images, edited with great expertise, of this majestic part of Africa.
I look forward to seeing you on YT continuing your ride!
Stay safe and keep on riding! ( fill up on fuel whenever possible: the last time you made me worrying not filling up your desert foxes at a proper station. It’s definitely a remote area there)

Mar10  | 

Hi Noraly Thank you so much for telling us about your geology knowledge, I am sorry I am no geologist but I found your information very interesting and amazing, sadly at my age i will never get to visit any of these very interesting places that you have seen, so i very much appreciate watching all your videos, thank you so much Noraly, love and best wishes. Alf.

Alf  | 

Hi Noraly, What a place, the landscape just seems to go on for ever and ever. Putting all your video's together would make a great Documentary, Should make a DVD. Ride Safe.

Les moore  | 

Thanks for these items, Noraly, very interesting on an area of Earth unknown for me! Also, it drives me to learn more details about Gondwana, forgotten from my school period! Take care of you!

desfalu  | 

Hi Noraly thanks a lot for all , following your trip is wonderful and on top of that get great explanation. Ride safe

Thierry  | 

Some parts of Namibia remind me of the outback of Western Australia. But I guess you know this already. Are you moving north into Angola, or are you turn back to South Africa? Stay well and safe!

A.C.TANE  | 

Thanks Noraly, fascinating! Not only do you take us along on your adventures, you take us on an intellectual journey too! I really love finding out this kind of thing from you. Best of luck and take care. Lots of love from Sean, and Sherpa the Himalayan.

Sean Keogh  | 

Thanks Sean for your kind words! Enjoy your Sherpa :-)

Noraly  | 
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