The dead marsh

A stand of trees dead for six hundred years stick out of the Namib Desert in the claypan called the Deadvlei.

Deadvlei trees
Danielle Lupkin, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tsauchab River in central Namibia only exists sometimes. When rains come to the nearby mountains, the flood of water drains into the Namib Desert and the river appears. That water ends up in a temporary lake / swamp in Sossusvlei, but once the rains stop everything dries up and waits for the next rainfall.

About six hundred years ago, the Tsauchab took a slightly different course. During that time, the temporary river nourished a stand of camel thorn trees. When the river changed course, the trees died. But they didn’t disappear! In the dry desert conditions, the corpses of the copse dried out and were heat-blasted black. This area is known as the Deadvlei, the dead marsh.

This stand of skeletal tree remains remains in the desert, now surrounded by sand dunes hundreds of metres high (Namibia has some of the tallest sand dunes in the world). The trees’ evocative starkness makes them a popular tourist attraction and film setting, as in the opening sequence of the 2000 film The Cell:

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