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Deadvlei Dead End

Elliott Chau


Behind the Shot

The Namib-Naukluft Park in western Namibia is home to some of the most unique natural features in the world. The most-visited area within the park is known as Sossusvlei, roughly translated as “dead-end marsh.” The sand dunes here are the tallest in the world, 1,200 feet on average, and are some of the world’s oldest, made up of sand more than 5 million years old.

One of the main attractions of Sossusvlei are the trees of Deadvlei. Technically, these are the skeletons of trees, acacia erioloba specifically, also known as giraffe thorn. Thousands of years ago, water flowing through the area created shallow pools where the giraffe thorn grew freely. Over time, sand dunes blocked the river and the area dried. The massive leafy trees could not survive. Seven hundred years later, these dried tree skeletons are all that remain. The intense sun and dry conditions prevent them from rotting.

Elliott shares the story behind his photograph: “This was a hectic trip. Our plan was to be at the trees at sunrise. In order to get into the national park for sunrise, though, you have to camp inside the park. We didn’t realize this, and we booked a hotel just outside the park. The gate finally opened at 8 a.m. We didn’t arrive at Deadvlei until about 9 a.m., well after sunrise. We finally got to shooting about 10 a.m.

“I loved this solemn tree. People were gathered around other trees, but this one was by itself, and really appealed to me. This lone tree wasn’t getting attention, so I gave it the attention it deserved.”