Ruacana Eha LodgeAugust 22, 2012
The incredible White House – Grünau in Namibia’s deep southAugust 22, 2012
by Sven-Eric Kanzler
Only a moment ago the supple body darted through the water propelled by vigorous strokes. Then there is brief cramping and a tremble. Lifelessly the crocodile-like reptile sinks to the bottom of the shallow sea. Poisonous mud envelops the body. Mud particles cover it layer by layer… Since then Earth has circled the sun about 260 million times. The lake has vanished. Instead there is a sea of stone and rock, occasionally piled into hills.
Four two-legged creatures draw closer, bend over the former mud grave and cautiously run the ends of their extremities over the hard rock where the winding reptile spine is imprinted. Two of the creatures are called Giel and Hendrik Steenkamp. They own some of this sea of stones in the south of a country called Namibia. Or more precisely, 42 km north east of Keetmanshoop on the road to Koës.
A few years ago – a mere twinkle in the history of the mud grave – when they were busy with maintenance work on a farm road in this very spot, they discovered a rock with an imprint of a reptile’s skeleton. Geologists told them that it was a fossil of the early saurian Mesosaurus tenuidens, a predecessor of the dinosaurs. The Steenkamps unearthed more fossils in the layers of mud-stone. Having gained permission from the National Heritage Board, they started taking tourists to the site in 2000.
We, the other two creatures, also referred to as tourists, are fascinated by the delicate imprint in the solid rock. Even tiny bones of a foot are clearly recognisable. No less impressive is the geological development which Giel and his son Hendrik explain to us. Two hundred and sixty million years ago a huge shallow lake, the Karoo Sea, covered parts of the southern super-continent of Gondwana. It is the realm of the Mesosaur, a creature about 50 cm in length. It has a long snout brimming with needle-like teeth with which it filters tiny organisms from the water.
Then the climate turns warmer and drier. The Karoo Sea gives way to a huge desert. A hundred and thirty million years ago Gondwana breaks apart, and South America drifts away from Africa. Evidence of the validity of the long-disputed theory of continental drift is right here in front of us: the Mesosaur. As it happens, its fossil has been found in South America too.
A few kilometres further our attention is drawn to dolerite hills which look like play bricks stacked by a giant child. These hills were formed 180 million years ago when the break-up of Gondwana was imminent. Cracks appear in the area of today’s Namibia, molten rock intrudes. This Karoo dolerite can be seen in many hardy hilltops north and east of Keetmanshoop – including the well-known Giants’ Playground, which you pass on your way to the Mesosaurus Fossil Site.
The place to which the Steenkamps take us next is less known but also sports stacks of giant blocks – and a quiver tree ‘forest’ on top of it, all in the same spot. Yellow trunks, green foliage, black rocks, blue sky; it provides plenty of photographic themes. In addition there is a ‘singing rock’, on which Giel intones tunes such as ‘Brother Jacob’. The guided tour takes 90 to 120 minutes in total. For those who want to explore the area on their own, there are two marked trails on the other side of the farm which take you through dolerite rock and quiver trees.
You can actually spend the night at the Mesosaurus Fossil Site. The father-and-son team has built four small unpretentious thatched cottages with shower and toilet right there. They are absolutely charming and invite you to stay. Hot water is supplied by the donkey (a wood-fired boiler), electricity (12 V) is generated with solar panels. In the boma, a wind-sheltered community area with a fireplace and kitchen, you can cook or have a barbecue. If you prefer, Giel and Hendrik take care of your meals. They are the most kind-hearted, interesting hosts, and have a wonderful sense of humour.
Campers can choose between a site next to the road (with just about no traffic) and Bush Camp in a beautiful valley. Only one group at a time is booked into Bush Camp. Both facilities have showers and toilets.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘04/ Jan ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.