We pulled up to the farmyard and stopped at the fence causing the cloud of dust to catch up and swirl past the gate towards the house. We got out, research permit from the Namibian Geologic Survey in hand, walked to the fence and waited. After a couple minutes passed a white farmer with a shaven head and sporty sunglasses stepped out of the house and approached us. We explained we were geologists from McGill University in Canada and asked permission to hike to the tufa, pointing across the graded dirt road which acted as Namibia’s highway system. I don’t remember the farmer saying much, if anything. He nodded, and went back into the farm house.
Recently, I started the gargantuan task of reorganizing and backing up all of my photos. This led me to dig through some archives and to revisit photos that I have not shared with many people. When we visited this tufa I had not yet been introduced to the sport of rock climbing. Looking at these tufa photos now, I see lines, unclimbed, begging for someone to clean and send. We didn’t climb the tufa, we hiked around. Here are some photos from that hike.
After stopping at the farmhouse we pulled off the highway. Christie, my advisor, insisted that she needed a nap and waved us towards the tufffa while reclining the driver’s seat. We crossed the wire fence and made our way into the waist high grass. That two hundred meter walk through the grass was one of the most stressful moments of my life. There are snakes in Namibia. Pofadders, Cape Cobra, Black Cobra, and Black Mambas frequent my field area. At least when we’re out on the hill slopes there is less grass and we can see where we are stepping. Tanya, Ben, and I were all nervous and let out big sighs when we exited the high grass.
The tufa was gorgeous, huge, and loomed overhead. Yellow-green slim covered wet rock where water dripped down. A little waterfall ran sprinkled and slid over the tufa, collected in a pond, and trickled away in a stream that disappeared into the desert.
We stepped to hike around and up the tufa where we got a special treat. Diamictite. B-E-A-utifully deformed diamictite. Diamictite is a rock that is a mix of rock clasts in a muddy matrix. These diamictites had since been deformed, shown by the elongate stretched, clasts.
We turned and continued upward, following black plastic pipes that ran from some unseen spring above us.
The hiking was steep, but not strenuous. Before we knew it the incline shoaled and we began topping out over the tufa. The top was like a geologist’s dream. A folded cap-carbonate could be seen on the mountainside framing the valley before us.
We paused to look back towards the car, where our professor lazily dosed, probably dreaming of pseudotachylyte and fault gouge.
Our tufa foray wasn’t over yet, we followed the stream that had built this tufa up. It takes time to build a deposit like this. Calcium carbonate precipitates from the water. We saw breccias too. Head-sized, angular clasts of limestone that had once been shot down the stream, maybe during a rainstorm, only to now be cemented in the tufa.
Outside of the stream we spotted more folded limestone.
The breccias become the tuffa, cemented in the streambed. Other rocks, with the power of water pushing them forward, polish and erode the surface of the cement. Ponds between trickling streams form. Desert life revolves around water. Where it is abundant so is life and green.
Big tadpoles swam in the ponds we passed. I saw something unexpected in the desert: a bullfrog, quietly crouched near submerged rocks.
What other treasures would we find hidden in the hills? The only thing to do was follow the water.
Finally we reached a point where the stream cut into rocks. To continue following it we had to leave it for higher ground. Unfortunately we hadn’t come prepared for canyoneering on this hike. Ahead and below us we caught glimpses of caves and pools hidden in tufa slot canyons.
We ended the hike at this crystal blue pool. The water looked amazing, but strange yellow algae covered the surface of every rock below the water. Swarms of black water bugs oscillated in the turquoises liquid. We tossed a small rock in and watched as they scattered to the edges of the pool, then swam back into pulsing mosh pit.
The pools were gorgeous, but so were the rocks. I’ve always been fascinated by structures in rocks, whether tectonic or diagenetic in origin. The limestone structures influenced their surficial weathering and thus the growth of lichen.
Time to head back. Christie had sent us up here to check out the tuffa and examine the diamictite, but we’d all become mesmerized by the pools and the life around them.
I don’t remember which way we came down from the tufa. Nor do I recall if we trod through the waist-high grass or followed the stream to the road. I think at that point I was overwhelmed by the beauty of a little desert treasure.