Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes located in the southern part of the Namib Desert in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia. The name ‘Sossusvlei’ is roughly translated as ‘Dead-end Marsh’, Sossus being Nama for no return or dead-end and Vlei is the Afrikaans word for marsh. Sossusvlei owes its name to the fact that it is an endorheic drainage basin for the ephemeral Tsauchab River.
The Sossusvlei belongs to an area of the southern Namib approximately 32,000 square kilometres in size which has similar features. The area extends between the Koichab River and the Kuiseb River, characterized by high sand dunes of vivid pink to orange colour. This colour is an indication of a high concentration of iron in the sand and the consequent oxidation processes, thus the oldest dunes have a more intense reddish colour. The dunes in the Sossusvlei are among the highest in the world, many of them above 200 metres. The highest here is nicknamed ‘Big Daddy’ which stands at approximately 325 metres high, but this is not the highest dune in the Namib Desert, Dune 7 is in the region of 388 metres high.
The highest and most stable dunes are partially covered with a fairly rich vegetation which is watered by a number of underground and ephemeral rivers that seasonally flood the pans. This creates marshes that are known locally as Vlei, which when dry, these pans look almost white in colour due to the high concentration of salt. Humidity brought by morning fogs that enter the desert from the Atlantic Ocean are another relevant source of water for Sossusvlei.
Fauna in the Sossusvlei area is also relatively rich. Mostly consisting of small animals that are able to survive with little water such as arthropods, small reptiles and small mammals. However larger animals such as Oryxes, Springboks and Ostriches can be found here along with several migrant bird species which appear along the marshes and rivers during the wet season.