Only one day after an unexpected dust storm rolled through (see below), we were surprised again when the Kuiseb River came flooding past the station for the first time in almost two years! Although we haven’t received measurable rainfall since November, massive cumulonimbus thunderheads have floated over the far eastern horizon for the past week – directly above the watershed of the ephemeral Kuiseb.
At around 10:300 pm, just after lying down for the night, Nathan rapped loudly on my bedroom door: “The river! The river!!!”
The word had traveled just in time from one of the Topnaar settlements upstream; the flood was coming down, and fast. I quickly got my things together and ran down into the (still dry) riverbed to meet the other Gobabebians that had already congregated there. Where was it? We eagerly began hiking upstream to meet the flow.
It seemed impossible that anything unusual was about to happen. Above, a brilliant star-scape floated above the darkened silhouettes of dunes and tree tops. All around, the riverbed’s typically sporadic night sounds and the rustling of leaves were barely audible. In a way that has become familiar over the past six months, the soft sand and silt filtered through the cracks between my toes.
Suddenly, a low rushing sound was carried to us from the darkness ahead of us. A gust of wind through the trees? As the sound became louder it grew undeniable: the river! Moments later, still out of reach of our flashlight beams, a powerful and earthy smell overpowered our desert accustomed nostrils. Then, traveling at a full meter/second, the leading edge rolled into us. Within a matter of seconds the initial wave of sludge and detritus evolved into a rapidly deepening flood. A minute more, and one had to remain vigilant just to stay standing.
2 and a half days later, the water is still flowing, although it’s height has gone down significantly. Another pulse could happen at any time as rain clouds continue brooding in the East.
Just another day at the office…
I made the best use of my backyard this New Years and went on a solo trek into the dunes. Leaving mid-afternoon on New Years Eve, I hiked about 7 miles into the sand (far side of Kahani Dune). After marking the last sunset of the year with some Namibian wine (thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Pavlovic!), I descended onto one of the interdunes to enjoy the celestial show… shooting stars and all.
The following morning, I woke with the sun and hiked a circuitous route back to Gobabeb (and water). Tracks in the sand attested to a typically busy night for the animals of the Namib – evidence of springbok, jackals, fox, beetles, spiders, gerbils, golden moles, geckos, lizards, chameleons, larks, goshawks, side-winding adders, and digger wasps.
Cresting a dune on the way back, I was surprised to come across a human. Gobabeb’s station director had gotten his car stuck in the sand on one of the research tracks (an easy thing, even for experienced dune drivers). I helped him dig and push out – my first act of good-will in the new year!