Africa – the second largest continent in the world is also home to the largest desert in the world—the Sahara. In fact there are three deserts on the continent—The Sahara, the Namib and the Kalahari. Together these three amazingly vast and diverse land masses cover a large portion of Africa. Beautiful, yet treacherous, these areas of the continent provide a rich geological and cultural history that dates back millions of years.
The Sahara Desert – As inconceivable as it seems, this desert is ever changing, shrinking and growing in size. Satellite photos studied from the early 1980s show that the Sahara’s southern edge is expanding into the Sahel, a dry band that separates the desert from the Savanna. But the mid-1980s saw this area grow green and wet again. A common trade route for many centuries, caravans traveled through the Sahara spending days and weeks traversing the immense landscape. Several desert oases here made trade possible between the ports of North African and the southern Savannah markets.
There are around 4 million people or so that dwell in the Sahara, mostly in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya and Egypt. Additionally there is a fascinating and impressive array of animal life, include gerbil, jerboa, cape hare, desert hedgehog, barbary sheep, oryx, gazelle, deer, wild ass, baboon, hyena, jackal, sand fox, weasel and mongoose. The bird life includes more than 300 species. This vast life and diverse culture comes all in one desert.
The Namib Desert – The sand dunes of the Namib Desert are the highest dunes on Earth. While the Sahara is the largest desert in the world, the Namib is considered the oldest desert, having endured arid or semi-arid conditions for at least 80 million years. In the Nama language, Namib means “vast”, and this is no exaggeration. At 50,000 kilometers, the Namib-Naukluft Park is the largest conservation area in Namibia and one of the largest in the world. Wind blows the thirsty Namib Desert sand into sharp ridges. Amazingly there are animals, insects and plants that reside in this beautiful, yet mostly inhospitable region of the world. One of its most unusual inhabitants, the Welwitschia, is a shrub-like plant that grows just two long, strap-shaped leaves continuously throughout its lifetime. It is believed that they are very long-lived, possibly living 1000 years or more. Some individuals may be more than 2000 years old.
The Kalahari Desert – A geological wonder, the Kalahari Desert is part of the huge sand basin that reaches from the Orange River up to Angola, in the west to Namibia and in the east to Zimbabwe. The sand masses of wind-shaped sand that are so common in the Kalahari landscape were created by the erosion of soft stone formations. Thanks to vegetation in the area, the dunes were stabilized 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Strangely enough, the grasses, thorny shrubs and Acacia trees can survive long drought periods of more than 10 months a year. Some scientists don’t consider the Kalahari a true desert because some parts of the Kalahari receive more than 10 inches of rain in a year. Animals that live in the region include brown hyena, lion, meerkat, several species of antelope, and many types of birds and reptiles.