The rock formation is aptly named – the basaltic lava colums rise like organ pipes some standing 5 m high. The valley is small, though the rocks have a lofty appeal. The harsh light throws an unforgiving cast and the colours reveal shades of ochre and tan. There are four of us negotiating the downward path, stepping carefully as there is loose scree. There is a strange vibe here and the first bars of Edvard Grieg’s grand orchestral piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King” plays through my mind. I imagine Peer Gynt striding through the scene as the sound of falling rock shatters the calm. Into view comes a troop of baboons!
We spot baboons nine separate occasions through the trip, but they immediately clear out, vanishing from view. Not this time – they take up seats in the pews above and we’re being scrutinised. We, the interlopers to this geological attraction take care not to be too intrusive, guessing that they want to descend to find water in the damp sand. It’s hot, searingly hot and i notice that their fur is fine and sparse and that males don’t have the magnificent ‘manes’ that the coastal species have.
There are about 25 – 30 in this troop; not large by wild standards but in this tough environment you’ve got to admire how they adapt to survive in the harsh conditions.
We let them be and head back out on the opposite side; the encounter adds a layer to the timeless mysteries of the area.
The landscape, immediately after crossing the Orange River at the Noodoewer border post, takes on a desolate appearance.
The route through to Grünau, in the Karas Region goes over gravel plains and then as we head to Hobas – the viewpoint for the Fish River Canyon. Clumps of milkbush and granite outcrops form a backdrop to this arid Eden. As we travel we wonder which animal will be our first viewing of local wildlife? Take a guess?!
Yes!! Baboons! How remarkable that they have adapted and can find enough to sustain life in this tough environment. They are far leaner than the coastal cousins and their fur much finer. I worried about their feet pads burning on the scalding stones, but they appeared to walk quite comfortably but nimbly over the rocky terrain. Their diet would include mainly insects – scorpions, beetles and tuberous plants.
How to describe the spectacular Fish River Canyon? It draws the viewer’s eye into a terrain of riverting and rugged convolutions, twisting and turning. The information boards tell of ancient geological history, but i’m also fired by the local mythology and the story of Koutein Kooru, a giant snake frantically scrambling to get away from San hunters.
Impressively the oldest rocks here existed long before today’s continents were formed by the break up of the super continent Gondwana. The basement rocks are believed to be 2,000 million years old! At some point tectonic plate movement caused a huge block of the Earth’s crust to subside along deep-reaching faults and formed a deep trench. The geology was further shaped through the eons by dramatic forces – erosion, volcanic and climate action. The river has melded its way over millions of years and cut through the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex exposing horizontal layers of quartzite, gneiss and sedimentary layers.
It was one of those perfect spring days, warm and sunny and the local baboon troop came down to forage along the beach. Playful, curious and full of energy, the youngest baboons explore their surroundings. Observing them from a distance and not intruding into their space (keeping 10m away) is part of a photographer’s required etiquette around these wild animals.
The action follows on from the previous post where the international windsurfing set had gathered at Platboom, Cape of Good Hope Reserve. While most spectators’ attention was on the daring windsurfers out in the big seas, a drama unfolded on shore, when a wiley old female baboon staked out the cars waiting for a raiding opportunity. And she hit the jackpot – a car door was open and she made off with an easy lunch. Stuffed into those impressively full cheek pouches are a half dozen crispy breadrolls as well as a banana.
When the baboons lose their fear of humans and start raiding for human-derived food they can become overly persistent and even aggressive in their pursuit of an easy meal and land up being euthanased. “Problem” people are generally the cause of this change in the animals’ behaviour through actions of feeding or teasing the baboons or in this case where the food was too easily ‘available’.