This mountainous area of Namibia is situated between the extreme desert aridity of the skeleton coast and the central plateau. Damaraland offers spectacular scenery and a variety of attractions ranging from fascinating geological formations to unique vegetation and the only UNESCO world heritage site in Namibia, the largest collection of ancient rock art in Southern Africa. The Petrified Forest can be found a few kilometres west of Khorixas and is the final resting place for a collection of huge, fossilised tree trunks. These trees were once part of an ancient forest and are thought to have been washed down from higher ground by floods.
Around fifty trees can be seen and are thought to be around 200 million years old. Most are members of the gymnosperm family. Local guides escort visitors around an organised circuit and share their knowledge of this unique landscape feature. Twyfelfontein is located a little further west of the Petrified Forest, the name means ‘doubtful fountain’ and is so called due to the unreliable water supply. It is yet another example of Namibia’s stunning scenery and also contains what is said to be the largest collection of rock art in Southern Africa. The majority of art consists of rock etchings made by using stone chisels to cut through the hard outer crust of the local sandstone. Most of the work dates back around 6000 years and was probably undertaken by San hunters. Many of the huge boulders used as a surface for these ancient pieces of art have subsequently moved from their original resting places and it is quite possible that many more etchings lie beneath rocks overturned by thousands of years of natural disturbance.
More rock paintings can be seen at the Brandberg Mountains, north of Uis. This is Namibia’s highest mountain at 2573m and is strewn with pottery fragments and stone tools. The famous ‘white lady’ painting can be seen here, located in a protective shelter on the mountainside. This specific painting is around 40cm high and due to its unusual colour, extensive debate on its origin has taken place. Some have put forward the view that the painting represents a San spirit, some more far-fetched hypotheses are that it depicts an alien or a Caucasian time traveller! Whatever the origin, it is a thought provoking piece of ancient art which, although never satisfactorily dated, could be part of a frieze painted as long as 16,000 years ago. The Brandberg is also known as ‘Fire Mountain’, so named because the western face glows a vivid and beautiful red in the face of the setting sun.
A 12km long volcanic ridge can be seen just south east of Twyfelfontein. Known as Burnt Mountain, this ridge looks very much as though a raging fire has decimated the area. Although very little grows here, the rocks become alive during sunrise and sunset when the whole area glows a burnt umber colour.