The Fish River Canyon - 550 Metres
in 350 Million Years


Space. Lots of it. Above, ahead and beneath. Birds wing in break-neck flight across the abruptly yawning precipice. Wind caresses skin and hair. Shoulders suddenly feel unburdened. And the lung forgets to breathe in all this endless airy space...

The Fish River Canyon is one of Namibia's most impressive sights. There are several viewing points along the edge. Since 2001, when a tourist lost his way and fell to his death, day visitors are no longer permitted to descend into the canyon. The lodgings of the Cañon Collection are only 20 km away, however.

When standing at the edge of this maze of deep, winding gorges one can't help wondering how this masterpiece was created. According to geologists there were deep cracks in the earth's crust some 350 Million years ago. The surface started to sink along the cracks, forming a rift valley about 20 km wide. The upper edges are still there today.

The Fish River chose the rift for its bed. Layers of hard rock soon prevented the river from digging deeper. Instead, the rock was slowly washed away in a wide sweep, thereby creating a second plain which can clearly be distinguished from the top. This plain had a low gradient so that the river found its course in wide bends and set the pattern for today's maze of gorges. During the ice-age that followed glaciers continued to shape the valleys.
The actual formation of the canyon, however, started only 120 Million years ago, when the ancient southern continent of Gondwana broke apart. The rims of the African piece rose and so did the gradient of the Fish River. In addition, two Million years ago the sea-level dropped globally by about 120 metres as a result of the ice-age in the northern hemisphere. And so the Fish River dug deeper and deeper into the existing pattern of its meandering course.

In the process layers from much earlier times were exposed: sediments from an ancient sea, remains of an even more ancient mountain range and at the bottom a layer of rock - Gneiss - which is 1.5 Billion years old and has been there long before even the ancient continent of Gondwana was born. At the canyon you realise, even without knowing any of the geology, that tremendous forces have been at work in a course of time which is beyond comprehension in its vastness. Here you are, tiny human, and all the worries of everyday life cease to matter.
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