Let’s explore Namibia’s treasures with Frikkie von Solms. One of the delights of my recent adventure was hunting for rocks. In this post I will take you through a number of rock discoveries. F0r me, rocks are books to be read, ancient encrypted books. Understanding even a little of what’s to be read in a rock enriches your world. P.S. All these photos are mine which explains their imperfections.
I found this stone on the road in the mountains. As I examined it, I thought to myself – this stone is like Namibia itself. On top you see the mountains and a hint of green, and underneath, a wealth of crystal. Crystals, of course, can be found all over the world. What makes Namibia a special place for crystals is that it is “untamed” – not covered over with asphalt and concrete. The ancient geological bones of the earth itself are visible there. Namibia is a geological wonderland.
I developed a fascination with crystals as I was preparing to create this post, and spent hours studying about them. Then I said, Laura Ann, you will never get this post written if you spend the rest of your life studying mineral formations. And one could do just that. The field is complex. I was most interested in how and where do crystals form and why are they translucent? There are all kinds of crystals, but the ones in Namibia, in general, are formed through volcanic action. When magma begins to dry up, the elements which become a crystal begin to solidify in order to survive. This happens in cracks and crevices between rocks. Quartz veins form and can be seen between rocks pressed together and pushed up by volcanic action. Deep under the earth the atoms of a crystal arrange themselves into a precise lattice formation which they continually duplicate in perfect geometric form until they fill up the space around themselves. Some of them become translucent due to the placement of the atoms and the atoms themselves which transmit rather than refract light. And this is to say nothing about wave length, photons, or the miracle of the human eye. This quartz crystal reminds me of a rosebud of light petals.
Here are two rock hounds in action. Frikkie is great at spontaneous adventure. He’ll stop the car and say with a big grin, “Let’s hunt for rocks.” And we spend up to an hour sometimes just walking around looking at rocks. It’s like a mediation – you let your mind float in a kind of Zen state and let your eyes drift until they light on a sparkle or a plain looking stone with hidden beauty. Examine many, choose just a few to take with you. In this post, we will visit the coast, the mountains, the desert, and along the way, roadside Damara kiosks full of treasures.
This is a salt crystal. One of Namibia’s industries is salt mining from the coast. There are large shallow ponds of sea water. As the ponds dry, the salt crystallizes. Recall what I said above about how crystals in the earth begin to develop when the moisture (magma) around them dries up. As we drove along the coast, we found little wooden tables with pink salt crystals – with no human in sight, just stretches of beach and the sound of the ocean. There is usually a small glass jar or tin can in which to put donations if you want to take a crystal or two. The one above is the one I brought home with me this past March. To preserve it, you just have to keep it dry. If it gets wet, it returns to a liquid form. What makes this crystal pink? you might ask. Colors in crystals are due to impurities in their atomic make up which means that if all the atoms in the crystal’s structure are pure carbon atoms, you might get a diamond. If even one atom in the crystal’s structure is a different element, the result is a color. Odd that these colors are called “impurities” when they increase the beauty of the crystal, but the word is used in a very technical sense. More to come on this.
I picked up this large stone – about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide -from the beach near Henties Bay. It is bustling with quartz crystal. I keep it on my desk and never get tired of “reading” it’s many facets. Below is a close up of this stone.
I prefer rocks in their natural form. As Frikkie says, “they have character. ” Polished stones can be beautiful, but they lose their individuality and history in the process of becoming smooth and shiny.
These two stones I also found on the beach. Each has color and they appear “coated” with limestone. At least I think that’s what it is. These are good examples of plain stones with hidden beauty. The one on the left has an interior of pale blue-violet and the coat on the other, is a pale green which doesn’t show up too well in the photo. I also found a stone like these two which has a pink coat – below in the agate photos. These stones are opaque yet they contain crystalline structure. The width of the arrangement of atoms on a crystal’s lattice structure is what determines translucidity. If the atoms are closer together they either absorb or refract light rather than transmit light.
I could sit for hours on the beach inspecting and wondering at stones. This photo was taken on the coast of Namibia north of Henties Bay.
This is the rocky beach at Terrace Bay which is way up north along the Skeleton Coast. There is almost no sand on this beach; it’s all rocks and shells. In the ocean’s roar you can hear the heave of the stones – a grating, gravelly undertone in the sound of the waves. A paradise for rock hounds and shell collectors. There are agates on this beach for those who have a careful eye….
These are some that I found. To make sure a stone is an agate, hold it up to the light. If it is translucent and milky, it’s probably an agate.
Here are another two I put in a glass container after I returned home. These are larger – about 1.5 inches wide and have broken into halves.
This is a close up of one of the agates in a previous photo. It is a small one not quite an inch long, but it reminds me of how the earth looks from outer space. Above you can see the pink “coated” rock I mentioned earlier (above).
This is a unique agate which Frikkie found while he was fishing at Terrace Bay. It looks like someone had it on a potter’s wheel. Even the dark ends are translucent. Or its the core of a sea apple licked by the waves for a long time. Now we will go inland into the mountains as our quest for crystals continues…
As Frikkie took me deep into the mountains – into wild and unbelievable landscapes (which I will show you more of in future posts), we encountered glorious thunder storms. We stopped by the side of the road here to look for stones. This area rises around 50km from the coast which is the edge of one of the largest lava sheets in the world. Sheets of molten lava poured over this land about 300 million years ago. The primary color you see in the mountains and rocks is a purplish red as pictured above. The unusual tree is called a Half-Human tree which is a variety of stem succulent. They are somewhat rare. More about this tree is future posts!
notice the opaque black crystals on this piece of pink granite. They are refracting, not transmitting light.
I love this rock – you can read how the yellowish crystal formed itself as a band within opaque rocks. Look at the wide facets. Good example of a rock with character.
Particularly beautiful quartz crystal structure. Notice the geode forming up near the top.
Yes, this is amethyst. I’ve sure you’ve seen bigger and more beautiful geodes full of amethysts in museums and stores, but imagine bending down and picking this one up off the earth of Africa’s mountains, holding it in your hand under a sky full of looming thunder heads. Exhilarating!
This Namibian mountain range rises 600 meters above the surrounding desert. A number of kinds of semi-precious stones are found in this area, such as topaz, tourmaline and fluorite all of which and more we found in the Damara’s wooden stands, desert kiosks, – see below
The Damara are a very old culture who live in northern Namibia. At Spitzkoppe, a national reserve, they maintain the park and live, very simply. They make a little money selling crystals and stones which they themselves find and chisel out of the rocks. Imagine doing this with a hammer and chisel. They know where to find the stones – in the quartz veins between big rocks. They display their wares on rickety wooden stands with huts for shelter from the sun. Tourists do come by and purchase keepsakes, but the only place in Namibia you are going to find US kind of tourists shops with A/C is in the cities and some towns. I enjoyed meeting the Damara people and purchased a number of stones from them which you will see below. These hand-minded stones are somewhat analogous to the fresh fruit you might buy from a farmer’s roadside stand.
This is a type of gypsum called Desert Rose. It is the colloquial name given to rose-like formations of crystal clusters of gypsum which include abundant sand grains.The ‘petals’ are flat crystals, fanning open in radiating crystal clusters. The rosette crystal form tends to occur when the crystals form in arid sandy conditions, such as the evaporation of a shallow salt basin. The crystals form a circular array of flat plates, giving the rock a shape similar to a rose blossom. Sand grains are themselves crystalline structures, so with the Desert Rose you have crystals within crystals. It is amazing to me – the atomic structures which form all of life on this earth and continually repeat certain designs such as the spiral of which this stone is one tiny example.
and here is a beautiful example of fluorite.
a smaller piece of fluorite next to a chunk of tourmaline, the crystal which can contain more color variations in it than most other crystals. You can see the green and pink in this piece which earns earns this kind of crystal, the name watermelon tourmaline.
another piece of fluorite – aquamarine translucence with plenty of “character.”
And this is smoky topaz
and last photo of crystals we found in Damara desert kiosks. I’m not sure what type these are. Can anyone identify them? The middle one may be beryl.
The rock hounds go to the Messum Crater formed millions of years ago by volcanic action. Look and see what is to be found in this, one of my favorite places in the world…
Frikkie knows many hidden places in the Messum Crater where treasures can be found such as a big desert field with pieces of rose quartz scattered all around.
In the area of Messum called The Eye of the Volcano an entire area is covered with quartz crystal pieces as though someone had a huge basket and just walked around sprinkling them on the sand. Can you imagine the geological forces which erupted to splinter all these crystal fragments and shower them on the desert floor. And the eons of time this all took to happen.
And this a different kind of discovery – a combination of wind and moisture left this transient sand sculpture embedded with crystals. I said to Frikkie, “look, it’s a lion cub!
Citrine – a crystal which is rare. It’s found in Namibia, Brazil and not many other places in the world. Frikkie knows a field in the Messum Crater which is strewn with citrine. I learned it is a form of amethyst which has cooled very slowly over millennia to reach this sun-orange color. Again, imagine walking around in the desert, and picking them up right off the ground. Look at many, take only a few. They ones that speak to you…
And what do you do with all the rocks when you get home? My largest suitcase was chuck-a-block with stones and very heavy. I had to re-arrange everything at the Namibian airport just to get the weight down. But I was not leaving behind any of my rocks! Forget the tourist trinkets, I was bringing back the very bones of Namibia. For me, these stones are not for decoration or to be made into jewelry. I consider them friends and I like to have them nearby when I write. Each one has its own character and beauty. As I said above, they are like books which I never tire of reading.
This post is just a tiny part of my whole tour with Frikkie, and I hope you will stay tuned for future posts. If you are interested in booking a tour and finding some crystals which speak to you, email Tillie at email@example.com