The Valley of Desolation at Camdeboo National Park : SANParks September 8th, 2017
The Valley of Desolation at Camdeboo National Park
The Valley of Desolation is a geological phenomenon which attracts an estimated 50 000 visitors each year, and forms part of South Africa’s most spectacular sights. A product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature spanning millions of years, the Valley was declared a national monument of geological and scenic significance in 1939. Located just 14km out of Graaff-Reinet, it is a magnet for hikers, photographers and avid bird watchers.
Today these dolerite columns rise 120m up from the valley floor providing sensational views over the Camdeboo plains. The endless space and feeling of being perched on top of the world has rendered many visitors speechless.
Roughly 240 million years ago the land was made up of meandering streams which often overflowed their banks during flash floods and deposited layers of mud and sand through the years. This eventually turned to shale and sandstone rock as deposit upon deposit followed. At the end of this period volcanic molten rock intruded cracks and crevices through these layers which around 180 million years ago formed dykes and sills.
Millions of years of erosion of the softer shales, mudstones and sandstones have exposed the sills and dykes and the result are the dramatic dolerite columns seen at the top of the Valley of Desolation. Do not miss the excellent artistic display at the outlook point, explaining the dolerite intrusions and erosion that followed it.
The original road to the Valley of Desolation was constructed by labourers using picks, shovels and barrows, coupled with a few sticks of dynamite here and there, and was completed in 1930. The road to the top was tarred in 1978 providing visitors with easy access to the picnic sites and viewpoints.
Before reaching the end of the steep road to the top, there is a lookout point and toposcope which offers a superb view over Graaff-Reinet, the Nqweba Dam and the surrounding rugged terrain of the Karoo.
The car park is found at the top of the road and there is a circular 1.5km hiking trail, which branches off to the longer Crag Lizard Trail. Keep a look out for the medium-sized lizard, Pseudocordylus microlepidotus fasciatus, after which this trail is named. The Valley of Desolation is beautiful at any time of day, however afternoons are particularly special as the late afternoon sun tints the rock towers in amazing shades of reds and oranges, well worth seeing.
There are several viewpoints dotted along the cliff edges, all offering different outlooks over the valley. To say that the Valley of Desolation is a spiritual experience is not an overstatement. It has visitors leaving with a sense of wonder at creation and definitely a feeling of wanting to return.