An Otherworldly Scene

Nov 24, 2021

Barn in Wilbur, WA
photo by Steve Piccolo

Capturing the famed dunes of Namibia in a hot air balloon

On a month-long trip to southern Africa, AAA member Steve Piccolo had already rafted the Zambezi River just below Victoria Falls and zoomed above the borderland between Zambia and Zimbabwe. And while he says these experiences were unforgettable, it was a hot air balloon ride in Namibia that would be his most noteworthy memory of that trip in 2017.
The view at 3,000 feet was like none other as the floating basket drifted at the whim of the breezes, according to Piccolo. “Except when the pilot activates the burners, it is dead quiet — almost eerily so,” he says. “Since the balloon moves with any breeze, there is usually no wind to signify motion. And the suspended basket is remarkably stable, permitting a slowly moving panorama to play out across one’s field of view. Of course, all bets are off when the weather gets rough.” On this day the weather was kind, and Piccolo says even his wife, who didn’t like heights, felt comfortable peering down at the Martian-like landscape. Piccolo snapped this photo just after sunrise at roughly 2,000 feet in the air in early September. A day before, the couple were clambering over the same dunes pictured in the background of the photo during their eight-day guided tour through Namibia. This was Piccolo’s first trip to the southwestern region of Africa. “I have always had a travel bug,” the retired Seattle resident says. “It has always been my objective to take advantage of any opportunity to see places that I have thought I would find interesting, and I have never really been disappointed.” In this view, the sand dunes of the Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park can be seen at the upper left, while numerous “fairy circles” typical of extremely arid regions are stamped in the orange soil in the lower portion of the image. The park is a protected area encompassing 30,447 square miles (49,000 square kilometers). The Sossusvlei is a salt-clay pan surrounded by dunes. Other notable sights in the park are the 6,560-foot-high (2,000-meter) Naukluft Mountains and the Namib Desert, which is reputedly the world’s oldest desert covering all of western Namibia.

–Written by Victor Whitman

Share your photos with us! Whether you were on a Northwest road trip, aboard a cruise ship or traveling internationally, we’ll select photos from AAA Washington members to publish in our member magazine, Journey, in e-newsletters and online.

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