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THE TSWAING CRATER

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About  200 000 years ago a meteoroid crashed through the earths atmosphere . It must have been travelling at a speed of about 60 000  Km/h as it rushed through the atmosphere over Southern Africa. It collided with the earth on the high veldt of South Africa throwing up the earth and creating an impact crater with walls about 200 metres high and with a diameter of about a kilometre. The crater and area around the crater is covered with indiginous bush and this has a variety of wild life in it as well as a thriving bird population. 

The crater is reached by walking through the bush along a winding path that leads slowly upwards. The thorn bushes lead onto groves of Marula trees before the rim of the crater is reached. Marula trees have a plum like fruit which when fermented makes an excellent alcoholic drink. This fruit is reputed to be the downfall of many elephants which in other areas eat the fermenting fruit and become hopelessly drunk. The path continues on around the edge of the crater giving views out over the salt lake that lies in the centre of the depression. The picture above gives a good impression of this situation. Further on along the path a hedgehog senses our approach and curls itself up into a tight ball. It is lying just to one side of the track its spines sticking out in all directions making it safe from all but the most determined predators. We bend over and look at this creature for a few minutes, but the hedgehog is taking no chances and stays tightly curled up.

The path rises and falls as the top of the ridge has worn away at different rates.  Ahead we can hear quite a commotion but it is difficult to make out what is going on. As we get closer to the noise we can see lots of movement in the trees slightly lower down the slope. Suddenly a group of monkeys chase through the trees leaping from branch to branch and making strange yelling noises. They are not interested in us but go racing past in a high speed cops and robbers type chase. 

The path is now starting to drop down into the crater and after clambering over rocks and fallen tree branches we reach the crater bottom. The lake is a soda lake with a bright white beach around the salty water. The crater gets its name from this salt  as the name Tswaing means salt pan in the local se Tswana language. Scientists have drilled down into the ground at the bottom of the crater to see if any remnant of the asteroid are buried there. Apparently most of the asteroid must have been vaporized in the collision as few parts remain. In the past people have tried to extract the salt from the lake but with very little success. The salt was a dirty colour and of low quality. There were even attempts to "Whiten " the salt by using white wash but this was unsuccessful as the piles of old sacks of whitewash near the crater bear testament. A track leads up out of the crater and along past herds of cows grazing in the veldt. The cattle are not the modern "milk cows" but local Tswana cattle and the steady chewing can be heard as the path is followed back to our waiting cars.
 


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