The Karoo: Dazzling Desolation

A desert is a tough sell for a vacation. "Come to nothing" is not a slogan ever likely to draw amusement-park crowds. Which is why most visitors to South Africa, steered to Kruger National Park in the northeast and to the coastal vineyards of the southwest, often don't notice the country is half scrub. That two-hour flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town? That was the desert.

Or deserts. South Africa has three: Namaqualand, the Kalahari and the Karoo. Namaqualand and the Kalahari both extend into neighboring countries, but the vast Karoo — hundreds of miles of dusty plains,...

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