A sprawling patchwork of desert basins, rocky terrain, and mountain ranges, the Gobi Desert reveals itself in pockets of stark scenery and silence-dominated desolation.
Covering northern China and southern Mongolia, the Gobi is the coldest and most northern of the world’s deserts and remains relatively untouched, with rural families not just surviving, but thriving, in the most barren landscapes. The Mongolian government established the Great Gobi National Park in 1975 and UNESCO designated it as the fourth largest Biosphere Reserve in the world in 1991.
The area is often imagined as a lifeless desert, but you’ll watch horses and gazelles romp, see camels appear over hilltops, and hear goats and sheep cry out against fierce winds that gather and roll across the steppe. In the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, the Khongoryn Els sand dunes are said to sing when the wind blows. The park also features the deep ice field of Yolyn Am canyon. Walk the red Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag and seek out the oases and lakes that serve as a refuge and grazing land for wild animals.
The Mongolian Gobi Desert is the largest dinosaur fossil site in the world, with the Cretaceous Dinosaur Fossil Cradle Sites containing dinosaur fossils, tracks, and footprints that belong to the period of 70 to 99 million years ago. The region is especially important for dinosaur fossils from the later Cretaceous period, which is the last of the main three periods of the dinosaur age.
Nomadic Mongolians always opened their doors to anyone passing through, warming guests with salty milk tea. These nomads are definitely one of the main reasons to travel to the Gobi. Horses play a major role in their daily lives and symbolize the culture of the country. It is said that a Mongol without a horse is like a wingless bird. Beyond the adventure, trails, and activities offered by your Mongolian guide out of Ulaanbaatar, watching the sunrise may be one of the best, with the Gobi the perfect place to pause, meditate, and ponder where your life is taking you.
Lesser Known Mongolia Facts
Mongolia is a landlocked country bordered by Russia and China.
About a third of the population is nomadic, living in tents (called yurts) with their families and livestock. The nomads move to find new pastures for their livestock and to protect themselves from extreme weather conditions.
The endangered two-humped Bactrian camel is native to Mongolia.
Genghis Khan is considered the founding father of the Mongolian people.
Snow leopards are native to Mongolia and one-third of their population lives there.
Mongolian horsemen are believed to have invented ice cream more than 700 years ago. They carried cream in containers across the Gobi Desert in winter, and the trotting of the horses shook it into ice cream. It’s now sold by vendors and is a favourite winter treat.
The Gobi Desert seems like earth reduced to its most basic elements: rock, sky, glaring sunlight, and little else. The apparent emptiness is both compelling and intimidating. But the Gobi is not empty, it is filled with space, sky, history, and landscapes. – Conservation Ink
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.
** Pics sourced.