One of the most popular travel routes in Mongolia is the Gobi desert, the habitat of the rarest animals and a unique natural landscape. Its desert and semi-desert ecosystems have hardly change in many years. The Gobi is often imagined to be a place of unbearable heat and lifeless sand dunes; similar to the inhospitable Sahara desert, but the reality is quite the reverse. The Gobi has high mountains, springs, forests, sands, steppes and a rich animal kingdom.
Occupying 30 per cent of the country’s vast territory and stretching from the east to the west through the southern part of Mongolia, it has a total of 52 mammals, 15 reptiles, 1 amphibian and 106 bird species and its plant kingdom comprises over 400 species including many valuable medicinal, folder and decorative plants.
Its numerous rare animal species include argali sheep, ibex, snow leopard, lynx, wild ass, gazelles, saiga, wild Bactrian camel and Gobi bear, just to name a few.
Dalanzadgad Town of Umnugobi aimag
Distance: 553 kilometers
Duration: 1 hour and 20 minutes by air
Accommodation: Local small hotels and tourist ger-camps
The administrative center of South Gobi aimag, Dalanzadgad is a starting point for trips to numerous destinations in the southern Gobi desert, including the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park, Yol or Lammergeir’s valley, Bayanzag flaming cliffs, Hongoryn els sand dunes, Borzongiin Gobi in the southern tip of the Mongolian territory, where one can find himself among herds of hundreds of wild ass and black-tailed gazelle. There is a museum where samples of local flora and fauna are displayed and basic hotel accommodation in the town.
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park
Distance: 45 kilometers to the south western edge from Dalanzadgad town
Situated to the west of Dalanzadgad town, Gobi Gurvansaikhan (meaning “Three Beauties of the Gobi Desert”) National park encompasses the series of ridges and valleys that make up the eastern end of the Gobi Altai Mountain Range. Surrounded by low plains, the mountains rise to 2200-2600 meters above sea level, and include the “Three Beauties” (three adjacent ridges named Eastern, Middle, and the Western Beauty), Zuulun, Sevrei, Gilbent, and Nemegt ridges.
The park, which extends for more than 380 kilometers from west to east, has extremely varied landscape with rocky and sandy desert plains, precipitous cliffs and ravines, salt pans and oases. Gurvan Saikhan includes the highest diversity of plant and animal life in the Gobi Altai with over 620 species of flowering plants and all 52 species of mammals that are found in the Gobi desert region.
The Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National park features some of the most popular tourists’ destinations, including the picturesque gorge of Yol valley, and the Singing Dunes, a spectacular sea of sand dunes bordered by red sandstone formations, an oasis and a *saxaul* tree forest. The Nemegt, Hermen tsav, and Bayanzag flaming cliffs, the sites of numerous important dinosaur fossil discoveries, also lie within the park.
The Yol Valley
Distance: 45 kilometers from Dalanzadgad town
Activities: camping, mountain climbing, trekking, wildlife viewing
One of the best-known travel destinations in the Southern Gobi is Yolyn Am canyon, known as Lammergeier’s Valley.
*Yol* means Lammergeier, one of the most endangered bird species of prey. Through the canyon, which is nestled between ridges of Zuun Saikhan Uul mountain, part of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park, small river flows. Sheltered by high cliff walls on both sides of the canyon, thick ice gorges remain frozen even on summer’s hottest days /till the beginning of July/.
Bayanzag – The Flaming Cliffs
Distance: over 90 kilometers from Dalanzadgad town
Duration: over 1hour by road from Dalanzadgad town
Activities: desert expeditions, camping, trekking, paleontology
First discovered by Roy Chapman Andrews, famous American explorer in the 1920, flaming cliffs of Bayanzag are an important site for both archeological and paleonthological finds. Complete dinosaur skeletons, including One-horned dinosaur (protoceraptors) and Egg-thief (Oviraptor) and numerous petrified eggs were excavated in ravines between the red flaming cliffs, which look like fire in the middle of the desert from distance.
Hongoryn Els Sand Dunes- Singing Dunes
Distance: 200 kilometers from Dalanzadgad town
Duration: 4-5 hours by road from Dalanzadgad
Activities: Desert expeditions, camping camel riding
Hongoryn Els sand dunes, the largest sea of sand stretch for 180 kilometers. The widths of the sand stretch exceed several miles and highest peaks tower up to over 250 feet. At the northern edge of the dunes one bank of Hongoryn gol river, there is an oasis, which is rich in plantation and supports drinking water of animal species in the region.
EASTERN GOBI DESERT
Distance: 463 kilometers to Sainshand town from Ulaanbaatar
Duration: 8 hours by train to Sainshand, 10-12 hours by road
Activities: Desert expeditions, camping, trekking, paleontology, wildlife viewing
The eastern part of the Gobi has an open landscape of arid grasslands prone to episodes of severe drought and dust storms. Except from its numerous sandy Desert, there are many small lakes, streams and springs in the Eastern Gobi.
The Eastern Gobi region is easily accessible by railway. The main border port of Zamiin Uud in the southern frontier of the country is located here. Eastern Gobi desert also encompasses several historical sites including Khamaryn Hiid monastery, where 19th century great poet and Saint Danzanrabjaa staged his famous ballade “Saran Khuhuu” in 1830. Burdene Bulag sand dunes are some of the largest and most extensive dunes in the Gobi Desert.
Ergeliin Zoo Natural Reserve
Distance: 200 kilometers from Sainshand town
Duration: 5-7 hours by road from Sainshand
Activities: camping, trekking, paleontology, wildlife viewing
Ergeliin Zoo is one of the most remote Natural Reserve of the country, being located in the middle of the southern Gobi desert region. The rock in the Natural Reserve bears a number of imprints of ancient animals. Skeletons of giant dinosaurs were discovered in Ergeliin Zoo Natural Reserve, which occupies an area of 6,000 square kilometers.
Suihent Petrified Forest
Distance: 220 kilometers from Sainshand town
Duration: 6-7 hours by road from Sainshand
Suihent Petrified Forest was formed millions of years ago during the Jurassic Period of the Mesozoic Era. The fossilized forest, which occupies an area 500 meters in length and 80 meters wide, lies 60 kilometers past Ergeliin Zoo Natural Reserve. Fallen trunks of numerous petrified trees sometimes reach 20 meters in length. Their diameters range from 50 centimeters to 1.5 meters. By traveling 40 kilometers further, one smaller petrified forest is found at Tsagaan Tsav, where one will encounter large herds of black-tailed gazelle.
THE MIDDLE GOBI DESERT
Distance: 260 kilometers to Mandalgobi town from Ulaanbaatar
Duration: 6-8 hours by road
The Middle Gobi region is features by endless grassy plains which connect the arid desert region with the central Mongolian mountain steppe zone. The Middle Gobi encompasses a number of with natural beauty, including the Sangiin Dalai Temple, Baga Gazryn Chuluu, Sum Huh Burd and Zorgol Khaikhan mountain. The main town in the Middle Gobi-Mandalgobi is situated in 260 kilometers southwest of Ulaanbaatar.
The Ongiin River and Temple
Distance: 240 kilometers from South Gobi
Duration: 7-9 hours by road from Dalanzadgad
The site of the Ongiin River, where the ruins of Ongiin Temple stand is the halfway point between the two major travel destinations-the South Gobi and Karakorum. A number of travelers tend to spend a night on this spot in this area, during their journey between the southern Gobi desert and Central Mongolia.
Distance: 1000 kilometers to Altai town from Ulaanbaatar
Duration: 2 hours by air, 15-25 hours by road
Gobi-Altai aimag is another transmission zone where the parched steppe of the Gobi meets the rocky landscape of the high Altai range. Gobi Altai mountain range, which is part of the Altai Mountain Range extends for about 700 kilometers, with an absolute height of 3,500 to 4,374 meters above the sea level an average altitude of 2,260 meters. Mt. Khasagt Khairkhan and Eej Khairkhan are inhabited by argali sheep, ibex, snow leopard and snow cock that are all listed as endangered in the Red Book of Mongolia. Shargyn Gobi Desert is home to world endangered species of saiga antelope. Gobi-Altai encompasses most of The Great Gobi Protected Area.
The Great Gobi Protected Area
Distance: 240 kilometers from Altai
Duration: 5-8 hours by road
The Great Gobi Protected Area, covering 5,3 million hectares is the largest natural reserve in Asia and the third largest in the world. Great Gobi reserve protects a largely undisturbed part of the vast Gobi desert, and provides a last refuge for representatives of the ancient terrestrial fauna of Central Asia. Scientists have identified 410 species of plants, 49 species of mammals, 15 reptiles and amphibians and over 150 bird species in the protected area territory. The protected area is divided into two ecologically distinct parts, the Southern Altai Gobi (“Gobi A”) and the Dzungarian Gobi (“Gobi B”) separated by some 300 kilometers.
Southern Altai Gobi
Distance: 240 kilometers from Altai
Duration: 5-8 hours by road
Flora and fauna typical of the deserts of Central Asia inhabit the vast plains, valleys and arid mountains in the Southern Altai Gobi. The area provides a last refuge for some of the rarest and most endangered species of world wildlife. The world’s only living desert bear-Gobi bear or Mazaalai (Ursus arctos), which scientists estimate that only about 30 are left, and Mongolia’s last wild Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrians) live in the Altai Gobi part of the Great Gobi Protected Area.
Distance: 1400 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar, 340 kilometers from Hovd town
Duration: 10-14 hours by road from Hovd town
The Dzungarian Gobi features small mountain ranges and massifs broken by wide valleys, rolling plains, outwashes and hummocks. Vegetation is more plentiful, owing to greater precipitation and very little of the area is covered by sand. The highest mountain of the Great Gobi Protected Area Mt. Atas standing at 2695 meters above sea level in the Dzungarian Gobi provides important habitat for the world’s largest remaining herds of wild ass (Equus hemionus) as well as herds of black-tailed gazelle (Gazelle subgutturosa). It was also the last refuge for the world’s only remaining truly wild horse, the Takhi (Equus Przewalskii), which is now being reintroduced in two areas of Mongolia from Western zoos.