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Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Our Gobi Adventure: Part II

We saw many changes in the terrain on our first day. From the busy city, we drove through green fields that turned more brown and rocky as we went south. Along the way, Gana had only two tapes: a Mongolian singer and ABBA. Listening to “Mamma Mia” while driving through a desolate desert is a very stange experience.

Towards the end of the first day we drove by the White Mountains. It was raining, so nobody wanted to get out and take pictures, but they were very nice. That evening, after it was done raining, we stopped at a large outcropping of interesting rock formations. There were ruins of an old building there, but since nobody spoke English, we never figured out what they were.

On the second night, we drove up to a cliff overlooking the desert and the Tsagaan Suvarga formations. The rocks had red and yellow in them and reminded me of the Badlands. We climbed around on the top and then walked down to the bottom to walk along the hills for a little bit. It was very beautiful and Brad got some great pictures.

Most of the Gobi Desert is rocky, sandy ground, but we did get a chance to see sand dunes. They looked the same as they did in the Sahara Desert, except in the Sahara they go on for as far as you can see. In the Gobi, they’re just a long, narrow strip. Before we went hiking up the dunes, we took a camel ride along the base of them. I had forgotten just how stinky and hairy camels are. Their skin is rough and leathery and their fur really feels like thick, coarse hair. Not to mention that they fart and poop all the time.

After dinner, we climbed up to the top of the sand dunes for sunset. It’s difficult enough to walk on sand on level ground. Walking up a hill made of sand is very challenging. Our whole group did make it to the top and we had a great view of the desert around us. Then we saw clouds moving in, so we decided we better head down right away. We thought it was rain, but we discovered pretty quickly that it was actually a sandstorm. At first it wasn’t too bad, but it got worse as we kept walking towards our camp. We all covered our faces and agreed to stay close together because the visibility was getting worse. Right when I was starting to worry that we wouldn’t be able to find our camp, the headlights of our van cut through the gloom and Gana gave us a ride back. I’m sure the Mongolians were all very worried about the tourists getting lost.

The last really nice part of our trip was at the waterfall. This was much further to the north, so we were camped in a green valley between pine-covered hills and a river cutting through a rock canyon. We got to take a much-needed break from driving and spend two nights there. Brad and I went for a walk along the river to the waterfall and pool. The waterfall was much larger and prettier than I was expecting.

On our second day there we went horseback riding. I had only been on a horse once, and it wasn’t my favorite experience. This time, though, I really enjoyed myself, mainly because my horse was the only one that was obeying. Brad’s horse was tied to the group leader’s horse, but the rest of us were on our own. Mine would go exactly where I guided it and even stopped and started on command. The others were having problems getting their horses to keep moving. I’d like to think that I’m naturally a superior horseback rider, but I’m pretty sure I just got lucky and got a well-behaved horse.

After our relaxing days by the river, we had a long drive back to Ulaanbaatar. We stopped at Kharkorin, the former capital city in the days of Ghengis Kahn’s son, Ogedei. Nothing is left from the empire, but there is a 16th century monastery. Like I’ve said, Brad and I are pretty sick of temples and other religious buildings, but this one was more interesting because we had an English-speaking guide.

It was great to get back to Ulaanbaatar and take showers and use toilets again. Even though it’s not a very nice city, I was extremely happy to return! We still have quite a few days before we go to Russia, so we are hoping to take one more journey into the Mongolian countryside.

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