Our last jeep trip was through Uyuni, Bolivia—-and although the scenery was spectacular after four days in a jeep I was stir crazy. Thus, when we signed up for a 12-day jeep tour in Mongolia I felt weary over how long I’d remain sane (and civil).

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not so much the jeep itself—it’s sitting in one for 7-9 hours at a time. Nothing like boredom to turn you into a 5-year-old that finds poking your neighbor (aka, Chris) entertaining. Hey, what can I say—I tried to get him to play slug bug but he wasn’t game. Never mind that there aren’t any VW bugs in Mongolia ….

Anyway, I digress. For me, our 12-day trip through the Gobi Desert and Central Mongolia was probably the highlight of our 9-month trip (Chris liked it too, just not as much). To put it simply, I fell in love with Mongolia.

We spent our first 5 days making our way through the Gobi Desert. The Gobi is Asia’s largest and the world’s 5th largest desert, yet only 3% is made up of the sandy dunes one would imagine. Once an inland sea, the Gobi desert serves as a tomb for dinosaur bones and refuge for wildlife.

On our first day’s drive, we made our way to the middle Gobi (Dundgobi) known for it’s rock formations, salt lakes, and dry plains. Along the way we saw countless ancient warrior graves as well as ovoos, religious sites. Upon seeing an ovoo, custom dictates a traveler should circle it clockwise three times to have a safe journey. We saw so many of them that eventually our driver would just circle once (with all of us in the vehicle) and honk three times. Even in Mongolia where superstitions rule, concessions are made.

Ancient warrior gravestone

Ancient warrior gravestone

Semi-wild horses enjoying salt lake

Semi-wild horses enjoying salt lake

Paying our respects to an ovoo

Paying our respects to an ovoo. Kinda looks like a penis, huh?

As our touring day ended, we settled in for the night at a local family’s ger. This served as our routine for the rest of the trip. We spent our nights in gers, often warmed by whatever was on hand to throw into the wood stove. Most nights this included camel dung, sheep poop, or wood.

Our host famlies cooked us meals by wood stove. Mongolia is not known for it’s great food, and that’s a setiment we most definitely share. Mongolians get very little fat from other sources, so most meals are laden with huge globules of fat. I’m sorry, but I’ve learned I much more prefer my fat coming from chocolate and cheese. Real fat has such a pungent flavor. Until you experience it for yourself, I’m not sure there’s anyway to describe it. So, go ahead … go buy yourself some thick camel fat, slice it up, and put it on your rice.  Let me know how you like it….

Some families went beyond the basic camel fat/sheep fat, mutton, rice combination and would provide pasta or carrots and potatoes as well; let me tell you, those were great nights. It’s amazing how grateful one can be for a carrot. You’d think we were dining in a gourmet restaurant!

Slipping into a routine that we kept for the rest of the trip, we rose early for our next day’s drive through the Middle Gobi. Our second day took us through more vast open steppe lands where we visited ancient monasteries and a fossilized sea bed.

Tsagaan Suvraga, sea bed full of marine fossils

Tsagaan Suvraga, sea bed full of marine fossils

Tsagaan Suvraga, sea bed full of marine fossils

The Russian workhorse in Mongolia. Why can't we get these in America?

Our second night, we stayed with camel herders. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and awoke in the morning to watch them complete their morning chores of milking the camels. Presidential elections were taking place in Mongolia on this day, so our particular family was quite busy with different visitors passing by on their way to the nearest town for voting (2 hours away).

Sunset in the Gobi desert

Sunset in the Gobi desert

Heading to the elections (note: the traditional dress)

Get the vote out: a family heading to the presidential elections

Struggling to get the baby camel away from mama

Struggling to get the baby camel away from mama

Your standard Mongolian toilet

Your standard toilet on a 12-day jeep tour

Pit stop to visit with camel herder

Pit stop to visit with camel herder (note solar panel in background and motorcycle to herd flock)

On our third day by jeep, we traveled to Dalanzagaad—the largest town in southern Mongolia. We can’t say much about this town as it mainly provided us a spot to replenish our lunch supplies, check internet, and take showers. It served its purpose, but in a less then inspiring way. The Soviet, concrete block buildings surrounded by ger compounds didn’t leave the town aesthetically pleasing.

On our fourth day we passed through the ice valley of Yolyn Am and made our way to the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag. Yolyn Am, meaning Vulture’s Gorge, is a 40km long canyon which often contains an ice valley throughout the year. We hiked through the canyon, but never saw the vultures for which the valley is named after.

The Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag are red sandstone cliffs and canyons. Loaded with dinosaur fossils, palaeontologist found the first dinosaur egg here. We also heard that the sunset was extremely beautiful when it dipped just under the sandstone cliffs but we were a little slow upon leaving our yurt and completely missed it.

Fixing a broken down jeep at the camp

Our most memorable stop was at the largest sand dunes of Klonguyrn Els in the Gobi. Also known as the “singing sands” due to the sound that the wind makes when rushing over them, they reach a height of 800m and extend for 12km. From our ger, we rented camels and rode the hour’s distance to the base of the dunes. We enjoyed our time climbing and frolicking in the sand.

Our day at the sand dunes was hot, hot, hot. So, it was much to our surprise to wake the next day to rain and eventually snow. But, that post will have to wait.

More pictures from our jeep tour through Mongolia can be seen at Jodi’s and Chris’ respective flickr pages

One Response to “Part 1: Jeeping it through the Gobi Desert”

  1. Jamie says:

    Wow!!! This is amazing, and I would LOVE to go on a 12-day jeep trip through Mongolia. I wonder if they still do them in November????

    Beautiful photos, and you can tell you guys are loving life.