The legendary grassland steppe, Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve, Dornod Aimag
At last I was going to see a part of Mongolia that I’d been wanting to for years….the eastern steppe grasslands. Even though Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve covers almost 1.2 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, it’s a remnant of an ecosystem that once spread from the Pacific Ocean to the plains of Hungary.
Within minutes of our first drive around the reserve we spotted Mongolian gazelles, the wildlife for which the reserve is best known and the main species it was created to protect.
Then we saw this single male gazelle.
Not long after, we spotted this good-sized herd.
This is Batmunkh, one of the six rangers who patrol the reserve.
The next day, on our way to the new visitor’s center, we saw an even larger herd! As you can see, we had cloudy weather and the gazelles were usually quite a distance away, so not the best conditions for getting good photos, but still wanted to share one of this big group. They are known to gather in mege-herds of tens of thousands. There are 40,000-60,000 gazelles in the reserve.
This group was nice enough to stop on the ridge.
The new visitor’s center near the soum center of Holonbuyr. It is also used for community events and children’s activities, along with education about the reserve, its wildlife and plant life.
One of the banners that adorned the walls. The Nature Conservancy has been involved in supporting the reserve for many years.
Batmunkh showed us part of a large collection of botanical specimens.
Photos of local people.
On the way back a young tolai hare ran down the road in front of our car for quite a distance.
This group of gazelles paralleled us for awhile and were fairly close. Taken through the driver’s side window while we were rolling. I actually got pretty good at it.
Our campsite, not far from a spring. Chosen to provide some shelter from the wind. It was stormy the whole time we were there.
My tour company person set up a meeting for me with Ganbold, one of the rangers. Through my driver, Erdenebat, who speaks good English, I got a great briefing on the reserve and the gazelles. I’ll be writing it up as a future blog post. I was very impressed by both rangers’ love and enthusiasm for the reserve and their jobs dedicated to protecting it.
One of the dozen or so lakes in the reserve.
Off across the steppe on an earth road…
We saw some truly spectacular clouds. Summer is the rainy season in Mongolia and this year most of the country got thoroughly drenched, which was great for the herders and their livestock.
Saker falcon, an endangered species, perched right near the road.
Another big herd, the largest yet. What a send-off for our departure!
A close-up. They all cut across the road in front of us, flowing like a stream.
One last herd.
An individual female. And with, her the gazelle “show” was over.
Crossing the Kherlen Gol on our way to our next stop.
Rainstorm on the steppe.
Our final destination for this year’s Expedition off in the distance….Har Yamaat Nature Reserve. The weather was looking pretty good, compared to where we had been.
Rock Formations at Har Yamaat.
We drove up to this high point where we could see the Kherlen Gol in the distance. But what captured our attention was the riot of wildflowers.
Wild lily and Pasque flower.
We went back down the slope to a sheltered spot and set up camp. It was a pleasant evening, perfect for our outdoor dining. About 10pm it started to rain…and rain….and rain. It was raining hard in the morning. We had to eat breakfast sitting in the cars. Everyone pitched in to get the tents packed up. I think we set a record for the trip breaking camp. I was wondering what it would be like getting back down the mountain to the road, even though we were in Land Cruisers with a go-anywhere Russian van as our support vehicle. As it turned out the “earth” road was grassy enough that that part was no problem. However, once we arrived at the main road west…
The drivers had to deal with quite a few kilometers of this. Each made his own choices on how and where to pick his way through it.
But we just kept moving on and no one got stuck. By this time Ogii’s white Land Cruiser was thoroughly beige.
We finally out-ran the muddy roads and made good time to Ondorhaan, recently renamed Chinggis Khan Hot (City). I got a kick out of seeing the zebra tire cover in the middle of Mongolia.
The city entrance if you’re coming from the east.
We stopped for a break and were treated to one more crane sighting! A pair of demoiselles with two chicks.
Scenery heading east. With horses.
For the last night out, we stayed at a tourist ger camp near Avarga, the first center of Imperial Mongolia. Very comfortable gers to stay in and a huge elaborately decorated dining ger.
I had a little visitor who was plucking loose pile from the carpet for its nest. Species unknown.
One last look at the quintessential Mongolian landscape I’ve grown to love so much.
We stopped for lunch by this ovoo and a herd of horses wandered by.
Full-circle back past the Chinggis Khan statue and on to Ulaanbaatar.
And that concludes the story of the 2013 WildArt Mongolia Expedition.
I’m leaving on Saturday for a road trip to Wyoming. I plan to spend four days in Yellowstone National Park, a day in Jackson for the annual Fall Art Festival and then on east to Dubois for the Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop. Five days, 175 artists, nationally-known instructors…it’s going to be very special week. I hope to post on the blog a couple of times, but will largely cover the goings-on via Twitter and posts to my Facebook fan page.