The ranger leading us south
The adventure really began on May 26, the morning that the Great Gobi A ranger, Bilgee, led us south to the Strictly Protected Area. No gers, no herders, no livestock, just Gobi for as far as we could see. But even in this forbidding looking landscape, spring flowers were blooming.
Gobi wildflower (species unknown)
Our destination was beyond those far mountains.
The Land Cruiser had a flat tire, so we took the opportunity to wander about.
Not far off the road were the remains of a camel, which Kim is checking out.
Tire replaced, we drove on, crossing this area of white sandy soil that probably has water in it during the rare times that it rains.
The van had been having some overheating problems earlier. stopping a few times to cool down. It was quite hot in the middle of the day, even though it was only May. During one our stops to wait for them we saw a tolai hare.
Tolai hare. He sat for a few photos and then ran up the hill and behind the rocks.
Driving out onto yet another plain between the mountain ranges, our driver suddenly stopped. Wild bactrian camels! They crossed the road right in front of us, running from left to right. We stopped, got out and I took many photos as I could of this critically endangered species that few people ever see. It is estimated that there are 900 of them. I counted about 16 in this herd. This is with my normal lens showing how far away they were. You can just see them in front of the cloud of dust to the left of the road.
I got out my Nikon D750 with the 80-400mm lens and kept shooting as they ran past.
This close-up is cropped in from one of the zoom images. Amazingly they had stopped running and were warily standing.
Our Land Cruiser driver, Erdenebat, had a point and shoot camera with a good zoom lens on it, so he got some pretty special photos as a souvenir of the Expedition. It was an exciting encounter for all of us!
And we hadn’t even gotten to the Strictly Protected Area yet…
Kim Campbell Thorton, myself, the ranger Bilgee and Oliver Hartman at the entrance to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area. Photo by our guide, Batana
I took this shot standing near the sign looking back the way we’d come, distant mountains still with snow on them from the storm we’d driven through a few days earlier.
And now looking south to where we were going. Oliver had mounted a GoPro camera on the hood of the Land Cruiser. This was good fast earth road, as you can see.
The route we took led through a succession of basins and ranges. Our destination lies ahead.
We’d gotten fairly far out ahead of the van and stopped to wait for them to catch up. And waited. And waited. After about twenty minutes, knowing there was an overheating issue, Erdenebat, the driver, decided that we had to go back. When we got to the van it was clear that something was wrong. The driver’s seat had been removed so that the engine compartment, which is in between the seats, could be accessed.
While the van was being worked on, I walked around and came upon this snake, a steppe ribbon racer.
It disappeared under a shrub. I saw that there was a hole and kept watch. Sure enough, the snake reappeared, looking like a little periscope.
The snake’s “home” is under the shrub in the foreground. Quite a habitat.
I also saw this Mongolian agama lizard. They’re pretty common. Although the basic markings and that red spot stay the same. I’ve seen a number of color variations, adapted to their surroundings. All in all it was a pretty good wildlife day.
It turned out that the van had overheated yet again and the cause was a blocked fuel pump. The photo shows Erdenebat blowing it clear of the gunk that was blocking it. Our guide, Batana, explained that the insides of the tanks of the trucks that deliver petrol to the soum centers are really dirty and that that dirt and crud is emptied along with the fuel into the tanks at the petrol stations, where it then ends up a vehicle’s gas tank. This is apparently a well-known problem that people in Mongolia have to deal with all the time.
Fuel pump cleaned out, the van was fine and we were on our way again.
As we drove through the final range of mountains before the one we were heading for, we followed this wide flat draw
We came out of the draw into another basin and saw our destination before us.
On the right, at the base of the mountain, is the Shar Khuls oasis. There are no rivers in this part of the Gobi. The only water comes from springs, or wells dug by researchers.
And here we were, driving right into the oasis, which had water running in the road in a number of places. The lush greenery after a long day in the desert was a pleasant sight.
Coming back out of the oasis we stopped at this ovoo and circled it three times.
Straight ahead is where we would camp, nestled in a sheltered spot at the base of those hills.
We set up in the same location that the bear researchers use. It turned out that we missed them by just a few days. The big tent, called a maikhan, was for dining and hanging out. Oliver is getting ready to leave for a ride with Bilgee, the ranger.
The only permanent structure was a “ger” built into a berm on one side of the camping area. It had a wood roof and plastered walls and was the coolest place to be, literally, during the heat of the day. Our cook, Soyoloo, used it as her kitchen. Oliver, with Batana’s help, interviewed Bilgee about his life and work, the reserve and the bears.
So, here we were, camped in the habitat of the world’s most critically endangered bear.
Next week: what did we see?