Part 6: The 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition- Erdenesogt & Gachen Lama Khiid, Enroute to Hustai Nuruu

Bronze Age graves overlooking the river

We camped within walking distance of a Bronze Age grave complex that the local people call the “Chess Stones”. I first saw them in 2014 on another trip to Erdenesogt because my driver, Erdenbat, our Land Cruiser driver for the Expedition, had been my driver then and knew about them. I did a few drawings in my journal and didn’t think about seeing them again, but here we were.

 There is one deer stone and others with decorative motifs carved into them
The big change from the previous stop was the addition of these plaques, one in Mongolian and one in English, mounted on a granite base. The “real” name for the stones and burials is “Shatar Chuluu”. It was interesting to experience the complex just as something that was out there on the landscape and the second time as something that had this official recognition
We set up camp in this grassy area and I noticed all these little dirt lines, many quite straight and forming interesting patterns, like miniature Nazca lines
That evening Kim produced, to my utter surprise, a bag of marshmallows that she’d brought all the way from California! A fire was quickly set going in the stove. The Mongols, as near as I could tell, had never seen them before. But as soon as Oliver found a piece of wood thin enough to use, Erdenebat saw exactly what was needed, found a length of heavy wire and formed it into a roasting rod
Kim demonstrating the fine art of roasting marshmallows, while Oliver waits with the wire holder. The three of us Americans discussed our various preferred ways of cooking them. I like to do it pretty quickly, but without charring them black
Erdenebat took a turn as Puugii looks on. Soyoloo joined us and everyone had at least one or two. It was a really fun surprise after the long haul from the Gobi
The “Nazca lines” mystery was solved the next morning. We’d set up camp right in the middle of a very large colony of Brandt’s voles. About hamster size and very fluffy, we could just sit in front of the dining tent and watch their antics
Which turned X-rated, causing Kim to call out at them “Get a room!”
A few popped out of the ground just a few feet from where I was sitting. This is not cropped
The presence of so many possible menu items drew a variety of raptors, including this black kite. I also photographed a saker falcon, an upland buzzard and a booted eagle, all circling around our campsite
During the day a dog showed up
Then a second one. I figured they had a home ger somewhere in the area, but they more or less moved in with us while we were there. First time in all my camping trips that we had our own temporary “ger dogs”
A local herder’s horses came and went past the camp a couple of times, something I always enjoy
We had made arrangments on a first trip into town to interview the head lama for a short video piece Oliver wanted to do. I’m usually in and out of soum centers, there just long enough to get gas, do any required shopping and then leave. But this time we’d go back and spend most of the day and I would get to see my favorite monastery, Gachen Lama Khiid, again.
Beautiful evening light
It turned out that we were in Erdenesogt on an “auspicious day”, which meant that there would a service with the monks chanting sutras all day long. The head lama of the monastery made time for Oliver’s interview, which we really appreciated
He explained the history of the monastery, which was built in 1901. Around the Buddha on the main altar of the old temple, seen above, were cases containing objects and artifacts that had been saved from destruction in 1937 when nine of the ten temples were destroyed, leaving only the one we were in
He gave us a tour of the old temple, pointing out one painting, the tall one on the left next to the doorway, which had been painted by a Mongolian artist. All the others were done by Chinese artists. His father had been the head lama also and we could tell he was very proud to have inherited the job. After the tour was over he had us to him home for lunch, a real treat! Erdensogt Soum, it turns out, is well-known for its tsagaan idee…white food or dairy.
While Oliver shot video and Kim stayed to watch the service, I took my watercolors and walked down towards the river (photo by Batana Batu)
This is the scene I was looking at…
Looking back towards the monastery. The old temple is on the right and the new one on the left. When I first came there in 2010 there was no wall around the perimeter
There was also a new gate being built which opens towards the town
It turned out that the monastery wasn’t the only sight in town. The lama also took us to the local museum. Small, but with a lot very interesting things like vintage  garments, a hand carved wood chess set and a very large old movie projector. The horse hair standards in the back would be brought to the local stadium for the annual naadam festival or other special occasions
We finally said our goodbyes and headed back to camp with one stop up on a hillside for photos of the monastery and town in their beautiful riverside setting in the Hangai Mountains
We all hiked up onto the hilltops to the south of camp to watch the sun go down. That’s Soyoloo enjoying our last evening there
Before leaving the area we drove back to the Bronze Age Shatar Chuluu stones so that I could see the lions. And there they were
Close-up of lion with barrow tomb in the background
Breaking camp. “Our ger dogs” hung around until we drove off then trotted off towards the river. I last saw them approaching a ger, so knew that’s where they really lived
We’d experienced a hellacious rain and wind storm the night before, as violent as anything I’d experienced in ten years of travel in the Mongolian countryside. I wondered what the river would be like and of course it was running quite high. But our trusty Land Cruiser made it just fine. The van stalled out 2/3s of the way across, but Puugii got it going and also made it just fine. Ahead in the photo is Bayanhongor.
Summertime on the road in Mongolia. Love it!
I’ve had Soyoloo as the cook a number of times but this was the first time I’d seen her heat up water for lunchtime ramen noodles in a pot on a cooktop placed on the top of the van’s engine compartment.
Summertime on the road in Mongolia! Uh oh. That was a very dark looming front ahead. Would it mean it was raining where we would be stopping to camp? As it turned out, no, we went into the rain and wind and came out the other side, but it had clearly gone through the place where we finally stopped for the night.
The old and new… one man on his horse and the other on a motorbike.
Visiting beside the Tuul Gol (river)
The end of another day on the road in Mongolia

Next week is the final stop for this year’s Expedition…the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project, located near Hustai National Park and that means takhi too.

Four New EBay Listings! Two Studio Studies, One Plein Air, One Giclee

I’ve just listed the following three paintings and one limited edition giclee:

Sunny Summer Day   oil   6"x 8"
Sunny Summer Day oil 6"x 8"

See this California landscape here

Big Lagoon, Humboldt County plein air oil  10"x8"
Big Lagoon, Humboldt County plein air oil 10"x8"

See this plein air scene from the north coast of California here

Palms oil 7 7/8"x 2 7/8"
Palms oil 7 7/8"x 2 7/8"

See this southern California scene here

What's Next?
What's Next?

See this 10″x 8″ limited edition giclee of a Jack Russell terrier here

Mongolia Monday- Cats and Dogs

Cat seen from train, 2004
Cat seen from train, 2004


In three trips to Mongolia I’ve seen exactly….three cats, literally one per trip. In general it appears that Mongolians don’t much like cats. There are a number of beliefs about them, none particularly positive. I was told that the appearance of a cat meant that there would be a death. Two women that I’ve spoken with both said that they didn’t even like the idea of touching a cat, but one allowed as how her attitude was probably based on things older people had said when she was much younger.

On the other hand, when we stopped at a ger in the Gobi, I watched a woman shoo this cat into the ger while the dogs were clearly meant to stay outside. I remember thinking “It figures.”

Cat at ger near Bayanzag in the Gobi
Cat at ger near Bayanzag in the Gobi

They do seem to be kept around by some families for the age-old purpose of rodent control. This little cat was at the ger camp at Ikh Nart. She was fussed over by the cook, who I was told loves animals. She was very friendly, so David and I were able to get an unexpected “cat fix”. It was apparently impossible to keep her out of the staff ger because she would climb up to the top and come in through the center opening. One night she dropped down onto our guide’s bed, one of the women who was adamant about not liking cats, and proceeded to try to snuggle up near her head. I remember thinking “It figures.”

Young cat at Red Rock Ger Camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Young cat at Red Rock Ger Camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve


I suspect that Mongols have had dogs for as long as they have had horses and the other “Snouts”. The traditional greeting upon approaching a herder ger is “Hold the dogs!” and they aren’t kidding. The traditional herder’s dog is a Tibetan mastiff, which can take its guard duties very seriously. I was told on this last trip, however, that many herders do keep a dog as a “pet” along with the ones for guarding. I hope to learn more about all this on the next trip.

Tibetan Mastiff-type dog
Tibetan Mastiff-type dog
Mastiff puppies near Hustai National Park
Mastiff puppies near Hustai National Park

One consistant piece of advice that one runs across when looking into travel to Mongolia is do not, DO NOT, pet, pat, scritch, scratch or otherwise touch any dog. They have not been vaccinated for rabies and getting saliva on your skin, much less a bite, means air evacuation to a hospital for the (painful) series of shots. Foreigners who are working in the countryside get the rabies vaccine, but since nothing is 100%, it’s smart for them not to have contact either.

That said, I have found that most of the dogs I’ve seen don’t exhibit vicious behavior and a lot of them seem to be longing for contact with people. I finally relented once at Arburd Sands when this dog approached me while I was sketching and leaned into me. I decided that it was unlikely that the camp owners would have a dog around that was at all likely to bite the guests. I stayed alert while I gently petted his back and didn’t let his mouth near my hand. He seemed to really like it, but it was still a risk.

Friendly dog at Arburd Sands
Friendly dog at Arburd Sands

I hadn’t seen brindle dogs like this before this trip. Not sure where that coloration came from, but he has the mastiff head and body type.

I feel like I’m seeing fewer of the pure mastiffs since my first trip. When the Russians pulled out in 1991, I was told that they left their guard dogs, mostly German Shepherds, behind. And I remember seeing a couple of what looked like purebred Shepherds between the airport and UB in 2006. There has obviously been a lot of uncontrolled interbreeding. It looks to me like the dogs are gradually reverting to the basic dog form that travellers see all over the world in the streets, the countryside, at dumps, etc.

Dog seen by side of the road near Gorkhi-Terelj
Dog seen by side of the road near Gorkhi-Terelj

And, for something completely different, at Red Rock Ger Camp, there was this chow chow, the only one I’ve seen in Mongolia. Never found out who he belongs to, but a fairly wide area around the camp seemed to belong to him, judging by his thorough and conscientious marking routine.

Chow chow at Red Rock Ger Camp
Chow chow at Red Rock Ger Camp


From The Global Village Dept.- twice when I’ve been in the State Department Store, I’ve seen young girls with tiny “fashion accessory” dogs tucked in their arms, a la Paris Hilton. Sigh.

And finally, many of you know that I have a rough collie, named Niki, the same breed as Lassie. Imagine my surprise when I happened upon this banner in Ulaanbaatar:

Pet shop banner, Ulaanbaatar
Pet shop banner, Ulaanbaatar

Keep Them Doggies Movin’!

So, to pick up the story of my first rescue transport last month-

The plan was to go on Sunday. I got a call at 8:30 am on Saturday from Jean, the transport co-ordinator. Could I go that day since the weather looked like it was going to get really nasty on Sunday? You betcha. I had seen the forecast, too. Over to the shelter a little before ten. Loaded up four (yup, four) dogs into our Volkswagon Eurovan. One border collie, one Rhodesian ridgeback mix, one lab mix and a pit bull, all in crates. Spanky’s (the pit bull) crate was facing between the front seats, so we could look at each other en route. Finished the paperwork, loaded up towels and anti-stink spray and away we went. The route was from Humboldt County down to just north of Ukiah, east on Highway 20 and out to where it joins up I-5 at Williams. About a five hour drive. A little barking but no real fuss. Loaded up the CD player and locked in the cruise control. Ate a lunch while I rolled. The funniest part of the trip was when some harmonica (Bob Dylan?) came on and Spanky started to sing along. On the way on 20 through Lake County, lots of flooding near the road and small slides and “flooded” signs in the towns. Snow on the higher hills and some by the road. Made cell phone contact with the woman I was meeting right as I came down out of the hills. We both pulled into the gas station within a couple of minutes of each other. Whew. Got the dogs out, let them pee, loaded them into crates in her horse trailer, went to pee myself, called home and hit the road. Elapsed time at the rendevous: 20 minutes. Another five hours of driving. Ate dinner (another tuna sandwich) while I rolled. Got home around 8:45pm. Long, hard day, but four dogs have a chance at a great new life, so it was more than worth it!

Second transport was just over two weeks ago on Feb. 9. I was going down to the Bay Area to hook up with my husband anyway, so figured I might as well help move some more dogs out. There was one to go on Wednesday, two on Friday and a third by the time I got to the shelter on Saturday morning. This time it was a blue heeler, a real redbone hound and a shepherd mix and two drop off points. One dog, the heeler, in Petaluma and the other two in San Rafael. With some in-flight adjustments, it all went fine and then it was on to San Francisco. The top priority was to finally go to the new De Young Museum and generally kick back in The City for a couple of days. Mission accomplished. Here’s the sundown view from our 8th floor (out of 9) room at the Hotel Carleton, our favorite, reasonably moderately priced place to stay in San Francisco. Very convenient location on Sutter Street. Close to art galleries, Japanese, Indonesian, Italian and Vietnamese food and just down from Nob Hill.


The De Young was terrific, inside and out. I had been very skeptical of the outside, but when we stood across the street in front of the new, mind-blowing Academy of Sciences building, we decided that it worked. There is a whole “orchard” of trees in the sunken bandshell area and they look great against the flat plane of the museum’s facade. The tower still looks a little odd, but the design needed that. Too bad I forgot to take some pictures. Sorry.

The inside is everything a great place for showing and viewing art should be. They have so much more room now, so there is a lot more to see. Lots of old favorites like the Sargents and some I don’t ever remember seeing like two by William Keith, a killer Thomas Hill and a couple of Diebenkorns. One of the best modern works was a suspended cube made out of charred wood from a southern black church which had been burned by an arsonist. It was an amazing visualization of objects in three dimensions. It’s called “Anti-mass” and if you go to the De Young, don’t miss it!

We then drove on out to Ocean Beach. Winter in California. We are so spoiled. Here’s a view north towards the Cliff House. It was t-shirt weather warm at four in the afternoon.


One the way back to the hotel, we drove through Golden Gate Park and ended up timing it perfectly for “magic light” as you can see from this photo of the Conservatory of Flowers. Got lots of pictures of cypress trees in great light too, but you’ll have to wait for the paintings.


The next day, we went to the Legion of Honor for more art, this time European (the De Young only has American art). I found, in both museums, that my eye and technical ability in painting has reached the point where I can probably seriously bore almost anyone talking about underpainting, in what order the colors were put down, how many strokes of the brush an area had, the variety of edges, etc. Here’s one of my new favorites from the Legion of Honor, “Portrait of a Miniaturist”, artist unknown. Stylistically, it could have been done last week. It was done quickly, with confidence and probably for the artist him or herself, maybe as a break from the much more tightly finished work that one usually sees from the time (late 18th century).


Had lunch at a fantastic Vietnamese place on Lombard St. called Pot of Pho. Pho being the “national soup” of Viet Nam. Then it was across the Golden Gate to the Marin Headlands, which I had never been to. We drove every road and went out to the ocean’s edge. It was another warm, sunny day and there were lots of people on bikes, at the beach and hiking the trails. The piece de resistance was on our way back, where we stopped for what has to be one of the all-time great views of San Francisco.


You can see why millions “leave their heart” in San Francisco.

The Big Conversion (Gulp)

Well, I’m finally doing it. After using IBM-based PCs for almost 15 years, I got a spiffy new iMac with the 24″ monitor a couple of weeks ago. It was a no-brainer once I decided that there was nothing to do but suck it up and re-catalog my 8,000+ images. All my music CDs are done- over 400 of those. Eight football games and a few week night hours of The Weather Channel and Animal Planet later.

I’d been toying with the thought of doing this for awhile, but the clincher was when my husband, who has over 40 years experience with computers, stated that he was “scared” of working with my PC-based image management software, IMatch. That got my attention. It turns out that while the program does what I need quite nicely, it’s a nightmare under the hood for a variety of reasons I won’t bore you with since I have a tenuous grasp on the technical problems myself.

First impressions? I feel like I just traded in a Model T Ford for a 2008 Ferrari. Microsoft should be afraid, very afraid.

I’ll be re-cataloging my images using the Apple product Aperture. I had it pre-installed and, after the machine had arrived, learned of the existence of Lightroom, the Adobe product. Aperture seems to put more emphasis on organizing images anyway, which is what I really need it for. I can use Photoshop (upgrade time) for tweaking.

Needless to say, I can hardly wait to start painting and drawing from the phenomenal glossy iMac monitor. It’s as much more luminous than the Planar flat screen I’ve been using as the Planar is from the prints I used to use.

In the interests of simplicity and consistency, I was planning to replace my beloved IBM X31 with a MacBook Pro. But wait, Steve Jobs just announced the Air ultra thin notebook. Whew, that was close. Glad I didn’t have the money right away. Clearly, in the Apple world, it’s crazy to buy anything significant after about October in any given year.

In other news, I got an email a few weeks ago from someone in Germany who had been on my website and saw the photos of Mongolian herder’s dogs I have there. Berit Kaier is a member of a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of these dogs, called Tibetan mastiffs, and is putting together a brochure about the dogs. She was hoping that I would give them permission to use some of my images. Of course I said “yes”. Here is what I sent her-

Photographed from train, spring 2005


Western Mongolia, fall 2006

Mongol Dog Gobi

Gobi Desert, fall 2006


Near Hustai National Park, spring 2005; the basket is for gathering dung to use as fuel

The dogs have a reputation for being “protective”. In fact, the traditional greeting when approaching a ger (Mongolian for “yurt”) is “Hold the dogs!”. The only aggressive one I’ve encountered so far was the mother of the puppies, above, and the woman did have to hold her while we went into the ger. Otherwise, they’ve kept an eye on us or even seemed friendly. Since I hadn’t had a rabies vaccine, I had to resist any temptation to pet them, just in case.

The purebred version is threatened by inbreeding with other types of dogs that have been introduced into Mongolia, like the German Shepherds the Russians abandoned when they left Mongolia in 1991. I saw what looked like purebred shepherds living the feral life around Ulaanbaatar and I have seen quite a few dogs that obviously have shepherd in them- prick ears and the black saddle.

The herder’s dogs stay near the ger and, I have the impression, get scraps when an animal is slaughtered or they fend for themselves. In the reserve where I did the Mongolian Argali Earthwatch project, the researchers were surprised and somewhat dismayed to find that one of the major causes of argali mortality was predation by the mastiff dogs.The next trip to Mongolia is planned for September of this year. Along with everything else I want to see, I hope to find out more about the dogs and get a lot more photos of them. I think that they would make interesting subjects.

Happy New Year!

Back in the saddle again for 2008. Lots to look forward to.

All the kittens I fostered have found new homes. I thought that I would start to introduce that permanent animal members of the household. First up- Niki, our four year old tricolor rough collie, self-appointed guardian of all creatures large and small. Here’s picture of him with Tucker and Katie. Niki had laid down by the crate and the two kittens came over and got as close as they could. All of them quickly became fearless of my 75 lb. dog.


We finally had our first ducky visitors to our pond, three hooded mergansers. One male, two females. I thought, uh oh, there go the goldfish, since mergansers are diving ducks and, sure enough, while we watched, they caught and ate two big ones. But we have since seen at least eight or nine in their usual hangout, so we didn’t do too badly. Michiko spotted them and instantly became a fan. More about her in the next week or so.


In art news, the latest issue of the newsletter of the Society of Animal Artists features drawings that I have done of Mongolian wildlife. Here’s three of them, an argali ram, an ibex billy and a takhi mare and foal (Przewalski’s Horse). They were done on 2 ply bristol with a Wolff’s carbon pencil.