“Tolai Hare, Mongolia” is available on a range of products for rabbit and hare lovers….prints, pillows, tote bags, clothing, mugs and more. These lanky hares are found in many of the drier areas of the country, including the Gobi, where I saw one in 2016. They are the only species of rabbit or hare in Mongolia. You can see all the offerings with the tolai hare here.
Note: I’ve been having fun with a new app that offers dozens of different edge designs for photos and am using it for some of my shop images. It’s called Edge Effects for Photos. Very easy to use.
I returned on July 31 from my twelfth trip to Mongolia since 2005. I traveled to a number of places, starting with Arburd Sands ger camp in Bayan-Onjuul Soum, Tov Aimag, about two hours south-west of Ulaanbaatar. The area features a 20km stretch of dunes running east-west, the northernmost extent of the Gobi. I enjoyed capturing the clouds as they drifted by.
A group of camels was nice enough to move through the scene.
This was actually the first one I did as a warm-up. A relatively overcast day in a country that gets 250 days of sunshine a year.
In a country where 100km is a good day’s travel on the earth roads that serve most of it, we had just learned from locals at Baruunbayan-Ulaan, a soum center where we had stopped to get petrol, that the heavy log and plank bridge we heading for in order to cross the Taatsyn Gol had been destroyed, a casualty of five days of rain in the Hangai Mountains followed by serious flooding downstream in the Gobi, where I was on a two-week camping trip in July of 2010, traveling in a Land Cruiser with Khatnaa, my driver/guide and Soyoloo, our cook. The closest intact bridge would require almost a two day detour north and then back south, which didn’t appeal to any of us. What to do.
Khatnaa decided that we would drive on west to the river and see what the situation was. Also at the petrol station were two very full Mitsubishi Delicata van’s worth of Mongol men and their families. A little later a third one showed up.
In one day that had incident enough to two, here’s my journal entry from July 15, which gives a certain immediacy to what followed (photos after the journal entry):
“What an amazing day. Went south-west with Orog Nuur (Orog Lake) as our goal. Khatnaa knew there was the Taatsyn Gol (Taatsyn River) to cross, so stopped at a petrol station to ask about it. Also there were two van loads of Mongols from Togrog who were heading west to mine for gold. Usual Mongol socializing and information exchange ensued.
A third van showed up and we all headed towards the river, which was flooded due to rains in the Hangai Mountains.
We got across one stream, but were stopped by a broad ribbon of streams and mud. The main channel was moving fast and pulsing with even more water.
Went back up to the bluff overlooking the river and had lunch, watching the three van loads of Mongols look for a way across and mess around in the water.
Went back down to the river. Khatnaa walked a long way to see if he could find a crossing point, but came back and told us that the last stream of water was the worst of all. So we were faced with going north 100 km to the closest bridge. Such is travel in Mongolia.
Suddenly, there was action with one of the vans. A bunch of guys had formed a line across one point of the main channel and the van charged into the water, started to stall, but the guys all got behind it and pushed it on through!
Well, if a van could make it, our big Land Cruiser certainly could and did, without even needing a push. We did end up with an extra passenger, a little eej (mother) who wasn’t about to miss her chance to ride in our big car.
We got out on the other side and I photographed the other two vans making the crossing. Then said our good-byes.
We followed one van up a soft sand slope. It promptly got stuck so we rolled back down and went around it and on up the hill.
The entire “adventure” of the river crossing was a perfect example of Mongol practicality, improvisational skills and good humor. No one at any point got angry, showed frustration or swore. When it looked like things had stalled out, the guys took a break and goofed around in the water. Or so it seemed. They were clearly having fun but they were, in retrospect, also searching for a crossing point.
The spot they found was one where the channel wasn’t too wide or deep and where they felt the bottom was solid enough for a vehicle to get across with a minimal chance of getting stuck.
Without winches, cables or even rope, they simply used the same solution they always do – push.”
Here’s a selection of the photos that I took…
In Mongolia, when traveling in the countryside, even when it seems bad it can be very good. And something cool, interesting or out and out wonderful happens every day.
I’ve said for many years that in Mongolia, more than in most places, the journey really is the destination. It’s something most visitors miss with the usual emphasis tour companies have of going from sight to sight on paved roads. Eleven trips in twelve years and I’ve never been bored and have never slept while rolling. It takes time, effort and money for me to go to Mongolia every year and I don’t want to miss a minute of the limited time I have in the countryside. So while this week’s post doesn’t have a lot of incident or excitement, it will give you a chance to see a little of what’s “in between” on the road day to day, this time in the Gobi.
We hadn’t realized it when we set up camp at Boon Tsagaan Nuur, a remote lake in the Gobi, but we were not far from a herder’s ger (see above photo). A short walk towards the lake revealed it settled behind a dune. We found the goats and sheep to be entertaining, but could also see that they had grazed the grass down to the ground in the entire area except for one section that was fenced off, something one sees all too often these days.
There were a number of shorebirds…plovers and a redshanks, but I couldn’t get close enough for decent photos.
We left the lake driving south around the east shore, a route that I had not been on before, which was great!
Next week we’ll travel far, far south, deep into the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area, one of the most remote locations in Mongolia. No towns, no herder families, no mobile phone service. I could hardly wait!
Batmaa, one of our drivers, who grew up in Gobi Altai Aimag, asked if we were interested in visiting a vegetable garden. I had heard on a previous trip that it was well-known that the sweetest vegetables grown in Mongolia came from from the Gobi. This might be my only chance to see something that, to say the least, is not associated with one of the world’s most famous deserts, so the answer was absolutely “Yes!”.
We turned back to the west and drove through an area where there were no gers, no people. Until this line of trees came into view.
Now it was on to the farthest point we would go in the west…Takhiin Tal.
After a wonderful stay at Arburd Sands and Bayan-Onjuul Soum, it was time for the Expedition to start in earnest. Our first destination was Boon Tsagaan Nuur, a lake deep in the Gobi that is known for the excellence of its birdwatching opportunities, both in the number of birds and variety of species.
We headed west across country to join up with the main southern east-west road, parts of which are now tarmac. We hadn’t traveled for long when we came upon a herder’s ger just in time to see them milking their mares.
These two Mongol horses were part of a large herd that I saw at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve in August of 2011. The mosquitos were pretty bad, so they were spending the day standing in a large shallow pond surrounded by a wetland area. Although it is a nature reserve, the local herders are allowed to use the valley as they always have during the times when the ground-nesting cranes aren’t incubating eggs.
The reference for “Goviin Boroo (Gobi Rain)” was taken in July, 2010 on my amazing two week camping trip. The rains were really good almost everywhere that year and the Gobi, contrary to how most westerners picture it, was green, green, green in many places, including this area near Orog Nuur, a remote Gobi lake where we spent the night.
I loved the layers of clouds, the streak of sunlight on the grass and the complimentary colors of green and red and knew I’d do a painting of the scene at some point.
You can read about the camping trip by selecting Mongolia 2010 from the drop-down categories menu.
Thanks to my Mongol friends on Facebook, I’m picking up some Mongolian here and there, like the phrase in the title. I see written Mongolian in both the Latin alphabet and Mongolian cyrillic every day and sometimes I can read all or most of a sentence now, which is fun.
There’s plenty coming up for me in 2013. I’ll be entering a number of juried shows, including a few new ones. All my entries will be of Mongolian subjects. In March, I’ll be flying down to Tucson for the opening weekend of the Sea of Cortez exhibition at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. In April I will be going to the 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention and Expo in Monterey, California and shortly thereafter flying back to the east coast for the spring board meeting of the Society of Animal Artists. I’ll also be doing an event in New York to promote the upcoming WildArt Mongolia Expedition, but the exact date hasn’t been set yet. In June there will be a WildArt Mongolia event in the San Francisco Bay Area, final date also to be determined. And, as currently planned, I will leave for my annual trip to Mongolia around the beginning of August. The Expedition is scheduled for late August/early September. I’ll have a couple of weeks at home and then it’s back to the east coast again in early October for the opening weekend of Art and the Animal at the Bennington Center for the Arts and the fall board meeting. I’ll be posting more on all of these events as the dates approach.
I grew up in forests. Redwood forests, to be exact. Camping out meant drippy, foggy mornings and warm sweatshirts with, maybe, sunshine in the afternoon. In August. None of it ever bothered me because I loved being enclosed by those wonderful trees. My mom always loved the desert. Me? Not so much.
Then I went to Mongolia and on my second trip in 2006 spent a few days in the Gobi. And found it quite interesting. Enough to want to go back.
Which I did in July of 2010. And got hooked. Totally. It was hot, sometimes humid, we had to be careful to make sure we had enough water, we fought off mosquitos with dung smoke at a remote lake and I can hardly wait to go there again. I love the Gobi.
So when Dr. David Wagner invited me as one of 30 artists to spend a week traveling to, learning about, sketching, painting and photographing the Sonoran Desert and then creating work for a 2013 show at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, I accepted immediately, thinking it would be interesting to compare and contrast these two arid environments.
I’ve pulled together my research and travel experiences and here’s what I’ve learned, illustrated with images from both places.
SONORAN DESERT: Located in both the United States and Mexico
THE GOBI: Located in both Mongolia and China
Which means that both deserts cross an international boundary.
SONORAN DESERT: 100,000 sq. miles
THE GOBI: 500,000 sq. miles, which makes it the 5th largest desert in the world
SONORAN DESERT: sea level to 12,600ft (San Francisco Peaks, Arizona)
THE GOBI: 3,000-5,000 ft. above sea level on a plateau; the highest mountain peak reaches almost 13,000 ft. (Gobi Altai mountains)
SONORAN DESERT: Hot with some colder winter areas at higher elevation. Snowfall rare except in mountains. Temperatures: summer- up to 120F (180F surface temperature has been recorded in Lower Colorado River Valley); winter- average low of 39F. Rainfall: bi-seasonal rain pattern- Dec./Mar., July/mid. Sept.; in some areas, multiple years without rain. Wind: winds blowing onshore bring the summer “monsoon” rains; hurricanes possible.
THE GOBI: “Cold” desert due to location on a plateau. Frost and snow can occur on the dunes. Temperatures: summer- up to 140F; winter- down to -40F; up to 50F temperature swings in 24 hours. Rainfall: one rainy season-July/August; up to 7.6″, some years with no rain. Wind: winds up to 85mph can create dust storms (usually occurring in March/April) large enough to be seen from space.
SONORAN DESERT: Coastal areas on the Baja Pennisula and the east coast of mainland Mexico experience marine influence.
THE GOBI: Mongolia is a land-locked country, so the Gobi has no marine influence.
SONORAN DESERT: There are seven ecoregions: Tundra, Coniferous Forest, Temperate Coniferous Forest, Grassland, Chaparrel, Desert, Thornscrub (wet desert), Tropical Forest (source: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum); sand dune fields of various sizes common.
THE GOBI: There are two or five ecoregions, depending on the source: 1) Eastern Gobi Desert Steppe, Gobi Lakes Valley Desert Steppe (World Wildlife Fund) 2) Eastern Gobi Desert Steppe, Alashan Plateau Semi-desert, Gobi Lakes Valley Desert Steppe, Junngar Basin Semi-desert, Tien Shan Range (“Alternative sources” Wikipedia entry for Gobi Desert); 5% of the Gobi is covered in sand dunes, much of the remainder in gravels of various kinds.
Animal herding is common in both places. In the Sonoran Desert, there are cattle and some horses. The cattle graze on their own, the horses get fodder. In the Gobi, there are domestic bactrian camels, goats and some horses. In the more arid areas, camels do the work of horses. All animals graze on their own unless there is a severe winter, then they are fed fodder.
Food growing occurs where there is enough water. In the Sonoran Desert, water comes from springs, groundwater and wells. The growing season is very short- July and maybe into August. In the Gobi, there are lakes in some areas, springs and wells. The growing season may be as long as from April to October, depending on rainfall.
SONORAN DESERT: 60 mammal species, including desert bighorn, jaguar, Mexican grey wolf, kangaroo rats, saiga antelope; 350 bird species, 15 which are endemic; over 100 reptile and 20 amphibian species. Endangered mammals: jaguar, Sonoran desert pronghorn. Endangered birds: cactus ferruginous pigmy owl, southwestern willow flycatcher
THE GOBI: 40 mammal species, including argali sheep, snow leopards (Altai Mountains) grey wolf, jerboas, Sonoran pronghorn antelope; the only reasonably reliable count for bird species that I could find on the web is 240 (from the Juuchin Tours website) specifically for Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. 15 reptile and amphibian species. Endangered mammals: Gobi bear, wild bactrian camel. Endangered birds: lammergeier, houbara bustard
SONORAN DESERT: 2000 species of plants; known for: saguaro cactus
THE GOBI: 410 species of plants; know for: saxaul trees
So there you have it. What I found to be a useful and interesting comparison of two of the great deserts of the world.
I want to thank Dr. Wagner for inviting me along on this wonderful trip and all my fellow artist traveling companions. Did we have fun or what? You’re the best!