Mongolia Monday- “From the Top of a Camel the Sun Seems so Near” by Zhanchvyn Shagdar

Today’s post is a poem about the Gobi and a “sandalwood brown camel”, but I also want to remind you that the deadline for the Mongolphile Quiz is this Friday at 5pm, Pacific time. Twenty questions here and here.

“From the Top of a Camel the Sun Seems so Near” by Zhanchyvn Shagdar

Bactrian camel, Arburd Sands, Sept. 2008

Gobi of exquisite mirage
Has the seven colors of the rainbow.
And my brown camel with graceful legs
Can travel for a month without rest.

Gobi bactrian camels, July 2010

When I ride my sure-footed brown camel
The sun in the sky seems so near,
Oh, I’m on my way, my sweetheart,
And I’ll be with you at sunset.

Saxaul forest with the Flaming Cliffs in the distance, Sept. 2006

Gobi, with its bushes of saksaul,
You are renowned in this wide world,
And my sandalwood brown camel
Can jog faster the longer the road.

Arburd Sands, Sept. 2008

When I ride my sandalwood brown camel
The moon in the sky seems so near,
Oh, my love, linked to me by fate,
I’ll be meeting you when the moon rises at night.

Moonrise over the Flaming Cliffs, Sept. 2006

Gobi in the radiance of pure gold
Is beautiful like a new family tent,
And the jogging of my straight humped brown camel
Can reach the distant horizon.

Saxaul forest near Orog Nuur, July 2010

My Gobi with its bushes of saxaul,
You are renowned in this wide world,
And my sandalwood brown camel
Can jog faster the longer the road.

Arburd Sands, Sept. 2008

Mongolia Monday- Comparing The Gobi And The Sonoran Desert

Just for a little context….Prairie Creek State Park, Humboldt County, California

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.

Gobi earth road, through sand and saxaul forest near Orog Nuur (remote lake)

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.

“Earth road” going towards Nacapuli Canyon, Sonoran Desert

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.

Tetakawi Hill: Mountain and sea, Sonoran Desert
Mountains and lake: Orog Nuur with Ikh Bogd mountains; demoiselle cranes at lakeside


SONORAN DESERT: 100,000 sq. miles

THE GOBI: 500,000 sq. miles, which makes it the 5th largest desert in the world

Nacapuli Canyon, Sonoran Desert
Yolyn Am (Vulture Gorge), Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Sept. 2006


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 landscape with chollo and saguaro cactus, Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum grounds
Gobi landscape, saxaul trees with Flaming Cliffs in the background


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.

Estero Solado, a tidal estuary with no inflow, therefore it is always saline
The Flaming Cliffs beyond small Gobi lake, Sept. 2006


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.

Side-blotched lizard, Nacapuli Canyon, Sonoran Desert
Toad-headed agama lizard, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Sept. 2008


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.

Avocets in the Estero Solado, Sonoran Desert
Avocets, Orog Nuur, The Gobi, July 2009


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.

Desert bighorn ram, Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, March 2010
Argali ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, April 2005


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 tree that stores water in its trunk
Saxaul tree, which has wood so dense from slow growth that a branch, thrown in the water, will sink


SONORAN DESERT: 2000 species of plants; known for: saguaro cactus

THE GOBI: 410 species of plants; know for: saxaul trees

For my Mongol friends, a desert that meets the sea

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!

Getting Back In The Painting Groove

I last sat at my easel with a brush in my hand at the end of June. So, how to get rolling again?

I decided to do some small studies, only 5″x7″, and only spend about an hour on each one. After four, I felt like starting a larger piece, which I’ll post once I’m sure it’ll be a keeper. Then I did a fifth study because I wanted to do a bird.

The purpose was to get my hand moving and my mind thinking about, well, what it needs to think about when I’m painting. I also solved a nagging problem – I have been struggling with the greens in my Mongolia subjects. I’ve had My Beloved Sap Green on the palette, along with Viridian. The first study was a struggle because I couldn’t get the green tones I wanted. So I dug into the paint drawer and pulled out tubes of Terre Verte and Chromium Green Oxide, both of which had been sitting for so long that I almost twisted a split in them opening the caps with pliers. But…Bingo!, those more muted colors were exactly what I needed. A quick repaint and Study #1, of the Gobi, worked much better.

So, without further ado, here are the quick studies:

Gobi view
Saxaul forest, the Gobi, near Orog Nuur
Hangai Mountains, two gers
Yak head study
Demoiselle crane

With luck, you can see some improvement between the first one and the last in confidence and brushwork as I get warmed up.