Mongolia Monday- Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve

We arrived at the Steppe Nomads ger camp at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve with a broken rear spring on the Land Cruiser, not sure what this meant for the remainder of the trip. While Pokey and I settled in, Khatnaa got on his mobile phone and called the Nomadic Journeys’ office to sort things out. We got laundry done and took welcome hot showers.

That night, at dinner, Khatnaa explained the situation. He would need to take the car out to the tarmac road (13km on earth road each way to get to and from the reserve) the next afternoon to meet up with someone from UB who would bring the new spring out. Then it would have to be installed. How long? Half a day. Did we want the office to also send out a new guide and driver to finish the trip or would we wait for the repair? That decision took about two seconds….we’d wait and finish the trip together. In any case, Pokey and I weren’t sorry to have a break to simply hang around camp and relax.

Khatnaa then said that the car was drivable, with care, and we would go out the next morning at 6am, which is exactly what we did. I was impressed by what he considered staying on “easy” roads. We parked and took a good, long hike down to where he thought we might see argali, which we spotted off in the distance almost as soon as we stopped to glass the mountain.

We also got great photos of a big herd of Mongol horses and cranes, but really had to dodge the mosquitos. Back at the ger camp around 1pm, Khatnaa grabbed a quick lunch and took off. To our surprise and pleasure he was back at 5:15, after having to replace BOTH back springs because the replacement was longer than the original one. Dinner was quite festive with beers all around.

We only had one day at Gun-Galuut, but it was a full one, packed with great scenery and animals.

Steppe Nomads Tourist Camp
Morning coffee in front of my ger in my comfy Mongol del and felt slippers
Early morning light along the Kherlen Gol with Baits Uul ahead on the right
12-13 argali grazing; look in the middle among the shrubs for the white dots which are their rumps; why good binoculars are a must
Riverside view
Local herder's gers with a line of grey herons in front
I believe this is a Japanese quail chick
The horses we got great photos of, with the ger camp in the background; they were in the water to get away from the mosquitos
Endangered white-napped cranes
Small toad
Wetland and mountain, with cranes
More of the horses; in the afternoon a breeze had come up which kept the mosquitos away, from us at least
Sometimes the action got pretty hot and heavy
First time I ever saw a caterpiller in Mongolia

That evening Khatnaa told us that the next day’s drive wouldn’t be a long one, so we would go out into the reserve in the morning and leave after lunch. We went around the “backside” of the mountain, the side away from the river, parked in a draw, got out and almost immediately spotted four big rams running over a ridge to our right. I only was able to get a couple of butt shots before they were gone. But, within minutes, we spotted an argali ewe and lamb to our left. And then a large group moving up the draw directly in front of us, but a pretty long ways off. It’s estimated that there are less than 100 argali in Gun-Galuut, so we saw a fairly good percentage of the population in two tries.

Argali Ewe and lamb
Good-sized spider

We drove to the next draw over where we hoped the argali rams had gone, but saw no one. Pokey wanted to do some sketching, so she stayed with the car while Khatnaa and I hiked up onto the mountain again. Coming around a ridge, the view opened up to the entire river valley. We found a couple of rocks to sit on and simply enjoyed the scenery for a half hour. It was so quiet, except for the occasional animal. No cars, no planes, no radios, no voices. Just. Quiet. One of the things I treasure about being in the Mongolian countryside.

View of the Kherlen Gol valley, looking east
Of course I had to have my picture taken
Back down on the wetland, we spotted a whooper swan
A beautiful butterfly
And on the other side of the river, a pair of demoiselle cranes
On our way out of the reserve that afternoon, we stopped by this small lake to photograph another whooper swan
This enormous coal mine at Baikhanuur is visible from the road to and from the reserve

Next week: Onward to Jalman Meadows in the Hentii Mountains

Mongolia Monday- The Journey Is The Destination, Part 2

The next leg of the artist’s tour was from Ikh Nart to Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve. I had only been there once, in 2009, driving east from Ulaanbaatar. This time we were going to go almost straight north…we hoped.

Great bustard we spotted not long after we left the reserve. It was the first time I had ever seen one.

We got back to the main tarmac road between Ulaanbaatar and China and traveled on it for awhile. Then we passed a spot where a dirt road went off to the right at an angle. Khatnaa started to drive on, spotted a white van coming toward the tarmac, stopped, backed up, got out and walked over to them as they slowed down and then stopped. After a short conversation, he came back to the car, backed us up and off we went onto the earth road. He had been able to get enough information about weather and road conditions that he felt ok about¬† taking the “local road”. As usual, this made me very happy.

Why you don't just pick up a rental car at the airport and head out into the countryside in Mongolia on your own. You can now get a good road atlas, but it's deceiving because this is what the roads are like all over the country except for a very few wide gravel roads and a slowly increasing amount of tarmac on main routes.
We drove through a small soum center.
As we headed north, there was a dark storm front to our left and fluffy white clouds and sunshine to our right. The road going north was running right along the front. We were out in steppe countryside with no one else around...not a single other car, not even a ger.
After some spatters, we found ourselves traveling in pretty heavy rain for about 15-20 minutes and then came to a stream that we had to cross. Now I started to wonder what the road conditions would be up ahead of us.
The light was really spectacular, though, as we went up some in elevation and started to see gers again. It had stopped raining where we were, but was still stormy to the west and north of us.
Dropping down into a valley and, crossing it, we encountered something I'd seen before....really hard greyish dried mud combined with many very deep potholes. Khatnaa, with extreme care, had almost picked our way through it when we felt the rear end on the passenger side drop down hard, accompanied by a noise that didn't sound good at all. He pulled over on a level spot and crawled under the car. The verdict? The spring (new and Chinese-made) was broken. What to do? We drove on very carefully. VERY carefully.
What Khatnaa knew, that I didn't, was that over the rise that you can see almost in the middle in the above photo was our destination, the Steppe Nomads ger camp at Gun-Galuut. With much creaking and care, we made it over the pass and across the valley to the camp.

Next week: what happened next….