Part 1- The 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition

1.WAME group shot
2016 WildArt Mongolia participants and staff, from left to right: Erdenebat (driver), Oliver Hartman (Explorers Club Fellow, filmmaker), Susan Fox (Expedition leader, Explorers Club Fellow), Soyoloo (cook), Kim Campbell Thornton (journalist and author), Puugii (driver). Photo by Batana, our guide. Behind us is our Russian fergon van support vehicle

We left Ulaanbaatar on Sunday, May 15. heading far south to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area, a five day drive. Our main goal was to try to see Gobi bear, a subspecies of brown bear/Ursus arctus gobiensis, which is critically endangered (IUCN Red List). Population estimates range from a low of 28 (the number researchers have counted) to as high as 60 (an estimate based on extrapolation of captured and counted bears. It was highly unlikely that we would succeed, but it was still more than worth the trip to see their habitat and learn about what is being done to conserve them. Wild bactrian camels (Critically endangered, IUCN Red List) also live in that part of Mongolia, along with a variety of other wildlife.

2. demoiselle cranes
Demoiselle cranes
3. lunchtime horses
We stopped at an area with sand dunes for lunch, enjoying watching some of the local horses wander by

Our route took us west and then south. Along the way we saw a large flock of demoiselle cranes, which are quite common in Mongolia and always a delight. Once we were on the road our guide Batana asked if we could stop at his aunt and uncle’s ger to deliver a new ger cover to them. This was great because I knew it would, right away, give Kim and Oliver a chance to visit a herder’s ger and experience Mongolian hospitality.

4. Batana's aunt and uncle's ger
The home of Batana’s aunt and uncle, which was quite near the main road
5. goats and sheep
They have a lot of sheep and cashmere goats
6. Mongolian hospitality
We were treated to classic Mongolian dairy foods (tsagaan idee/white food)

Continuing on we came to the race horse memorial south of Arvaykheer. I’d been to it before, but was more than happy to stop there again. It was late afternoon and was pretty windy.

7. race horse memorial
A must-see if you’re heading south towards Bayanhongor. A quintessential bit of Mongolian culture. Last time I was there, a wedding party showed up to have their photos taken and apparently just relax and visit with friends and family.
8. race horse statues
Bronze portrait statues of famous race horses.

The original plan had been to camp near by, but the location was an open plain and the wind was really starting to pick up. We drove on looking for a more sheltered spot, which took awhile. The idea was to get out of the worst of the wind, but not be so close to a slope that if it rained we’d have to worry about run-off. The problem was finally solved, camp was set up, we had dinner and it was off to bed. On what was one of the coldest nights I’ve experienced in eleven years of travel in Mongolia. Ah, spring in Mongolia….

10. Kim and scenery
Kim bundled up the next morning, as were we all.
9. road and rain
Heading right into this storm front, driving southwest. Rain on the windshield.

First it was rain, then kilometer by kilometer it turned to snow. And then blowing snow.

11. horses and snow
Horses walking through a dusting of snow.
12. snow and van
As we went up in elevation, visibility went down.
13. ger in snow
As we drove on  I grabbed this shot of a ger. Believe it nor not, the owners were toasty warm inside. Felt is a good insulator and once the stove is really going it absorbs the heat and releases it back into the space.
14. snowy road
Finally we came through the other side of the front and it stopped snowing.
15. Bayanhongor
By the time we could see Bayanhongor, there was no snow on the ground, but the Hangai Mountains behind the city were covered.

We went into the city for gas and groceries. Plan A had been to go north up the river valley to Erdenesogt and spend a night there,  visiting  Gachen Lama Khiid (monastery) in the morning, but there was no way we would be able to get there in current conditions. We’d go there on our return instead and so turned south towards the Gobi.

16. the road south
For me, my trips in Mongolia have always begun once we leave the paved roads and are on the earth roads. Here we are, heading south towards Boon Tsagaan Nuur.
17. fording a puddle
We got the feeling that it had been raining heavily in this area…
18. Mpngol horseman
Ah, Mongolia.

We drove on through the day, bearing southwest. Snow-covered Dund Argalant Nuruu appeared in the distance and then we got our first glimpse of the lake Boon Tsagaan Nuur.

19. road to BTN
Boon Tsagaan Nuur in the distance with small guest cabins near the shore.
20. BTN campsite
The ground was too wet to set up near the lakeshore, but we found a pleasant grassy area farther back. The weather, though overcast, wasn’t cold and there wasn’t much wind, a change from the previous day much appreciated.
21. Dudn Argalant Nuruu
As the clouds rolled through we were treated to this beautiful shifting light on the mountain.

Next week we’ll explore a bit of the lakeshore, get in some birdwatching and be entertained by local livestock before heading west to get a required permit for our destination.

The 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition Departs Tomorrow!

WildArt Logo 2016 600

I arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia last Sunday evening. This past week has been spent in confirming a number of things with the tour company, Nomadic Journeys, who is handling all the logistics, meeting with the guide and lead driver, getting acquainted with the two other participants who arrived over the last couple of days (we went to the National Museum of Mongolia and the Museum of the Chojin Lama today) and repacking for three weeks on the road. We depart tomorrow morning. We’ll return to Ulaanbaatar on June 10.  In between there will be much to see as we travel to the far southern part of Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area and then back north to the buffer zone of Hustai National Park to meet up with the Mongolian Bankhar Project.

So, as the Mongols would say, “daraa ulzii”…see you later!


Announcing The 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition (Space Available)

WildArt Logo 2016 600

It gives me great pleasure to announce the
2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition!

The fourth Expedition will travel to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area (see map below) to try to see critically endangered Gobi bear and, if possible, meet with the researchers. The current estimate is that there are around 40 bears. That’s all. They are a brown bear (Ursus arctos gobiensis). There are also wild bactrian camels (including a breeding facility that I’m going to try to arrange for us to visit), khulan/Mongolian wild ass, Gobi argali, Siberian ibex and Pallas’ cat, along with a variety of birds and small mammals. Wolves are present, but it’s unlikely we’ll see them. This is a remote place that tourists never go to. I am also arranging for us to visit with staff and local herder families who are involved with the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project, which is breeding the traditional mastiff-type guard dogs, bonding the puppies with livestock and placing them with families who live where their animals are exposed to predation. The dogs will stay with the sheep and goats 24/7. One goal of the project is to reduce the killing of predators like snow leopards and wolves. Another is to address desertification, an increasing problem in Mongolia.

If you have never tried field sketching, I will be happy to provide instruction. It’s a very special way of recording what one has seen and quite different than “just” taking photos (although I take thousands of those, too).

2016 WAME map 800

I have limited space this time. I can take three more participants. There are currently three, including myself. That is three people per Land Cruiser so that everyone has a window seat.

Dates: May 22-June 10, 2016 (these dates give us the best chance to see the bears and avoids the worst of the summer heat)

Cost: $3900 per person double occupancy, excluding airfare to Mongolia, alcoholic beverages, lodging before and after the Expedition (people will probably have different plans; there are nice guesthouses that charge $25/$35 a night for a private room, including breakfast and also the Bayangol Hotel (which was a little over $100 a night in 2015 if booked through Nomadic Journeys).

Nomadic Journeys, who have made all my in-country travel arrangements for nine of my ten trips to Mongolia (the first was an Earthwatch project in 2005), will be handling, as usual, all the arrangements and logistics. We will be tent camping (in stand-up tipitents, possibly with cots) and traveling in Land Cruisers with drivers, guide and cook. All meals are included (vegetarians can be accommodated with advance notice; vegans regretfully cannot). A three season sleeping bag is necessary. As mentioned above we’ll be going to a place that is remote even for Mongolia, so I’ll be renting a satellite phone in case of emergencies.

It is necessary to plan for two nights in Ulaanbaatar before your international flight home, just in case we’re delayed in the field.

To reserve your place on the Expedition, please pay a $300 deposit on the Nomadic Journeys website here. For “Trip Name”, write WildArt Mongolia Expedition. While you’re on their site you can explore their options for before or after the Expedition, including self-guided ger camp stays.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write to me via the contact form on my website. Further information will be sent on expected weather conditions and equipment/clothing suggestions to those who are participating.

Susan Fox