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Exploring the Gobi Desert

1st June 2015

When you first look out across the Gobi with the sandy, scrubby desert stretching out as far as you can see, you can't imagine the number of different landscapes and experiences that are waiting for you. We had taken a train a little way south, slower than driving but a nice experience, sitting with your tea from the urn at the end of the carriage watching the countryside slip by.

Meeting our driver and trusty Russian 4WD, we set out for Mandalgobi and the desert sped by with herds of horses, camels and goats grazing along the way. Soon some mountains appeared on the horizon and when we reached them we stopped to walk and climb on the huge rocks and the shapes they have formed into over the years. In Mandalgobi we stayed with a family who have been battling desertification for decades with their tree planting programme and after dinner we headed out to plant some trees with them.

The following day brought another new landscape; a day's drive took us to the Yol Am Valley, where the wide grassy slopes narrow to a winding valley with steep rocky sides. Perhaps most surprisingly for this desert valley is that for a lot of the year it is home to a glacier and we carefully walked down the valley on the thick ice looking out for eagles, ibex and the elusive wild sheep.

Our third day in the desert saw us scrambling up a hill to see 7000 year-old petroglyphs carved onto the stones, whilst in the evening we scaled a 700m sand dune. It took a while, but the breathtaking views from the top were certainly worth it.

The drive through the Gobi has been an ever-changing landscape; scrubby, sandy desert gives way to gravel hills or towering mountains hiding canyons and vast plateaus with far reaching views. Animals graze in complete freedom until the nomadic familes come for them and gazelles race across the plains with their white tails bobbing behind them. Our driver negotiates the endless trails and tracks, switching from one to another with no signs and, as far as I can see, no landmarks to differentiate them. His amazing knowledge and careful driving has taken us hundreds of kilometres through such tough terrain.

Today we had a great finale when we stopped at the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag, home to some of the most important palaeontological finds. We didn't find any dinosaur eggs, but we did enjoy a nice walk through the towers and cliffs followed by a picnic lunch at the end.

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