Mongolia, Part 3: Entering Gobi
Whether it was a planned stop or an impromptu pull-over, I’m not sure, but we hit the brakes next to an “oasis”, per Bayssa, our guide. Its suitability was defined by the wide selection of grassy hills behind which we could relieve ourselves and perhaps nab a bit of solitude. The few-hundred square feet comprised terrain as diverse as our Mongolian-European crew and travelers: long, thin grass; graying black rocks; dusty sands; and a small pond surrounded by a weak green fence. It could be assumed that this had been a former temporary home for a nomadic family, complete with a few trees, a fenced-in area for animals, and a literal watering hole.
After we had departed our campsite that morning, which had been set up next to a nomad family, we set out along rocky “roads” flanked by grassland that spread out to crags in the distance. The dark sand and cookie-crumble rocks mimicked what I envisioned the surface of Mars to look like: dark, cloudy, and considerably desolate.
My Benadryl-induced night of on-and-off sleep left me groggy, so the transit time between spots was spent trying to catch a few winks in hopes of easing the lingering jet lag and injecting me with small bursts of energy for whatever was next, which ended up being a rapid series of stops: one to take photos of the landscape, one to watch a mother goat tend to her newborn, and one to ask a moto-driving nomad for directions. This led us to the watering hole fit for a bathroom break; a lunch of sandwiches, fruit, and trail mix; and continued curiosity about where we were.
“A lot of people think ‘Gobi’ and think of a desert of only sand, but we don’t call it a desert,” Bayssa said. “We just call it Gobi.”
More akin to the surface of the moon than the Sahara, Gobi was a combination of jagged hills, towering mountains, grassy patches, abundant shrubbery, wild horses, herds of goats, and very few (if any) trees, roads, or people. Sun rays breaking through the clouds helped differentiate the bundles of wildflowers from the weeds, but under clouds the landscape turned to a monochrome of earth tones, accented by the black border of a mountain ridge in the background.
The constantly changing portrait transformed dramatically yet again as we spotted power lines ahead.