The Gobi stretches across vast areas of Mongolia representing a third of the total surface area of the country. Contrary to that is generally thought, the Gobi is not a desert in the usual sense, that is, a sandy area completely devoid of vegetation. Most of the Gobi consists of stony and scrubby wasteland. However, the Gobi is differentiated between 33 types according to soil composition and color, the sandy dunes account for only 3% of the entire Gobi Desert.
The Gobi is a land of extremes: winter is cold and severe, with temperatures below -40°C (-40°F) while it can be well over 40°C (105°F) in summer, spring is dry and cold, with terrible dust and sand storms. Total annual precipitation varies from 7 cm (2.8") in the west to more than 20 cm (8") in the northeast. The greatest amounts of rainfall occur in the summer.
The region is very sparsely populated supporting fewer than one person per sq. km, but the desolate landscape is home to gazelles, antelopes, two humped Bactrian camels, wild horses, khulan - wild asses and the rare Gobi bear - mazaalai. Once the site of an ancient inland sea, the area has dried up and then eroded over the eons, providing paleontologists with magnificent specimens of dinosaur fossils.
The many epidemic plants of the Gobi adapted to conditions of extreme heat are characterized by what is called "high biological activity". Saxaul trees, false acacia and camel grass are very common in the Gobi.
Bayan Zag (Flaming Cliffs), South Gobi
The huge dinosaur skeletons on display in the Museum of National History in Ulaanbaatar were found in this Neolithic site, better known in the West as the "Flaming Cliffs", so penned by t he American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews.
After an unsuccessful expedition to find the missing link between apes and man to the Mongolian Gobi, Andrews and his team accidentally discovered this location of vast bright red cliffs full of dinosaur bones and eggs in 1922, while seeking the lost old caravan road to Beijing. They found fossils immediately, and later Andrews came back to place and found more dinosaur bones and eggs, discovered petrified forests, remains of mammals, and in particular the skeleton of a hornless rhinoceros, the largest known mammal in the world. Since then this locality became popularly known as the Flaming Cliffs.
Even if you aren't crazy about dinosaurs, the eerie beauty of the surrounding landscape is a good reason to visit this place. It's a classic desert of rock, red sands, scrub, sun and awesome emptiness. As its name suggests, it's strewn with saxaul shrubs. Huge forests once covered this region but only zag, the saxaul, is left today.
Yol Valley, South Gobi
The strictly protected zone of Yolyn Am is located in the Zuun Saikhan Mountain range, 46 km west of Dalanzadgad. It is a part of the Gurvan Saikhan Mountain National Park that stretches from the border with Bayankhongor province almost to Dalanzadgad - the province center of South Gobi and covers 2.7 million hectares.
Famous for its dramatic and very unusual scenery, Yolyn Am (Ossifrage Valley or Lammergeyer Valley or Eagle Valley are all the same) is a valley in the middle of the Gobi Desert with thick ice that remains for almost year-round. In winter, the ice gets up to 10 meters high, and continues down the gorge for another 10 km. In earlier times, the blocks of ice rarely melted, being protected from the vicious sunlight by the canyon walls. One can still see the ice here in July but it is completely melted by August.
The surrounding mountains are home to ibex, argali sheep, and many birds of prey including the ossifrage (bearded vulture) after which the valley is named, as well as to numerous rodents particular to the Gobi. It is very pleasant to walk thru the cool canyon after being under the burning sun of the Gobi desert.
Khongor Sand Dunes, South Gobi
The 180 km-long Kongoryn Els sand dunes are some of the largest and most spectacular sand dunes in Mognolia. The contours of the dunes give the impression of a beautiful silk scarf dropped in the middle of nowhere. Zoelon and Sevrei mountains lie to the south of the dunes and the Khongoriin Gol (River) runs along the northern edges enabling lush green grass to grow, contrasting beautifully with the yellows of the dunes. In some parts the dunes reaches about 800 meters in height. You can climb to the top of the dunes to have wonderful views of the desert and then slide back down if you have plastic bags handy. The sound produced by the masses of moving sand can be heard from far as a sound of an airplane. Hence the sand is called Duut Mankhan or the Singing Dunes.
The color of the sand dunes changes with each hour of the day, from yellow to silver to rose-colored at dawn. It's the best place for camel trekking.
Baga gazryn Chuluu, Middle Gobi
This intriguing granite rock formation in the middle of the dusty plain is a good place for stopover on the way to the South Gobi. The view from the top of the Baga Gazryn Uul (1768 m), the highest peak in the area offers a magnificent view of horizon that stretches as far as the eye could see. The mountain also contains a cave with an underground lake. The mineral water springs and trees in the region make it a great spot to camp, and there are plenty of rocky hills, topped by ovoo (sacred pyramid-shaped collections of stone and wood), to explore. Argali - wild mountain sheep can be spot, especially in the down and the dusk. There is a legend that Chinggis Khaan stayed at the rocks.
Ikh Gazryn Chuluu, Middle Gobi
This area of unusual rocky mountains is one of the many protected areas in the country, elevated 1565 - 1709 meters above sea level, stretched 30 km long and 15 km wide. Besides the magnificent pinnacles there are many places in the mountains that are admired by their extraordinary formations and beauties. The mountains contain over 40 caves of various sizes and the biggest one is the Tagtaatyn Agui or the Pigeon Cave that is 30 meter long, 3.5 meter wide and 10 m high. Lush green meadows carpet the area and about 30 medical herbs grow there. The area has an abundance of wildlife and is home to the protected species like argali or wild sheep, ibex and lynx, as well as fox, steppe fox, badger, wild cat, black-tailed antelope, marmot and many more. The groups of pinnacles in the mirage of Gobi steppe give a stupendous vista of majestic fairy-tale city.
Valley of Inscriptions, Bayankhongor
A rocky canyon of Bichigtiin Am or the Valley of Inscriptions in the Mount Ikh Bogd 70 km south of Bayangobi in the Bayankhongor Province offers an open-air gallery of ancient humans. This is a series of well-preserved rock engravings and petroglyphs dating to Paleolithic. This historical site is famous not only in Mongolia but is also a valuable cultural heritage of an ancient civilization of the world. The engravings are on the rocky slope of the mountain and stretch for a few hundred meters and remain in good condition. The vibrant lifestyle of prehistoric humans is reflected in the gallery of the ancient stone paintings. One of these represents a couple making love, and is a prove that the erotic art dates to the Iron Age.
Tsagaan Agui (White Cave), Bayankhongor
Situated in a narrow gorge, the cave once housed Stone Age human beings some 700,000 years ago. The dolomitic limestone solution cavity called Tsagaan Agui (White Cave) consists of a narrow, inclining entryway, a rotunda-like main chamber, and at least two smaller chambers behind the main rotunda. More than 800 stone artifacts were recovered in the Tsagaan Agui excavations in 1995, yielding evidence of human occupation at least as early as the Mid Palaeolithic.