The Gobi Desert is the second largest desert in the world, located in southern Mongolia and extending south into China. With its extremely dry dune and mountain landscapes, salt lakes and temperature ranges from -40 to 50°C, it is one of the most inhospitable areas on earth.
The Gobi Desert is the second largest desert in the world after the Sahara. Its scenic features include sandy dunes, rugged mountain ranges and inhospitable salt lakes. The steppe desert is located in northern China and extends into southern Mongolia, expanding further and further, especially into southern China. It has now reached an area of 2 million km².
Experts do not agree on the exact boundaries of the Gobi Desert; some also include the TaklaMakan Desert to the west. Still others call the TaklaMakan area “Agriculture Basin” and “Desert Basin of Lop Nor and Kumul”.
Desert stop: In order to stop or at least delay the expansion of the Gobi Desert into southern China, the Chinese government is planning to build the “Green Wall” in allusion to the “Great Wall” that used to protect against hostile peoples from the north. A belt of artificially planted forests is intended to counteract further expansion of the desert.
The Gobi Desert through the ages
In the history books, the Gobi Desert appears as a part of the Mongol Empire. One of the most important trade routes between West and East, the Silk Road, passed through the middle of the Gobi Desert. Goods and information were exchanged here as early as the Bronze Age, until it was replaced by the more uncomplicated and safer sea route in the middle of the 16th century.
Speaking of the sea route: In China, the Gobi Desert is also called “han hai” – dry sea. Marco Polo estimated that it would take a year to cross it, which was probably a bit exaggerated, but it does a good job of describing the impression the desert makes on people.
Snow and heat in the Gobi Desert
For a desert landscape, it can get surprisingly cold in the Gobi Desert. Frost and even snow are not uncommon. On the one hand this has to do with the northern location and on the other hand with the altitude of 1,000 to 1,500m above sea level. The Siberian winds from the north also contribute to the fact that temperature ranges between winter and summer of -40 to 50°C are possible in the Gobi Desert. Temperature fluctuations within 24 hours can be as high as 35°C.
This inhospitable climate coupled with the enormous aridity makes life in the Gobi Desert almost impossible. The few plants that can thrive in the landscape of ice, salt, sand and stone are more like thorny herbaceous thickets. Except for a few Mongolian nomads, the Gobi Desert is uninhabited, making it the least populated area in the world.
Nevertheless, animals are found in and around the Gobi Desert. Goitered gazelle, tiger tilapia, Bactrian camel, small rodents, snakes and even brown bear, wolf and snow leopard can be found in the area from time to time. They can roam unhindered by off-road tourists in several protected areas in the Gobi Desert, such as the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, and the Great Gobi A and Great Gobi B protected areas located in Mongolia.
Ancient life in the Gobi Desert
The Nemegt Basin, located in the northwest, is known for its valuable fossil finds, some of which are hundreds of thousands of years old. Prehistoric mammals, the first dinosaur eggs and stone imprints have been preserved here over the millennia. Due to the large number of finds, it is assumed that the Gobi Desert was not always desert.
On the road in the Gobi Desert
Despite the hostile conditions, the Gobi Desert attracts more and more adventurers. In the endless loneliness of the sand dunes, on the rugged cliffs of the mountains or on the shores of the salt lakes, one experiences complete peace and silence as a person affected by civilization. The colorful sunsets and endless starry skies are nowhere in the world as spectacular as in a desert.
Crossings of the Gobi Desert by car are more comfortable today than in the past, but still not a honey pot. It is strongly discouraged to simply drive into the desert. There are some guided tours, but if you want to go alone, you need to be very well prepared.
A very good GPS system is mandatory, as there are neither signposts nor anyone to ask for directions (either there is no one there or he/she does not understand a foreign language). It is not advisable to explore the desert on your own. There are no asphalted roads and a breakdown can happen faster than you think.