The Gobi is the fifth largest desert in the world, covering more than 500,000 square miles of Mongolia and China. Vast areas of the terrain are rocky rather than sandy, and rainfall only averages 7.6 inches every year. The temperature can fluctuate by as much as 60 degrees in 24 hours. In winter, the nights can fall to minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit, while summer can see heat rising as high as 122 degrees. High winds sweep across the rocky desert at speeds up to 85 miles per hour during the spring and fall.
Because of all these factors, travel across the Gobi desert can be an extremely difficult undertaking. Water is scarce, as is food and shelter. But wherever there is an area of vegetation, herders are likely to be found. Mongolian herders are incredibly hospitable. Their culture has an old proverb stating, “Happy is the one who has guests, merry is the home boasting a tethering rail full of visitor’s horses.”
This doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see in the Gobi, though. The Great Gobi National Park covers an area larger than Switzerland. The park is home to the only remaining Bactrian, or two-humped, camels, as well as the last surviving Gobi bears in the world. There are an estimated 50 of these bears left, the only bear species to inhabit a desert.
There’s also a small oasis located on the northern edge of the Gobi called One Hundred Trees Oasis. Here, herders can feed and water their livestock from a small lake, or the many saxaul trees in the area. Another oasis sits in the Southern Gobi, called Ekhiingol. This oasis was once an important communist agricultural research center, but since then all but about 20 families have left. Tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, and peppers are grown and sold locally, since moving produce to faraway markets is nearly impossible.
The Gobi Desert is perhaps one of the most severe regions on the planet, but people, plants, and animals have lived there for more than 2,000 years. Life can survive and beauty can be found even in the harshest places on Earth.