Our camp site for the night was at the entrance to one of the area’s ice canyons at Dugany Am. Later in the year you can just about drive through this narrow chasm, but for now the ice extends right out to the entrance. The wind died overnight but returned with a vengeance the next morning, resulting in a rapid de-camp with numb fingers and some entertaining 4×4 fun finding our way back to the road. We headed to the better known Yolin Am canyon and chatted to some friendly Russians as we walked in to see the ‘glacier’. It is of course not a true glacier, but a frozen stream which doesn’t thaw until the autumn, although the cracks, depressions and overall setting do make it feel pretty glacial.
Setting out across the desert once more we drove north to the Flaming Cliffs, a series of sandstone formations so named due to their colour as the sun sets. They were also home to some of Mongolia’s earliest and most important dinosaur fossil finds. We were intending to stay in a tourist Ger camp, but we’re consistently finding that we’re too early and most places haven’t yet opened for the season. The T-Rex statue in front of one of the camps was still firmly under wraps. We found a camp spot at the base of the cliffs and spent a relaxed afternoon reading and hunting for fossils. As the sun set, the cliffs lived up to their name, with reds and oranges reflecting the sunlight between the lengthening shadows, as we made use of the chopsticks bought in Erenhot and enjoyed a Chinese hotpot for dinner (thanks Yingchu!).
Waking in the morning was pretty special, and well worth the trek to get there. The desert continues to stretch out to the west for many hundreds of kilometres, all begging to be explored. But we’d had enough of having our teeth shaken out by now and felt we should be making progress, so decided to hit the highway north to Ulaanbaatar, around 600km away. Whilst paved the whole way from Dalanzadgad, large sections are pretty ropey and filled with potholes deep enough to swallow a camel. Or a truck tyre, as demonstrated but the regular sight of a goods vehicle stopped by the road. The Gobi is littered with off-cast rubber, with the odd lonely car sat on a jack whilst one wheel is obviously away being repaired somewhere. A reminder of how hard this place can be on vehicles.
Whilst heading generally north, we did dive back into the sand at one stage to visit a rocky outcrop called Tsagaan Suvraga, the Painted Rocks. This impressive limestone outcrop exhibits a wonderful display of colours within the rock, with reds and purples painting the cliffs and the hillocks around the base. Surprisingly for such a remote spot, another car rolled up whilst we were there, containing a trio of friendly folk from the National University of Mongolia who were taking photos for their new prospectus! We reckon they’re not short of material in this country. Chinzorig, the university public affairs manager, taught us a few more words of Mongolian too, taking our total vocabulary to about five.
A couple more hours of dodging potholes and we literally drove off the road to find a campsite in a flat glade, with small rolling hills surrounding. After being woken the next morning by a heard of goats ambling by (being woken by animals is becoming a theme for this trip) we took the opportunity of a break in the vicious north wind to put the bikes together the next morning and stretch our legs. Following a combination of vehicle and animal tracks around and over the hills and rocky outcrops we eventually found Giles again and continued towards the capital.
Thanks to: our patient Mongolian language teacher, Chinzorig! Good luck with your prospectus.