We are headed south to the Gobi Desert and the road is now paved the 611 km to Dalanzadgad. Leaving UB we again did not go thru the city, but headed east and then south again to the cut off road to Zuunmod. From there we had a somewhat warmer but windy ride 311 km to Mandalgovi.
Since it has been so cold at night and windy we were not that keen on camping. To top it off Orvar has had a pretty bad night with GI issues. Here in the town the options are pretty poor. We did settle for the best of the sketchy places. For us the first room was made up, but smelled terrible. The room next door looked slept in and they just started to make the bed up again! I said no way and stripped off all the bed clothes, which they then made up “fresh”. The place is almost clean. The bed itself is just a mat on a board and we again had to pump up our Expeds to get a good nights rest. For dinner we opted for noodle bowls from the grocery so as not to have to eat here in the restaurant. All that said we did have a good rest.
Today it is very windy, but it should be to our backs most of the day. It is 301 km to Dalanzadgad (DZ).
It got warmer from 15 at 10 am to 30 by afternoon. The terrain gets flatter and more sandy thru the Middle Gobi.
There are large herds of Camels all along the way.
There was of course a “decontamination station” when we entered the next Gobi district.
We stopped at a road side place and tried to get food that was NOT goat!!
We arrived to Dalanzadgad about 230 and headed to the “best hotel” in town. We were in desperate need of a reprieve from the sketchy places recently. This is the Khan Uul and is a nice western style hotel of higher standard for a whopping 60$ CDN for a very nice room, hot water on demand, and a real breakfast. They also have a fairly hip pub with very good food and very cold beers.
The manager of the hotel speaks some English and he was able to arrange a driver with a Land Rover for us for the next 3 days. First Sara has had enough of the sand and a trip to the Gobi Desert is out on the 650, which is difficult to handle in sand and mud. Orvar has been sick for a few days and he has decided to ride in the truck as well. This means we can all enjoy the desert and Dan and Trevor can ride with naked bikes! The car and driver is 60$ CDN a day plus diesel a deal not to have to ride the dunes with luggage. He arrived to the hotel the first evening to sort out the planned route and the provisioning.
We met again at 10 am and packed up the gear. It was then off to the grocery store for food for 5 for 3 days and then some diesel. He also toted 30 L of gas for the guys in case they needed it.
Our plan is to go thru the national park at Yolin Am, then head towards the big dunes at Khongoryn Els, and finally to the flaming Cliffs near Bulgan.
The first 20 km were on the paved road that leaves DZ and eventually goes to China. We turned off here on to the dirt track and into the national park.
Dan and Trevor were ahead and when they got to the control gate the guard came out and said the entry was 10,000 T each or 5$. That seemed steep and so Trevor ever the practical one said to the guy “ let me see the ticket”. On it was clearly marked the entry for Mongolians 300 and others 3,000! Bingo trying to rip us off. Just after this we pulled up with the truck. The driver said to him 4 tickets and the guard took the 12,00 and said nothing else!
The road into the Vulture Mouth Canyon (Yoliin Am)is about 14 km on a winding good dirt road.
You park and then walk about and hour to the slot canyon. This has ice for quite a few months a year, but not in summer.
Arriving back to the parking lot some excited locals ran up to show us their Iphone video of the Ibek they just saw on the hillside! We consoled ourselves by making lunch there before we headed out again. Our driver speaks no English and despite that we managed to communicate well with a combination of drawings, google translate and hand gestures.
From here we back tracked to the main track and then made a left on the Dungenee Am or Dungenee Valley road. This is a beautiful wide green valley to start and the road is gravel and a bit curvy. There is one steep climb that the Prado had a challenge with.
The valley gets narrower and narrower and the road is one direction (south) only. About half way the road starts to be very washed out and infact the river is flowing down it for several km.
The narrowest part is near the end of the valley and the truck just fits thru. This is blocked with ice until July and can be impassable even after the ice has melted.
When you are leaving the valley you are dumped out onto the plain with a number of tracks. These continue for 20 km and you cross over the main paved road we had left earlier on the other side of the mountains. Here the track continues west.
We were ahead in the truck and really flying. The driver kept a keen eye for the guys to see if they were still behind us. We saw their headlights lights, but just after this we did not know they stopped. Dan’s bike was dead (loose battery ground again) and poor Trevor had to really book it to catch up to us. 120 km/h on the tracks can be quite hairy.
After about 100 Km we could start to see some of the beginnings of the Gobi Dunes.
It was now 615 and time to quit for the day. We searched around for about 15 min and found a flat spot at the base of a ridge that was out of the wind. We set up camp and cooked up a pasta dinner. The driver has his gear to bed down in the back of the truck.
We woke up to light rain that became heavy as we were packing up. Luckily we could shelter under the rear door of the truck to get some breakfast and coffee. The driver had a butane stove and so when we woke he had hot water ready for us. We packed all the gear in the back and all 5 of us got in the truck to wait it out. You could see the black clouds coming at us, but after 20 minutes it tightened and after 30 it stopped raining all together.
Who thought you would need rain gear in one of the driest places on earth (it is back in DZ of course).
Our plan is to get to the big dunes and then to camp near the Flaming cliffs.
We set out again west and it was about 50 km to “the big brown sand”or Khongoryn Els, which are 180 km from DZ.
The dunes are up to 300 m high, 12 km wide, and 100 km long.
The track is initially gravel, but gets progressively more sandy especially after we turned south toward the actual dunes.
Trevor had one sand nap and the Africa twin took about 15 min to recover before it would start. It sure was nice to have the truck as Dan was way ahead and we could turn around to see what was keeping Trevor and help him out before Dan turned back.
The worst of the sand was only about 10 km and then in fact the track got better on the way to the big dunes. Here the guys had some fun with hill climbing the sand, but it was pretty steep and pretty soft. Certainly not like riding our dirt bikes in Oregon with paddle tires!!
Now it was time to enjoy the view and for some “noodle soups” and canned fruit salad for us and lunch for the bikes.
We wanted to make it as far as the flaming cliffs tonight and this was about another 105 km.
It is nice to have the local driver as he knows the best tracks and routes that would be the most fun to ride. We set off north east and back into the national park. The track is nice and firm and quite curvy. This cairn is piled with Ibek horns.
After the National park you are back our in the semi desert with so many options!!! We stopped at this animal water station to clean up our pasta dishes from last night.
There are also a few ger camps in the middle of nowhere.
We stopped in Bulgan town for gas as it was easier than the jerry in the truck, diesel, cold beer, and a bit more water. It is 14 km more to Bayanzag or the Flaming Cliffs. There have been a huge number of dinosaur bones and eggs found here ( most are in the Museum of Natural History in NYC) . We had been told it was windy there and the driver had called someone who spoke English to see if we really wanted to go there or just back to DZ and shorten the tour to 2 days. We said we wanted to at least check it out. The guys are pretty tired and another 100 km off road at this point would be a challenge. We blasted across the very flat steppe and in the distance you could see these small red formations. We thought is this it. It is not until you arrive there that you can appreciate the beauty and geology.
It was very windy up on the ridge, but the driver suggested we go around and down to the base of the cliffs. We did this down a steep hard mud road and around the base of the cliffs, but the best spot seemed to be near the place where we entered.
It was still gusting and since there was mostly sand it was a challenge to find a spot to peg the tents. In fact our tent was secure with rocks on the pegs or so we thought until a big gust tried to blow it away. We moved to more solid ground and the pegs held much better.
We cooked up a big beef stew with couscous.
The driver is a bit of a big man and when we saw him heading up the steep cliff for what we thought was to see the sun set we all B lined up there. The sun set and the light on the cliffs was amazing, but he had really gone up there for cell coverage!
As soon as the sun went down the wind died down. This was except for about 5 min of hard gusting wind and heavy rain just as we were getting ready for bed. This meant a hasty retreat to the tents, but it was literally over in minutes and there was no wind for the rest of the night.
We had a calm night and a beautiful sunny morning for a leisurely breakfast.
We set off back around the cliffs and then up the less steep slope to get back up to the plain.
It is 90 km to town and this is directly across the steppe. There are literally dozens of parallel tracks at times. We came across a few more ger camps too.
Three day tour of the Gobi
Arriving back to the hotel we were very happy to have a long hot shower as we had sand everywhere. We even had some camel races in the dining room.