Covering the southeastern third of Mongolia, the Gobi Desert stretches about 3,000 mi/4,830 km along both sides of the Chinese border. It isn't a Saharan-type desert—although there are sand dunes, the Gobi is not a barren wasteland. It has herds of Bactrian camels (with two humps), horses and donkeys, as well as leopards, mountain sheep and ibexes. There is a lot of variety within the Gobi, from wildlife parks and mountains to canyons with dramatic rockfaces. 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. With so much to see, we recommend traveling through the Gobi rather than just staying in one place. The best ways to experience it are by camel or by Jeep—or by a combination of both. Local as well as international tour companies offer interesting itineraries with fairly basic accommodations.
We recommend Dalanzadgad, at the center of the South Gobi, as a good jumping-off or end point—it has a serviceable airport (it's about 90 minutes from Ulaanbaatar by air). If you're going to be driving, check ahead of time to make sure that fuel is available in the town. A popular place to stay near town is the South Gobi Tourist Camp—the area is noted for mountain sheep, camels, wild donkeys and gazelles.
Protected parks in the Gobi include Great Gobi National Park and Gurvansaikhan National Park. The desert's mountainous terrain is stunning, especially in the 10,000-ft/3,050-m Gurvansaikhan Mountains and in the Yol Valley (yol means eagle in Mongolian). Also in the desert is the Khermen Tsav (a canyon filled with dinosaur fossils).
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