Selena Travel

20 Interesting Facts About the Gobi Desert

Posted by Selena Travel / 11 30, 2022

The Southern Mongolia is widely known for its Gobi Desert, one of the world’s unique ecosystems and best kept secrets. The region is famous for its unique nature formations, many places of real dinosaur fossils, and many endemic flora and fauna. A trip to Mongolia is not complete without a visit to the Gobi Desert. Here are 20 interesting facts about the Gobi Desert.  

1. At around 1,300,000 square kilometers, the Gobi desert is the 6th largest desert in the world, beating out the Kalahari, Patagonia and Sonoran deserts. The area of the Gobi is larger than Peru. Combined Thailan, Spain and the UK almost fill up the whole area of the desert. The Gobi is the largest desert in Asia!

2. The Gobi Desert is home to many of the citieis on the ancient Silk Road. Trade has always  been important for Mongolia and when the Mongolian empire was at its peak, they protected traders on various routes West.  

3. The Gobi is a rain shadow desert. This means that it’s on the dry side of a mountain range. The mountains block the clouds from releasing their water and force them to rain on the windward side. The dry side is called the leeward side. For the Gobi the mountain range that blocks the wind is the Tibetan Plateau to the south. Another famous rain shadow desert is the Atacama in Chile.  

4. There are fossils throughout the Gobi Desert. Some are as old as 100,000 years old. One of the first people to discover them for the Western world was the American paleontologist, Roy Chapman Andrews. He discovered the first known fossil dinosaur eggs. He is also allegedly the inspiration for Indiana Jones.

5. The Gobi Desert’s location in southern Mongolia doesn’t mean that it’s warm. The Gobi is classified as a Cold Winter Desert. At times you can see frost and snow on the dunes and valleys. It shares this designation with other famous deserts like Patagonia and the Great Basin Desert in America. However, the Gobi is larger than both those deserts combined.

6. By now, you may not know where the Gobi Desert is located. Despite its size, it only crosses two countries. If you want to visit Mongolia, you easily find the desert, but you’ll need to get a Chinese visa to see the whole thing. The Gobi straddles both Mongolia and China. The Gobi covers three provinces in Mongolia, and three in China.

7. While it’s not the coldest desert in the world, the Gobi does have an extreme range of temperatures. They can range as low as minus 32.8 C in the winter. That’s close to the lowest temperature naturally recorded on Earth, minus 89.2 in Antarctica. However, there’s still a long ways for the temperature to get a world record but you’ll definitely want some mittens in both places!

8. Just because it’s a cold winter desert doesn’t mean it doesn’t get warm. In the summer, the Gobi can reach temperatures as high as 37 C in summer. You should also pack some sunscreen because, the sun gets closer at Northern latitudes, leaving you more prone to skin damage.

9. Contrary to what you may expect, the Gobi Desert gets most of its meagre rainfall in the summer. It gets less than 100 mm of rain every year. For comparison’s sake, Sydney, Australia gets around 883 mm of rain each year.

10. With such an inhospitable environment, you may think there are few Gobi Desert animals. However, despite its harsh terrain, many animals call the Gobi home. Much like its cousin, the Sahara, camels are well suited to life here. There are many domesticated camels, but the wild Bactrian camel are special. They tolerate cold, drought and high altitude well. They are a separate species from the domesticated camel, with only 1,400 camels left in the wild. The camels are one of the few mammals that can actually eat snow for liquid in the winter.

11. Some animals don’t make the Gobi Desert their full time home; many species migrate through the area. Black-tailed gazelles migrate through, and brown bears and wolves often visit. Elusive snow leopards even visit the area.

Photo credit: Chinbold/Hureelen

12. Most of the economic activity in the Gobi Desert comes from the Oyu Tolgoi mining project, located in the southernmost Gobi province. The mine is operated by the Rio Tinto group through an arrangement with the Mongolian government. It is the largest mine in all of Mongolia, and despite the controversies, it brings some economic benefit to the country.

13. Every year the Gobi Desert grows. It mostly moves to the south, in China. Each year there is an increase of around 3,600 km of desert into the country. This is mostly because of human activity, like herding animals there, and the removal of trees. The Chinese government is taking measures to stop the desertification by planting drought hardy trees in the region.

14. The Gobi Desert can be divided into five ecological regions. The farthest north one has low-lying areas and small ponds. The other regions range from nearly steppe, with rolling hills and sporadic vegetation – desert, mountain, steppe

15. Despite being the largest desert in the largest continent in the world, European explorers didn’t mention the Gobi until 1688. A French missionary named Jean-Francois Gerbillon, working in China mentioned the land expanse on journeys to Mongolia and Manchuria. Przevalsky, the man who discovered the takhi horse for European science.

16. Many people may wonder where is the Gobi Desert’s legendary Mongolian death worm. Much like bigfoot, it’s a cryptozoological worm-like creature that purportedly lives in the Gobi Desert. The worm is supposed to be between 60 cm to 1.5 meters long, with a thick, red body. The worm is so poisonous that “to touch it means instant death.” I was the inspiration for the movie Tremors.

17. The Gobi’s sand spreads out all over Asia. The sand storms spread the sands of the Gobi in an event that’s called the Asian Dust storms. The sand storms are especially bad during spring. The fine dust spreads all over cities in China, Korea and Japan. This is especially dangerous for those who suffer from lung diseases.

18. The Gobi Desert, despite being so dry, has many plants that are well suited for drought. The most common Gobi Desert plants are shrubs that can handle heat and little water. Gray Sparrow’s Saltwort, Gray Sagebrush and needle grass and bridlegrass are common throughout the area. These grasses grow in small clumps, and are also called feather grasses. Unfortunately, shrub population has decreased due to domesticated animal grazing.

19. While it may not be on every Gobi Desert map, parts of the Great Wall go through the Gobi Desert. Originally built to keep out nomadic raids, the Great Wall has become a symbol of China. Despite it’s monolithic idea, the Chinese built many walls trying to keep people out. Visiting Mongolia, you may only see a handful of remains of these older walls, but in China they are more visible.

20. The Khongor Singing Sand dunes are located in the Gobi Desert. There are certain conditions for the sands to produce a “roaring” or “booming” sound. Scientists aren’t exactly sure, but the sound comes from how the grains move over one another. The dunes stretch out for around 185 km.

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