Selena Travel

20 Interesting Facts About the Gobi Desert

Posted by Selena Travel / 03 23, 2023

Southern Mongolia is widely known for its Gobi Desert, one of the world’s most unique ecosystems and best kept secrets. The region is famous for its unique nature formations, many places of real dinosaur fossils, and numerous endemic flora and fauna. 

Here are 20 interesting facts about the Gobi Desert - a place shrouded in mystery and awe.   

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, and the largest in Asia. The area of the Gobi is larger than Thailand, Spain and the UK combined! 

2. Despite its whooping large size, the Gobi Desert only crosses two countries, straddling over Southern Mongolia & Northern China. It covers three provinces in Mongolia, and three in China.

3. The Gobi Desert was home to many of the cities on the ancient Silk Road. Trade has always been important for Mongols and when the mighty Mongol empire was at its peak in the 13th century, they protected traders on various routes West.  

4. There are fossil remains (including dinosaurs!) throughout the Gobi Desert of which 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. His expedition discovered the first fossil dinosaur egg known to science in 1923 at the famous Flaming Cliffs in the Mongolian part of the Gobi Desert (read more about the Flaming Cliffs here). Roy Chapman Andrews also was allegedly the inspiration for the Indiana Jones.  

5. Contrary to what comes up to mind - arid landscape and extreme heat, the Gobi is actually classified as a Cold Winter Desert. It shares this designation with other famous deserts like Patagonia and the Great Basin Desert in America. During the winter, one can see frost and snow on the dunes and valleys, and at some locations, you can even find frost and ice in summer months. One such example is the Ice Field at the Yol Valley, Lammergeier Gorge in English (names such due to constant presence of this magnificent raptor) where you can see thick sheets of ice in mid-summer.

6. While it’s not the coldest or hottest desert in the world, the Gobi does have an extreme range of temperatures. They can range as low as -40C in the winter and as high as +45C in the summer.

7. 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. 

8. With such an inhospitable environment, you may think there are very few living things in the Gobi Desert. However, despite its harsh terrain and the climate, many call the Gobi home. Much like its cousin, the Sahara, camels are well suited to life here. There are many domesticated two-humped camels in the Gobi, but the wild Bactrian camel are a special case. They are a separate species from the domesticated camel, and just 1,000 are believed to be left in the wild. The camels are one of the few mammals that can actually eat snow for liquid in the winter, and they tolerate cold, drought and high altitude well.

9. In addition to the critically endangered Wild Camel, the Gobi is also home to one of the most endangered mammals on earth, the Gobi bear Mazaalai. According to the latest estimation, there are about 50 Mazaalai bears are left in the wild. 

10. 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.

11. There are numerous folklores and tales are told about the mysteries creatures of the Gobi Desert. Among them, a lesser known folklores to outside world is about dragons. As the folklore goes, dragons are the creatures of high power and hibernate during the winter in the waterwells as they are creatures of water and sky. It is said that the wells which have dragons hibernating shows clear signs and if one observes these signs, then the well should be left alone after having rituals done, such as covering it with white felt (made of sheep wool) to symbolize its holiness and purity. 

Photo credit: Chinbold/Hureelen

12. Many people wonder whether the Gobi Desert’s legendary Mongolian Death Worm had really existed at some point of time or it is all just a fantasy.  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.” It was the inspiration for the movie Tremors. 

13. Most of the economic activities in the Mongolian section of the Gobi Desert comes from mining projects and tourism as it attracts thousands of travellers each year. 

14. 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.

15. 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

16. 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. Przhevalsky, the man who introduced the Takhi horse, the last remaining wild horse on earth, to the European science, also mentioned about the Gobi in his works.  

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 in most of the areas, has many plants that are well suited for drought. The most common Gobi Desert plants are shrubs that can handle heat and grow on little moisture. 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 increase in 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. 

20. Khongor sand dunes, known as the Singing Dunes, are located in the Gobi Desert. Under certan weather conditions, the 185-km long sand dunes produces a “booming” or "humming" sound hence the name Singing Dunes. Scientists aren’t exactly sure, but the sound comes from how the grains move over one another. 

If you want to trace the steps of the famous explorer Roy Chapman Andrews, or view the breathtaking sunsets over the Flaming Cliffs, or listen to the murmurs of the mysterious Khongor sand dunes, check out our amazing group and private tours to the Gobi Desert!

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