Copyright © 2004 Jeanie Barnett and individual authors. All rights reserved.
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Day 5, July 29 (Thursday)

scribeMorning: Marion Shaw

Woke up to a fine morning beside the Tamir River. Major event was theft of Chris' bag from outside his tent. This left Chris with a somewhat reduced wardrobe. Tumenbayar notified local police, and a five-person investigative crew (four men and one woman in bright red pants) arrived from Ikh Tamir to take charge of the situation. Tumenbayar also chatted with people in local ger camp, a consensus as to the perp emerged, but the clothing didn't.

Lama's hat
Lama's hat

Click image
to enlarge.

Finally departed camp at 9:30, road lined with purple thistles, lama hats. Drove over pass with ovoo on top, driver honked horn three times, but we didn't get out. Passed our first ger with satellite dish out front.

Tea stop just past the Hanuy River. Drove up to gravel quarry, lower Cretaceous conglomerates, overlain by basalt of Cenozoic age. Gravel quarry was presumably for road building, apparently re-worked and re-deposited. Many blue gentians on the hillside.

Countryside cafe
Countryside cafe

Stopped at the Belhi Truck Stop, also called the Countryside Motel/Café, with an interesting bar. A low ceiling made from logs and dried leaves, walls adorned with various animal skins. A raw side of mutton, covered with cheese cloth, rested on a table. Beer, cold drinks and cookies were very good.

scribeAfternoon: Jeanie Barnett
Deer stone
Deer stone

After leaving Minjin's favorite watering hole, we had lunch by the Chuluut River near white outcrops of upper Neoproterozoic to lower Cambrian marble, gneiss, and schist, intruded by Permian granites.

We stopped on a hill of Precambrian-Cambrian schist to examine a deer stone, a monument of vertical basalt with petroglyphs of reindeer. Deer stones are found throughout Mongolia and other parts of Asia from Siberia to the Black Sea and were carved by a pre-Christian nomad population.

Chuluut River gorge
Chuluut River

The Chuluut ("many stones") River cuts a spectacular gorge through a stack of Cenozoic basalts. We hiked into the canyon, which boasts world-renowned petroglyphs and excellent fishing. We didn't see the petroglyphs or catch any fish, but were promised both at tonight's camp.

The basalts are lower Neogene to Quaternary in age and sourced to the south from fissures in a rift zone. The sequence is 30-40 m thick and fills ancient valleys along the trend of rifting extending up to Lake Baikal. In the canyon wall, we can see columnar basalts alternating with vesicular basalts, but no interbeds, soils, or weathered horizons. The gorge reminds me of the coulees of eastern Washington State, which were cut by floods from glacial Lake Missoula.

Mother Tree
Mother Tree

We followed the course of the Chuluut River west on a graded gravel road and headed into the Zuun Salaa Mod, a sacred forest with some unusual larch trees. The Mother Tree is the main attraction. It is a monster tree standing alone in a clearing and is thought to help people find lost items. A dozen limbs, festooned with blue silk scarves, stretch outward and skyward from its stout base, like arms embracing many children. We joined the procession of visitors and paced three times around the tree, tossing an occasional pebble onto the monumental rock pile at its base. Inquisitive chipmunks scurried in and out of the ovoo, stealing the show for the kids.

From the Mother Tree, a dirt track paralleled the river across the steppe. The dirt was the good part - the rest was boulders. It was like driving on top of an aa lava flow...which it was. We jostled around in the vans, gripping the seats and swinging from the ceiling straps. After a couple hours, anywhere was looking fine for camping.

When we came to a wooden bridge over the river, passengers bolted out of the vans for pictures, eager for any excuse to regain solid ground. The bridge was constructed of wood beams arranged in arcs, a clever design that makes good use of the limited materials on hand.

Suman River campsite
Suman River

We spied a camping place just downstream that overlooked the gorge of the Suman River near the junction with the Chuluut. There was a nice grassy area for pitching tents. But the best fishing was two kilometers away, and Bill and the Mongolian staff later headed out on a late-night fishing expedition.  He only got nibbles, but reportedly had a good adventure.

The basalt that we camped on is a young flow sourced in Khorgo National Park, some 50 km to the west. The eruption dammed the Suman River to form Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, a lake we would see tomorrow. The basalt is mostly aa lava, with some breached lava tubes and a few collapsed steam vents.

Once the tents were pitched, we scrambled down the cliffs of three columnar basalt flows to the river. Smooth water-worn basalt boulders and sandy basins made for good swimming holes, so we were finally able to get a refreshing full immersion bath and do some laundry.

Dinner was steaming in a big pot -- 99% nomad stew, according to Tumenbayar. The identifiable ingredients were thick homemade noodles, bits of mutton, slices of onions, and chunks of potatoes. The remaining 1% was anybody's guess and the cooks wouldn't tell. I later asked Baika what the recipe for nomad stew is. "Whatever is on hand", she explained, and seemed amused that it was one of our favorite dishes. Apple-carrot salad, tomato-cucumber salad, and bread rounded out the fare.

"We found them!"


The petroglyph hunters returned from an after-dinner walk and excitedly reported success. Bronze Age deer stones were known to be in the area, but they were more subtle than the upright monument we'd seen earlier and took a bit of hunting to find. Deer with ornate curved antlers and stick figures representing hunters were carved into the smooth faces of basalt boulders. Nearby, the fields were dotted with younger burial mounds - piles of rocks bordered by stone rectangles.

With petroglyphs, fishing, swimming, and interesting rocks, this campsite turned out to be one of our favorites. The long drive in was well worth it after all.

Day 6, July 30 (Friday)
scribeMorning: Sid Covington

We are camped at the top of the canyon of the Chuluut (or Chuul) river on a lava plain. Before breakfast, Enkhbayar, an avid fisherman, showed some of us the head of a taiman, a huge river fish that he had caught the night before. After breakfast we pack up our gear and leave camp at 9:15 a.m. We drive across the lava plain generally WNW. Enkhbayar, the driver of our van, searches for some good music. He tries several CDs but for some reason they refuse to play.

After crossing the lava plain, we begin to ascend a rough mountain road (aren't they all?) -- beautiful country, but the road is rough and slow going. We pass by an outcrop of dipping beds while ground squirrels dart back and forth across the road. Soon, those of us in Enkhbayar's van realize that we are alone, no one is behind us, and the gray van with Minjin and the cooking crew and the supply truck are way ahead of us.

Motorcycle rescue squad

Presently, a Mongolian on a motorcycle comes by and tells Enkhbayar that Tumenbayar says this is the wrong direction. He then got back on his motorcycle and headed up to catch the gray van. We stop to turn around and notice that the right front tire is almost flat and must be changed. Meanwhile, the truck arrives, but not the gray van. While Enkhbayar is changing the tire, we start walking down the road, observing the geology as we go. Within a short time Enkhbayar comes by to pick us up and we head back down the way we came.

Jargalant Valley
Jargalant valley

We meet the others along the road at a group of six gers. Having been waiting for us for awhile, they were invited into a ger where the locals were distilling mare's milk. One ger was devoted to this process, with a large container of fermented mare's milk that had to be carefully stirred. When those of us who returned joined the group, preparations began for lunch. We were served the taiman (fried) that Enkhbayar had caught. It was mild white fish with a delicate flavor -- delicious! In addition, we were served meat and noodles with cabbage, mashed potatoes, a beet and carrot salad and sliced apples.

As the Mongolian family looks on, we discuss the origin of some of the rock samples we took further back up the road. Shale, graptolites? Basalt, manganese dendrites? Crinoid stems for sure.

Moving ger
Moving ger

At about 1:35 p.m. we are on our way via another route, turning almost 90-degrees from our previous direction. We pass a family moving their ger and all their belongings. Of course, the satellite dish was packed, as well. All the vehicles in our caravan stop at the bottom of a treeless pass, and we contemplate the route. Some vehicles took a switchback route; Enkhbayar goes straight up. Over the top and down the other side -- more expanse of green. Reminds me of Alaska.

Bactrian camels
Bactrian camels

There has been a change of plans. Since we wandered off the course before lunch, we were about a half-day behind schedule. Instead of visiting the pyrope and diamond area, we are going straight to the volcano (Khorgo Uul) and then camp by Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Great White Lake). Hopefully, we will backtrack and pick it up tomorrow. We drive down into the open valley and ford a stream (we get out to watch). Further along are eight Bactrian camels near the road. This is our first (but not last) encounter with camels. We stop and take pictures as the camels basically ignore us. Some have flopping and sagging humps, probably due to lack of extra fatty deposits. Still, it looked strange.

Will it hold?
Will it hold?

The next adventure was the kinked bridge. Almost all the bridges we crossed were wooden and some definitely looked unsafe. No more so than the kinked bridge. It had four buttressed spans, but between the first two buttresses, the bridge took a decided drop. We could see that several long poles had been placed to shore up this kink. Needless to say, we got out of the vehicles and walked across. But, all the vehicles made it across, including the supply truck, even though it broke some of the planks we had used to ramp it up onto the bridge. I would hate to have lost all our food and gear into the river below.

Fuel station
Fuel station

After traveling over more lava, we arrived at the village of Tariat ("Yellow Buildings Facing Road"), just outside Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. On the edge of the village, we stop at a filling station. The Soviet military truck takes gasoline while the vans need diesel. The diesel fuel first has to be poured from a 55-gallon drum into an approximately 5-gallon aluminum "pitcher" and then into the tanks. Slow but effective. Some of us visit one of the most foul-smelling WCs ever encountered.

Khorgo Park entrance
Khorgo Park

After filling up and a few refreshments, we drive through Tariat to the entrance to the park. The entrance fee is 3,000 T (tögrögs) per person. The entrance sign further states in English: "Camp only in posted areas. Fire in rings only. Fishing by permit only. Please no littering."

Khorgo cinder cone
Khorgo cinder

We pull off the entrance road just inside the boundary to look at the contact between the dark brown basaltic cinders and the light colored granite country rock. Some of the volcanic material has vugs filled with what may be a zeolite or perhaps a potassium feldspathoid. Green crystals of olivine could be seen in some of the cinder material, perhaps of mantle or lower crust origin. The volcano is dated at about 18,000 years.

We drive around to the west side of the crater to a small parking area where we get out and hike up to the crater rim. This is a popular area with Mongolian tourists, and there was a sizable crowd of Mongolians at the parking area and on the rim. We hiked around the rim giving us a panoramic view of the surrounding lava plain, Tariat to the south, a ger camp to the northeast and the lake to the west. We drive to the north side of the lake and set up camp, arriving at about 7:15 p.m.

scribeAfternoon: Chris Metzler
Khorgo basalt
Khorgo basalt

The afternoon of July 30 commenced with a meal which included the large fish (taiman) which was caught the previous evening. During lunch there was an examination of, and discussion of, a dark colored rock. The first expert stated an opinion that it was basalt and the porosity was vesicular, although after some discussion, most folks seemed to think that it was a shale with the porosity being formed by dissolution of fossils.

We then drove down the valley and up a pass, passing tilted Paleozoic strata as we went. Going up the pass, we passed a family moving the ger. We went over a rather steep pass, with Peter riding safari-style. After going over the pass, we stopped to look at some camels. We also had a fun water crossing, which was no problem for the big truck. A funky wooden bridge looked dangerous!

We finally got to Khorgo Terkhiin National Park to see and walk around (though counterclockwise!) the young volcano. Finally, we made camp up the slope from the lake, enjoying a nice view.

Day 7, July 31 (Saturday)

scribeMorning: Joe Clark
Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
Terkhiin Tsagaan

We camped on the north shore of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur ("White Lake of River Terleh"). The lake is reported to contain pike and perch, but unfortunately there was little time "to wet a fly." The usual late night Russian truck repairs continued into the early morning. After an early morning shower, we arose to scattered clouds and sun. With the side of the van as a blackboard, Minjin lectured on the regional geologic setting that included the Tariat-Selenge uplift with Upper Permian granitic intrusives.

Van geology
Van geology

Leaving at 9:20 a.m. we skirted the northwest shore of the lake, passing scattered granitic exposures. We crossed wide grass-covered north-trending valleys with gers and yak herds and then proceeded north up one valley. The bounding hills had well-developed fans in contrast to those of the previous day that lacked such fans.

Fireweed and larch
Marmot Mountains

We reached a pass at an elevation of 2350 m with the usual large ovoo. Here, the terrain consisted of rolling hills with strips of larch. This area is reported to be the coldest in Mongolia with winter temperatures reaching as low as minus 50° C!

A pleasant hike to a granitic knob passed through a flora that included fireweed and old man of the mountain ("Einstein's hair"), after which we returned to the pass for a more than ample picnic lunch.

scribeAfternoon: Jeanie Barnett
Jargalant temple
Jargalant temple

After lunch we stopped at a Buddhist temple south of Jargalant. It is only a couple years old and was built by the local people. A lama comes here a couple times a month. We ceremoniously climb the stairs to the temple, led by the caretaker from the nearby village who holds the key. In contrast to the pagodas of Khaan Mountain, this temple has skylights and is bright and cheerful inside, an inspiring place to curl up on a wooden bench with a stack of Buddhist manuscripts.

Descending Jargalant temple
Descending Jargalant

We continued up the valley on a rough dirt track and cross several streams, stopping at a burial mound dating from the 6th-7th centuries. Clouds thickened and then it started to rain, picking up to a good drumming as we splattered into the village of Jargalant. Children and animals splashed through the streets and vehicles deepened the ruts.

Jargalant store
Jargalant store

We stopped for a quick shopping trip so Chris could replenish his wardrobe. The shops look rather dilapidated from the outside, but were surprisingly well stocked on the inside: sacks of livestock feed on one side, shelves of chocolate, candies, clothing, liquor, and ger-hold goods on the other. Chris did surprisingly well, emerging with a nice pair of expedition slacks from China, which were even almost long enough for his 6 ft + frame.

As we sloshed out of a rather dreary Jargalant, I absent-mindedly ask Tumenbayar what the name of the town meant.

“Happy”, he replied.

Jargalant campsite
Jargalant campsite

We set up camp on a terrace above the Jargalant River, framed by cliffs and pinnacles of pinkish granite. It was blustery and sprinkling rain as we pitched the tents. Dinner was served under the canopy, which periodically cascaded water onto those that dared to inhabit the fringe zone. A feast of hot mutton, cucumber-tomato salad, and dilled potatoes kept us in good spirits. Dessert was fresh blueberries from the kids with berry-stained hands and faces, selling their mountain harvest along the roadside.

Day 8, Aug 1 (Sunday)

scribeSue Zobel

We are 50 km short of yesterday's intended camp. Today we plan to get close to Moron to see a Precambrian contact. Road was good early on! Passed many burial sites (rock piles surrounded by square perimeter of rocks).

Magma mixing
Magma mixing

Stopped for a contact of Permian felsic granite and Lower Paleozoic mafic gabbro. Contact metamorphism is supposed to be high in this region. Absolute dating of the mafic rock in various places has it at Precambrian, some Paleozoic and in East Mongolia it is Triassic. Much discussion of dates and events. Jim offered a theory that this area presents two magmas mixing (mafic and felsic) then is stressed. He offers mylonite showing shear as evidence.

Tea time brought out the geologic map of Mongolia along with a 1971 geo/mineral map while Enk's fuel filter was cleaned.

Fixing truck
Truck repairs

Lunch happened at a boundary of Permian volcanics and Cambrian plutonics along a fault zone which is trending east to west. We viewed bedding of volcanics then ate. Discussion involved Roy Chapman Andrews. First plane was sighted overhead. We went to visit a diorite/gabbro outcrop (middle and upper Cambrian, 35 km by 40 km is extent of outcrop) while water pump and generator on truck were repaired (involved a trip to nearby town for a spot weld). Lots of lolling about (and knitting) occurred.

Bugsey River
Bugsey River

Finally off again at 4:30. Drove through broadest valley to date. Beautiful! Made camp by Bugsey River as the usual afternoon thunderstorm rolled by leaving a rainbow and a flock of local visitors. It was a beautiful, warm night. Perhaps the invention of "Bugsey Juice" (Mongolian vodka mixed with leftover juice from canned cherries) softened the recollections.

Question of Day -- What is favorite place/area in Mongolia?

Maidar: Gobi, not sure why (when pressed).

Tumenbayar: Gobi.

Enkhbayar: Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake - where we camped). Every summer as a boy he went there with his family and fished and hunted. (Second favorite is Khovsgol.)

Minjin: Gobi - very exposed geology, very good fossils.

Urmaa: Likes far west, mountain region. It is not as well visited (by tourists). Her father is from that area.

Day 9, Aug 2 (Monday)

scribeFred Shaw
Bugsey River campsite
Bugsey River

Nice sunny morning in camp on the Bugsey River, with cranes, another tourist group, but no fish. Out at nine through the pingoes(?) and up to the pass above Moron, replete with crutch-covered ovoo and tea shop. Down a steep valley with yaks and larches, the latter being logged. About five km down the valley a geology stop; possibly Jurassic conglomerates, and some east-west faults with volcanics. Whole region remains active, there was a quake in 1905.

Delgermoron River fishing
Delgermoron River

Out onto the flats of the Moron River for lunch. Good fish from the locals but our nimrods caught nothing. Everyone pulling out cell phones, as Moron offers contact to Ulaanbataar.

Into Moron at 2:00 -- a bit scruffy at the edges, but center offers a post office and a good grocery store, together with the usual bleak communist plazas with heroic statuary. We are down 2100 feet from the pass.

Phosphorite prospect
Phosphorite prospect

North out of town to the phosphate locality. The Russians scraped and drilled all over this hillside. The rock age is in some doubt as is the geologic/geochemical setting( see guidebook G8). No prospects for mining at the present -- not economic and environmentally problematic. Eventually it may be combined with the acid from the gold mining program at Erdenet to make cheaper finished products for shipment out.

Fishing the Eg River
Eg River

On to the north, the improved road dies out to a track then is abruptly reborn on to the turnoff to Alag Erdene. A small town, but sporting party flags on both democratic and communist party headquarters. A modern place -- a toll bridge complete with yaks and a toll collector. Over the Eg River and north to reconnoiter Cambrian limestones with trilobites. However, we save this for the next day and retreat to camp near the toll bridge. Peter does his river walk. Others swim, and the locals catch fish. Final fishing score: locals 4, home team 2. Subsequent visits by other locals -- they all are better dressed than we. Two had flashy mountain bikes.