Young jockeys heading for the finish line of one of Mongolia's horse racing competitions during the Naadam Festival
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Khovsgol Nuur Mongolia
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A female camel herder in Mongolia's Gobi Desert

Gobi Desert – Mongolia

The Gobi Desert (although there’s no need to put ‘desert’ after it as in Mongolian ‘Говь’ is the word for desert) is the fifth-largest desert in the world. What makes the Gobi Desert so incredibly spectacular is the vastness of the landscapes especially the gravel plains that have been crossed for centuries by humans moving between its wells, springs and oases. Research suggests that the Mongol Army cut through the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan on their way south.

The sandstone formations of Khermen Tsav in Mongolia's southern Gobi Desert

The sandstone formations of Khermen Tsav in Mongolia’s southern Gobi Desert.

So how to introduce you to this immensity that is the Gobi Desert? What better way than through the words of authors, EL guests, a US based non-profit organisation and a few 20th century explorers. All the images are by our guests or the EL team as well.

Quotes About Mongolia’s Gobi Desert

‘The Gobi Desert seems like earth reduced to its most basic elements: rock, sky, glaring sunlight and little else. The apparent emptiness is both compelling and intimidating. But the Gobi is not empty, it is filled with space, sky, history and landscapes.’

Conservation Ink

‘The word gobi denotes a desert or a waterless place but doesn’t really mean anything by itself. The Mongolians have many descriptive words for types of gobi, like the Eskimo and Scandinavians with their words for snow. There are supposed to be thirty-three Mongolian words for gobi – such as gravel, sand, bare earth, rock, mountain, dune, watering place, and those describing various types of vegetation. The ancient Gobi was more like an East African savannah – long grasses and some trees, with lakes and marshes. Successive waves of drought turned it into the more barren land it is today.’

John Man, Tracking The Gobi

Baga Gazriin Chuluu in the Gobi Desert - Mongolia

Baga Gazriin Chuluu in Dundgobi Province – known as the middle Gobi Desert

‘The dunes of Khongoryn Els sweep up against Zöölön Uul, a mountain range that is at the easterly reach of the Gobi Altai. You could say the dunes were a mountain range themselves. They are mammoth, the highest peak of sand being approximately 300m. They present the stereotypical beauty I think of in relation to a desert; sweeping lines and sharp contrasting forms lit by an unforgiving sun. ‘With the rising of the moon the desert takes on its most captivating appearance, and though the long hours while she travels from one side of the horizon to the other she has her own way with human imagination, softening the austere outlines and investing the barest formations with subtle charm. She is mistress of magic and with one touch can turn the wilderness into a dream world.’

Mildred Cable and Francesca French, The Gobi Desert  

Daily life in Mongolia's Gobi Desert - a herd of Mongolian horses in front of the rock formations of Zorgol Khairkhan mountain.

Sacred Zorgol Khairkhan – at 1668 meters it rises vertically out of the surrounding semi-desert steppe.


‘ There is certainly a beauty here, however, it is the gravel plains of the Gobi that stop my heart and leave my mind gaping in painful awe. The plains feel harsh, presenting a seeming endless barren desolation that is difficult to comprehend. Yet I sit and gaze into their expansive horizon, as I do into my evening fire, seeing nothing and everything in the vastness of this place.  Each time we stop and I look around it takes a while for me to recover from the immensity and seduction of it all, and from the knowledge that I could not survive here unsupported.’

Sovay Berriman, EL guest


A Mongolian ger surrounded by the immensity of Mongolia's middle Gobi Desert landscapes


‘The Gobi will make you question everything you thought you knew about the desert. It will strip the layers of expectation, familiarity and ‘seen it all before’ mentality from the harshest of critics. No longer will you compartmentalise landscapes into preconceived boxes. ‘The ground was speckled with tuffs of grass, livestock were huddled around a ger and there were drops of water obscuring my view. RAIN?!  Barren rocky outcrops, glistening natural springs bordered by lush green trees, wind swept dunes and blazing sunsets amongst the ghosts of prehistoric creatures. From the furgon, the back of a camel and on foot I moved through these changing scenes like the sole actress on a deserted film set. 

The remoteness lends itself to a sense of freedom and unconscious ownership. Just when you feel an element of power over the landscape, mother earth will remind you of your perilous position in the world.  This tap on the shoulder came to me deep in the middle of the night. The wind embraced the tent with the full force of a bear hug, using my body as a barrier against the side bending to it’s demands, I felt as minuscule as an ant in the wide open steppe.’ 

Megan Greentree, EL guest

Two Mongolian Wild Ass (Khulan) in Mongolia's southern Gobi Desert

Mongolian Wild Ass (Khulan) in Mongolia’s southern Gobi Desert.


‘Like a fairy city, it is ever-changing. In the flat light of midday the strange forms shrink and lose their shape, but when the sun is low the Flaming Cliffs assume a deeper red and a wild and mysterious beauty lies with the purple shadows in every canyon.’

Roy Chapman Andrews, The New Conquest Of Central Asia)

And one of my favourites, from my on first trip to the Gobi Desert with Turuu as lead driver back in the days of yore.

Jess: When was the Gobi a sea? Turuu: Back when I was a fish.

Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes - Gobi Desert - Mongolia

The Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes are known locally as Duut Mankhan – the Singing Sands. These are the largest sand dunes in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. However, they represent only 3-5% of the entire landmass of the Gobi Desert. They form part of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.

 If the thought of travelling through the Gobi inspires, you can find details on both our Mongolia small group tours and our Mongolia tailor-made tours pages. Please get in touch for more details.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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