Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs – Bayanzag

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A herd of yaks in the Orkhon River Valley - part of our local travel experiences in Mongolia
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Mongolia's Flaming Cliffs - also known as Bayanzag - in the southern Gobi Desert

Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs – Bayanzag

Mongolia's Flaming Cliffs - Bayanzag - in the southern Gobi Desert

Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs through the eyes and lens of our guest Tammy McCorkle.

Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs are located deep in the southern Gobi Desert (Omnogobi Province) and form part of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Yes, they are considered a highlight or a ‘must-see’ sight and are a popular stop-off point for tour groups. And yes, you’re right, here at Eternal Landscapes Mongolia, our Mongolia Tours are not about ticking off the highlights or  ‘must-see’ sights.  However, Bayanzag and its surrounding areas are definitely worth a visit, and here’s our brief guide as to how you can make the most out of your visit to Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs.

Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs /  Bayanzag – Your Introduction

In the Western world, we know the red sandstone rock formations as the Flaming Cliffs as this is what they were named by the 19th Century scientist-explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. However, the Mongolian name for the same region is Bayanzag which means ‘Rich in Saxauls’ and shows what is important for Mongolian people – the small desert shrub that is nurtured by the rare outwash from the surrounding gullies.

But, don’t go expecting the cliffs to be flaming. Whether they will be or not depends on the weather,  the time of day, and the time of year. In the words of Roy Chapman Andrews himself:

‘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.’ The New Conquest Of Central Asia

For anyone visiting the area in August, consider spending time at the newly established Spirit of Gobi contemporary art & electronic music festival. It takes place in mid-August at Bayanzag and the aim of the festival is to develop sustainable art tourism in the Gobi region as well as to promote Mongolian contemporary art and music.

Who Was Roy Chapman Andrews?

As well as a scientist-explorer, he worked for the  American Museum of Natural History in New York City and he became the leader of a series of five ‘Central Asiatic Expeditions’ conducted throughout Mongolia in the 1920s.

Andrews’s expeditions to the Gobi remain significant for, among other discoveries, their finds of the first nests of dinosaur eggs at Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs (Bayanzag), new species of dinosaurs, and the fossils of early mammals that co-existed with dinosaurs.

Roy Chapman Andrews is believed to be the inspiration behind Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones

‘I have been so thirsty that my tongue swelled out of my mouth. I have ploughed my way through a blizzard at 50 below zero, against wind that cut like a white-hot brand. I have seen my whole camp swept from the face of the desert like a dry leaf by a whirling sandstorm. I have fought with Chinese bandits. But these things are all part of a day’s work.’ This Business Of Exploring, Roy Chapman Andrews

Land Of Dinosaurs

Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs are in the heart of the Gobi Desert and numerous dinosaur fossils have been discovered at this site. These include:

  • The dog-sized herbivore Protoceratops with its bird-like beak but a body with four legs was discovered at Bayanzag in 1922.
  • The ferocious sharp-clawed predator Velociraptor  – featured in the Jurassic Park films. It is believed to have hunted Protoceratops.
  • The Oviraptor – its name means “egg stealer” because the first one ever found – at Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs – was fossilized with a nest of eggs. In fact, the eggs were actually its own and the Oviraptor was incubating them. Oviraptors came to the Bayanzag area to build their nests and hatch their young.
Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs and its surrounding area are of global cultural, educational, and scientific importance. They are also a very fragile ecosystem with threats to the region including erosion, damage from tour vehicles, graffiti (yes, really), and stealing of artefacts.

One step towards the protection and year-round stewardship of the site has been the opening of a  new information centre (link) that includes great information boards on the area and its history.  In addition, the Bayanzag Conservation Authority now charges vehicles 10,000 MNT per night for camping and people 5,000 MNT per person to sleep in one of the Flaming Cliff’s designated camping areas. This is a much-needed and welcomed policy to help protect this very important paleontological site.

As a visitor to the area please do your part by approaching and exploring the area on foot only as well as by using the newly situated toilets and taking all rubbish with you as there are no trash facilities or services in the area.

You can learn more about the site and its protection here (link).

Similar Sites To The Flaming Cliffs

Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs are part of the vast Nemegt Basin where fossils of a Tyrannosaurus Bataar, Velociraptors, and Protoceratops have all been discovered.

Fossils discovered in Mongolia – specifically the sedimentary rock of the southern Gobi – help to prove that the region has a different climate and environment 120 to 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The vast desert basins contained freshwater resources and the prevailing humid climate was ideal for dinosaurs.

As well as Bayanzag, other locations in the southern Gobi where fossils have been excavated include Bugiin Tsav, Togrigiin Shiree, Ulaan Tsav and Khermen Tsav. Bugiin Tsav and Khermen Tsav deserve a special mention – Bugiin Tsav for its series of rift valleys and Kermen Tsav for its spectacular natural formations.

The sandstone formations of Khermen Tsav in Mongolia's southern Gobi Desert. Similar to Mongolia's Flaming Cliffs - Bayanzag

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

None of the areas mentioned are easily accessible. You will need a driver with local knowledge. Consider logistics such as water, food, and additional fuel supplies. But is the journey worth it? Most definitely yes!

For those who enjoy visiting museums, Mongolia has a few good ones in connection with paleontology. If in Ulaanbaatar, consider the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs. Another option is the new Gobi Museum of Nature and History located in Dalanzadgad – the provincial capital of Omnogobi Aimag and just 100km down the (bumpy) road from Bayanzag. The museum has a collection of more than 4,000 exhibits and artefacts including paleontological finds and utensils, religious items, idols, and musical instruments from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages.

 

Get in touch for ideas on how we can help you explore Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs and Bayanzag or other locations in the Gobi Desert. One idea is our 18-day Gobi Desert Explorer tailor-made experience. It is adaptable, meaning you can choose your own travel dates and the length of the trip and the locations you visit. Alternatively, learn more about Mongolia’s Gobi Desert here and here.

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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