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 … here’s my brief guide as to how you can make the most out of your visit to Mongolia’a Flaming Cliffs.
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
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, 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
The 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.
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!