Last night, all seven undergraduates, one teacher, and one project coordinator arrived safely in the Dalbay Valley. The journey was mostly uneventful, but the length of it gives a great picture of just how remote this camp site is.
From Ulaanbaatar, we boarded a small turbo-prop plane bound for the also small city of Muren. Flying on a mostly cloudless day, we could peek out the window at the vast expanses of empty steppe below. A tiny white speck, probably a herder’s ger, would occasionally appear from the brown and green folds in the earth. However, it was not until we reached Muren when something larger came into view. As the plane landed, it flew closely over the multi-colored rooftops sitting at the center of brown, square, fenced-off plots of land making up this city (town?). Landing on the dirt runway was smoother than expected.
Upon grabbing our baggage and meeting up with our trusty camp leader, Undrakh, he told us that we would have to spend the night in Muren instead of heading directly to camp. Rains in previous days had made the road to Dalbay muddy and the high noon heat made the stones on the gravel stretches hot and dangerous to the cars’ undercarriages.
So early the next day, we sped off from Muren on our way to the southern tip of Lake Hovsgol, a town called Hatgal. Currently, the Mongolian government has contracted with, as we’ve been told, the North Korean government to hire workers and machinery to build this road. For the past three years, the road has been unrecognizable to our American eyes, but this year, about one eighth of it was paved with asphalt. Driving on it was a truly luxurious experience, especially compared with what was to come.
After 2.5 hours we reached Hatgal and immediately took “the worst road in Mongolia” to the Dalbay Valley. For 7 hours, we bounced and tilted, even suffering a small problem with the transmission in one of the SUVs. Despite the pain in our butts and heads, the ride up to camp offers some of the best views of the trip– green meadows, towering mountains, and the bluest of blue lakes we had ever seen. While the wildflowers are not as plentiful along this route as in years prior (the season does not appear as far along as at this point in the past), some bright orange, white, and yellow hues still greeted us along the way.
Finally, we reached Dalbay. A bowl of soup, a good night’s rest, and some scenic morning mist sends us off for our first day of work. Everyone else is certainly in their routine, scurrying up the hillside, gathering supplies, and discussing their plans for the day. For us, wide-eyed and still a bit jet-lagged, the pace is a bit slower. Learning and relearning all the plant species in the valley will take much of the first three days. So for the next few days, our wandering will be a little more aimless, and our sight will be focused a little bit lower.