Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Anima. Anima Wonders, “Why is the Gobi Dessert called what it is?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Anima!
What do you want to be when you grow up? Some of our Wonder Friends may want to become doctors or dentists. Others may seek to be the next President of the United States or astronaut that travels to the International Space Station.
Perhaps some of our Wonder Friends might be interested in traveling the world in search of ancient dinosaur fossils. Does that sound intriguing to you? Wouldn't it be fun to be part paleontologist, part explorer?
Where would you want to travel in search of fossils? Lush tropical jungles might be fun to explore. It would also be exciting to search deep in the heart of remote mountain ranges. How about a vast desert?
Traipsing across a desert might not sound appealing. After all, wouldn't it be too hot? And what could you expect to find walking up and down endless sand dunes? Before you dismiss the desert, however, you might want to learn more about a huge desert that's a bit different than what usually comes to mind when you hear the word "desert."
The Gobi Desert stretches nearly 1,200 miles across the most remote part of Central Asia, including northern China and southern Mongolia. With an area of over half a million square miles, the Gobi Desert is the fifth largest desert in the world.
The Gobi Desert takes its name from the Mongolian word "gobi," which means large and dry. That's an apt description, because the Gobi Desert gets between two (in the west) to eight (in the northeast) inches of rain on average each year.
This lack of precipitation is what makes the area a desert. Its arid climate occurs because it sits in the rain shadow of the Himalayas. This massive mountain range blocks most moisture-filled clouds from reaching the Gobi Desert.
Unlike many deserts that are filled with sand dunes, the Gobi Desert consists of mostly firm, rocky terrain with relatively few sand dunes. The lack of sand doesn't make the Gobi Desert particularly inviting, though. The bare rock and sparse vegetation in the Gobi Desert makes it a harsh place to live.
In fact, humans avoided settling the area for thousands of years. In addition to harsh terrain, the weather can be severe and wildly different from season to season. The average temperature in winter can dip as low as -40º F, while summer days can routinely reach highs of over 110º F.
Today, the Gobi Desert remains sparsely populated with fewer than three people per square mile. Most inhabitants are nomadic and make a living by raising cattle. The Gobi Desert is also home to a variety of wildlife, including camels, gazelles, antelopes, gophers, marmots, and a variety of reptiles.
Long ago, however, the Gobi Desert was home to dinosaurs and a variety of large mammals. We know this thanks to the Central Asiatic Expeditions of the early 1920s led by explorer Roy Chapman Andrews.
Some people believe the fictional character Indiana Jones was based, in part, on the life of Roy Chapman Andrews. A naturalist and an author, Andrews led many important expeditions in connection with his work for the American Museum of Natural History.
Andrews is best known for the discoveries made on his third Central Asiatic Expedition. By pure chance, he got lost on the plains of the Gobi Desert. While trying to find directions to a military outpost, his photographer, John B. Shackelford, discovered fossil bones along a nearby cliff edge.
Those red sandstone cliffs, now commonly known as the Flaming Cliffs of Djadokhta, turned out to be a treasure trove of fossils of both dinosaurs and mammals. Among the famous finds were dinosaur eggs, previously-unknown species of dinosaurs, such as Protoceratops and Velociraptor, as well as a variety of large prehistoric mammals from the Cretaceous period.