Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mongolia 2017 - Day 9. Hatchi Nuur to Ölgii

Eventually morning came, and in the midst of a drizzle I got up and rolled my soggy camping gear. The clouds were becoming thinner, and after a while the sky opened slightly and I could see, on the other side of the lake, the snow-clad mountains of southernmost Russia.

While it was still drizzling I resumed my compulsive cleaning of the car. I have bought a couple of hand towels, and much to the amusement of Zoe and John, have been attempting to erase the effects of our plunge into the silt-filled wallow a couple of days ago. It is silly, of course, because every day we collect new batches of dust.

Once everybody was up we boiled some hot water to have a warm cup of coffee, and breakfasted on a can of little fish in tomato sauce and bread and butter. Our dining room was glorious, with the lake and the mountains coming into view as if it were an evolving opera act. We are surrounded by all sorts of ducks, small birds and raptors. An eagle, standing about 20 meters from us, leisurely lifted itself a couple of meters off the ground and, with delicate precision, plucked a fish out of the lake (John, the fisherman, much admired her technique).

We drove parallel to the river, and in a short time entered the narrow canyon with steep slopes that is the portal to the city of Ölgii. It is a handsome small city, of maybe 30,000 inhabitants, nestled among mountains. With our characteristic good luck we took a couple of random turns and landed right on the footstep of the Blue Wolf Ger Guesthouse, where we gratefully spread out all our wet gear and clothes to dry in the sun.

For lunch we went to a nice Turkish restaurant, where Zoe and John enjoyed two different kebab plates, and I tackled a big plate of meatballs. Pretty good fare.

In the afternoon we decided to go for a hike around Tolbo Nuur, another large lake about 50 km south of Ölgii. On our way there we were stopped at a check point, where we had to show passports and car papers (a relic of the Russian regime?), and then pay a small user’s fee for entering a national park. Along the road we noticed that we were surrounded by a completely different type of geology; we were now in the Paleozoic (?) fold-and-thrust belt of the Altai mountains, with beautiful folds exposed all along the road. (We have said to ourselves several times that western Mongolia would be a fabulous place to teach Field Geology!)

The Tolbo Nuur lake was as spectacular as Lake Tahoe, but without trees. The electric blue lake is nestled between two of the many chains that form the Altai Mountains. A convenient ridge along its northern shore afforded us with a great small hike, stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and a chance to inspect the phyllites and mica schists of the fold-and-thrust belt. The metamorphic rocks likely formed from a flysch sequence of turbidites.

Tomorrow we will endeavor to probe further into the Altai Mountains.

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