The Gobi Desert

gobi desert , Mongolia
© mr.wijannarongk kunchit/

Written by Katie Melynn Wood

Updated: October 13, 2022

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Have you ever wanted to go digging for dinosaur fossils in the desert? The Gobi is the perfect place to do that. Spanning vast parts of Mongolia and China, this rock desert is home to interesting wildlife and plants, including some endangered species. You can also see the sites where important paleontology discoveries were made. While it doesn’t get a lot of rain, the massive Gobi desert is the perfect place to find adventure.

How Large Is the Gobi Desert?

The Gobi desert covers 500,000 square miles and is one of the largest deserts in the world. It measures around 1,000 miles from one end to the other. It is between 300 and 600 miles north to south depending on where you travel. Amazingly, you can drive over most of the Gobi desert in a vehicle. This is one massive desert!

It is bordered by multiple mountain ranges and is actually made mostly of rock rather than sand. It also supports a lot of plant and animal life, especially when compared to other deserts of its size. Some researchers and scholars do not include the Taklamakan desert in the Gobi desert area while others do. It consists of a large basin and includes some cities within this region.

One of the most notable facts about the Gobi desert is the presence of interesting rock formations and specimens. Because it is a rocky desert rather than a sandy one, it is easy for scientists to see and study the various natural specimens that are found in the desert.

Where Is the Gobi Desert Located?

The Gobi desert is in central Asia. It covers parts of China and Mongolia. Its name is Mongolian and means “waterless place.” That’s a pretty accurate name for a vast desert made of mostly rock that does not get very much rainfall each year.

There are multiple regions within the Gobi desert. Most are divided by mountains or other topographical landmarks that create different microclimates and environments. The regions are:

  • Western region: Gaxun, Junggar (Dzungarian), and Trans-Altai Gobi
  • Eastern region: Eastern/Mongolian, Gobi
  • Southern region: Alxa Plateau (Ala Shan Desert)

The Tien Shan mountain system that divides China and Kyrgyzstan makes up the western border of the Gobi desert. The Mongolian Altai and Gobi Altai mountain ranges are also present in the area. Within the Gobi desert, there are plenty of salt marshes, plains, and plateaus. There are also valleys and peaks. This change in elevation also impacts the weather within the Gobi desert.

There are multiple parks and natural areas within the Gobi desert. Some of the most notable include Great Gobi A and Great Gobi B in Mongolia. Here, you can see wildlife that lives in the Gobi desert, including wild horses, Bactrian camels, super rare and endangered Gobi bears, and even snow leopards. The Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park is another park that was created to protect these animals, including the snow leopard, which is also endangered.

Bactrian Camels are native to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

©Tiarescott, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

What Is the Average Annual Rainfall in the Gobi Desert?

July has the most rainfall by far out of any month in the Gobi desert. Even this “wet season” only averages 1.6 inches of rain during the month.

The dry season spans multiple months. It typically starts around September or October and lasts until May or even June. During these months, the average rainfall is less than an inch. For many months, there is no rain at all.

The annual average is around 4.5 inches of rain per year. The majority of this falls during the mid-summer, usually in July. Small amounts of rain can fall during late spring, through the summer, and into the fall. Collectively, it is not much precipitation.

Amazingly, even with so little rain, there are still places within the Gobi that are lush and tropical. These oases are part of what gives the Gobi the allure to tourists and visitors that have attracted many to explore it. The mountainous regions tend to have more vegetation than the plateaus and plains.

Plants in the Gobi Desert

With very little rainfall, many of the plants that survive in the Gobi desert have long roots that can get water from deep within the ground. The plateaus and plains are home to wild grasses and onions. During the rainy months, they can get flowers. There are also plenty of barren areas of just rock with very little vegetation. This creates an interesting landscape in all seasons, but especially during the cold, severe winter.

What are the Hottest, Coldest, and Average Temperatures in the Gobi desert?

The cold season in the Gobi desert falls between December and February. The weather during this period is quite chilly, averaging around 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. If you plan to visit the Gobi during the winter, you will likely need specialized gear. Not only does it get cold during the day but it is frigid and potentially dangerous at night if you are not prepared. There are not a lot of places to shelter within the Gobi desert.

It can snow during these months, typically one or two times per month. At higher elevations, it may snow more or the snow can stay around longer. Many people choose to visit the Gobi desert during winter to see the vast, desolate landscape. It is also home to many interesting animals that have adapted and evolved to live in this environment. Frozen waterfalls are another highlight of the Gobi in the winter.

During the warm summer months, temperatures get as high as 78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Notably, temperatures fall at night. They can get down to the upper 50s at night. This may not sound cold but it does require different gear and clothing than you might be comfortable in during the hot daytime hours.

How Much Rainfall Does It Get?

The Gobi desert does not get much rainfall, typically around 5 inches or less per year. But when it does, amazing things happen. One of the most notable is that rain can reveal dinosaur fossils in the rock. One area known as the Flaming Cliffs is the site of an important discovery in paleontology. Here, scientists found fossils that showed a dinosaur nest. This helped them understand how dinosaurs reproduced and that they laid eggs. You can actually book a tour to go to this area and explore dinosaur fossils for yourself.

Scientists have also conducted excavations of various sites within the Gobi desert that were home to ancient humans. The White Cave, also known as Tsagaan Agui, is a site within Mongolia. Here, tool fragments and blades date back to the Paleolithic era. Because it is so rocky, scientists are able to date the rocks pretty accurately and analyze these artifacts from early civilizations to learn more about them.

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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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