The Waiting Game

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission in the Gobi. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

The sun is out. If the roads are back open today, we’re heading to Bulgan Soum (and the Flaming Cliffs tomorrow if all goes well) after I forget how many days in Dalanzadgad waiting for the snowstorm to pass.

This was before it got bad. There’s no pavement under there.

It’s been the biggest storm of its kind here in at least ten years, they’re saying. At one point, thirty-five people were missing in the area, and one still hasn’t been found. Many nomads were caught off guard and their livestock are now at risk, lacking access to food.

If we’d left a bit earlier for Bulgan Soum, we may have beat the storm, and we were kicking ourselves at first for that, but now we’re hearing that the homes we planned on staying in have become shelters for rescue personnel and that the Flaming Cliffs are completely inaccessible.

We’ve spent our time here in Dalanzadgad well, though. Planning and paperwork have made great progress and we’ve come up with tons of ideas for the museum together over endless khushuur and suutei tsai at the hotel restaurant.

We were even able to set up a dinosaur workshop at a school in town.

Will we make it to the Flaming Cliffs before we have to return to Ulaanbaatar to catch our flights home? It all depends on the weather and the road conditions.

If nothing else, at least we discovered a dinosaur while we were here.

Supersaurus marketrex.

A Day in Dalanzadgad

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission in the Gobi. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

The drive to Dalanzadgad was uneventful except for a few irresistible photo opps.

I’m writing from the Gobi Sands Hotel tonight in Dalanzadgad, Umnugovi Aimag – the southernmost aimag (province) of Mongolia, where tourists visit in the summer to see the Flaming Cliffs and other natural wonders like the Hongor Sand Dunes and the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains. Collectively, the attractions of the Gobi are Mongolia’s most popular tourist destination.

Right now, however, it’s not summer, and there are no tourists.

The view from our room at the Gobi Sands Hotel this morning. Why yes that is snow.

Note: If you want to beat the Spring Break crowds, this is definitely the place to go.

Happily, precipitation of any kind is considered good luck in the Gobi. After a team breakfast of bread with jam, fried eggs, and bantan (a traditional meat and rice soup), we made our way to our meeting with several officials from the local Parliament.

Binderiya translated for Dan, Walt and I, and Bolortsetseg did most of the talking. I don’t want to go into too much detail on what was discussed yet, but it went well. There are a number of open questions but we all left feeling really good about this important first step toward a museum and research center at the Flaming Cliffs.

The local press was also in attendance, and wouldn’t let Bolortsetseg leave for lunch without an interview.

Walt, Binderiya and I also met with some professionals from the local construction industry to get a feel for the architecture requirements.  We’ll use what we learned to form some initial estimates.

Our final meeting of the day was an informal one with the local museum director, after which we were treated to a tour of Dalanzadgad’s two museums: a cultural museum (with a few dinosaur specimens) and the Camel Museum.

I have to say, if you are ever in Dalanzadgad, definitely find the Camel Museum. You will not be disappointed.

Tomorrow, hopefully we make it to the Flaming Cliffs despite a dust storm warning and more snow. Wish us luck.

Waking up in Ulaanbaatar

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission in the Gobi. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

It’s 8:19am in Ulaanbaatar and the sun is shining. Our team of four arrived from the US via Incheon last night around ten, to a long customs line and a cold parking lot. Ganbold, who drove the Moveable Museum last September, met us at the airport in his new Prius with an extra drive to accommodate all our luggage. We got to the Bayangol Hotel, looked over materials for our mission, and fell asleep around 1:30am.

We’re back in Mongolia for two weeks to meet with government officials in the Gobi, drop off our new bilingual outreach materials, and scout a location for a new dinosaur museum and research center at the Flaming Cliffs, Mongolia’s famous orange sandstone landmark where the first dinosaur nests were found almost a century ago.

I’ll be making updates along the way with photos from the Flaming Cliffs and the local communities, so check back here and follow our Facebook page for more frequent check-ins.

Our team from the US includes:

  • Bolortsetseg Minjin, President & Director, Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs
  • Thea Boodhoo, Officer & Director, Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs (myself)
  • Walter Crimm, Architect, Walt Crimm Associates
  • Daniel Chure, Paleontologist, Dinosaur National Monument (not here representing the National Park Service in any official capacity)

And we’ll be picking up Binderiya Munkhbat on our way to the Gobi this morning. She hosted many of our workshops last September and a few since. She’ll be running two more in Bulgan, the town closest to the Flaming Cliffs, while we’re location scouting, and helping with translation.

Til next time, here’s another shot of our view at the Bayangol Hotel:

View from Bayangol Hotel, Ulaanbaatar, at sunrise

Хойд Америкын тал нутгаас Монголын говийн динозаврын эрэлд гарсан миний тэмдэглэл

Бид цахим хуудасныхаа анхны блогоор палеонтологич Викториа Арборын тэмдэглэлийг толилуулж байна. Тэрээр Онтариогын Хааны Музей болон Торонтогийн Их Сургууль дахь Эваний Лабраторид Канадын Байгалийн Ухаан болон Инженерын Судалгааны Төв нэрэмжит (КБУИСТ) докторын дараахь сургалтад судалгаа хийж байгаа.

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ISMD President’s Statement on AMNH Fossils Collected by Roy Chapman Andrews

 

On September 28, 2015, ISMD president Bolortsetseg Minjin shared this statement with her followers on Facebook regarding the sensitive topic of Mongolian fossils in the possession of the AMNH. While the ISMD supports the immediate repatriation of all fossils illegally exported from Mongolia, those which were legally exported are a different, and much more complex, issue.

2015 оны 9 сарын 28-ны ѳдѳр МДСХ-ийн Ерѳнхийлѳгч М.Болорцэцэг Америкийн Байгалийн Түүхийн Музейд буй Монголын палеонтологийн олдвортой холбоотой мэдэгдлийг ѳѳрийн Нүүрномын хуудсан дээр тавьж байсан. МДСХ нь Монголоос хууль бусаар гарсан олдворуудыг буцаан эх орондоо аваачихыг дэмжин ажиллаж байгаа бѳгѳѳд хууль ёсоор гарсан олдворуудын хувьд шийдэгдэх шаардлагатай асуудлууд бий. (Монгол орчуулгыг энд уншина уу)

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2016 Campaign Update 9

We had some crazy notion that there might be time to relax on our last week in UB. That was three weeks ago.

As soon as we returned to Ulaanbaatar we were in a whirlwind of press appearances, meetings and workshops. Bolor had no less than four interviews, including a TV morning show with myself, Teddy and Binderiya.

With all the press it finally became a necessity to for Bolor to have a proper portrait and so we went to the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs to get a shot with the Tarbosaurus that started this whole thing, which is on display in their main hall. Instead, we ended up in a very interesting meeting with the museum director, Javzmaa Namsrai. We signed a memorandum of understanding for future cooperation and look forward to working with the museum.

And we eventually got the portrait.

Workshops were a blast all week, we held them in a geology classroom at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, and the dim but beautifully dinosaur-embellished auditorium of the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs.

We also met so many people who wanted to work with us in some way that I can barely remember them all, from a couple building apps for kids to an alternative energy specialist who specced out the Moveable Museum for solar panels.

And then we had to say goodbye, with so much more to do and so many more ideas than we came with, four far-too-short weeks prior.

We have one last Mongolia-based team member we’d like you to meet. It’s my pleasure to introduce Gambold Luvsannamjail, who drove the Moveable Museum this year, last year, and with all good luck for many future years to come.

We met Gambold through Bolor’s mom, who was a 5th grade teacher once upon a time. Gambold wasn’t her best student, but she remembered him long after he moved to Khazakstan to become a crane operator. Gambold served in the Mongolian military for three years, and then served the public for many more as a municipal bus driver in Ulaanbaatar.

Late one night on the road, when our team was huddled in a ger and it was very cold outside, I asked everyone what time they would go to if time travel was possible. Gambold was the only one who picked the future. He sees Mongolia on the rise, hosting the Olympics, growing a space program to rival the US and Russia. It was because of him that I started imagining the Martian landscape dotted with little white gers, and that image will be with me forever. Thank you, Gamba.

Much more to say–too much for this update. Til next time,

Thea

2016 Campaign Update 8

It’s about time you met Binderiya Munkhbat. The list of things that would not have happened without her includes more than half our workshops, almost all our museum tours, understanding and being understood by our drivers, museum directors, politicians, crowds and waiters, not to mention the joy she has brought us every day just by being herself: ultra-reliable, thoughtful and always ready to smile. We couldn’t bear to let her go and we’re thrilled to announce that she’s agreed to keep working with us for the next twelve months from here in UB, translating and developing educational programs.

Binderiya studied Public Administration in Ulaanbaatar at the University of Computer Science and Management and she’s been working as a volunteer for Mongolia’s only 4H chapter since April 2011. She got into museum work in 2014 after a chance encounter at the National Museum of Mongolia, where she volunteered as a museum educator and program developer for eight months. Her manager there recommended her to us as an exhibit interpreter last year, and she was at the top of our list for this year. When I interviewed her for this profile, she expressed a long-term desire to help improve Mongolia’s education system and to make museums here “more alive.” We’re convinced she’ll succeed.

On the subject of success, you probably want to know how our workshops in Mandalgovi went. The school we collaborated with there was new, well-lit and very well-organized. I have to say it was a better school than a few I went to in the US, and the kids even knew a bit about dinosaurs already. In fact for one workshop, Binderiya had to switch to a more advanced lesson because the kids already knew everything from the one for their age group–including the fact that birds are dinosaurs!

We also held a full day of Moveable Museum tours and I was surprised and thrilled to see Gana interpreting the exhibits for the kids! He and Gamba both learned a lot from Binderiya on this trip and jumped in to volunteer while Binderiya was hosting workshops. Since we returned to UB, Gana has moved on to his next driving job, but we’ll stay in touch and hope to hire him again next year.

Mandalgovi has its own permanent museum, with cultural and natural history collections on display, which we got to enjoy the morning before we left. I’m pleased to be able to share some of it with you.

 

So we said goodbye to the Gobi, and hello to our last week in Mongolia, which I’ll share with you in the next update.

Til then,

Thea

2016 Campaign Update 7

We set off for the Gobi the morning of September 14th, a team of five. Bolortsetseg hung back in UB on official business and Binderiya, Teddy and I pooled in Gana’s car with Gamba at the reins of the museum.

We were greeted in Dalanzadgad by Tushka and Suugi, two gentlemen involved in economic development, who showed us some of the town’s public art before dinner.

As the sun went down, we pulled into the neon wonderland of a new dinosaur park replete with near-life-size animatronic dinosaurs. It opened in June, and we look forward to collaborating with them on informational materials.

On the second day, we welcomed our first special guest appearance from TV cartoon star Justin Time. Earlier this summer, we came across an episode of the eponymous kids’ show that takes place at the Flaming Cliffs, and we knew the kids who live nearby would love it–plus, it’s all about paleontology! So we got in touch with the producers at Guru Studios and they were excited to send us the episode. Thanks, Guru Studios! The kids loved it! Hopefully we can get it translated into Mongolian for next year.

We also hosted a Skype session between some Mongolian high school students and the Webb School at the Alf Museum in Los Angeles, which is a unique high school that focuses on natural history. We hope it turns into an ongoing exchange. There is very little attention paid to natural history in the curriculum here, but students in the Gobi are hungry to learn more, especially about dinosaurs.

This is even more true in Bulgan, the small town closest to Bayanzag where Teddy, Gana and I spent two days accompanied by Azaa, an English-speaking tour guide with some paleontological knowledge. She showed us several un-excavated fossil sites around the Flaming Cliffs, and we did a little prospecting.

Bayanzag’s only park ranger, Munkhsaihan, introduced us to members of Altain Hoilog, a kids’ club that meets 2-3 times a week to learn about nature, go on field trips and pick up litter at Bayanzag. They were super inspiring and we’ll be helping them out however we can.

Out of room again & I’ve barely scratched the surface. Next time: the news from Dundgovi & an introduction to Binderiya Munkhbat, our genius-at-hand.

Yours,

Thea

2016 Campaign Update 6

We just got to Dalanzadgad after a break in Ulaanbaatar to make repairs to the Moveable Museum, replenish our workshop supplies, and catch up on all our emails.

Arvaikheer welcomed us with sporadic rain last week and a cozy classroom the color of key lime pie, tucked in the back corner of a children’s library.

 

Our oldest kids so far, a class of 14-year-olds, seemed bored until we passed around some fossil replicas and suddenly they were as animated as the kids half their age.

Our middle school class was one of the most interested and interesting so far. One boy asked if he could be a junior paleontologist, a handful of other students got excited and they spontaneously formed Mongolia’s first kid’s paleontology club. Bolor promised to take them to a fossil quarry next year if they kept it up. Good luck, junior paleontologists!

Many of the Arvaikheer kids had smart phones and took their own photos and videos. It was pretty cool to see them sharing their pictures with each other as they left.

Today I want to introduce you to Gana, the hired driver hauling us all over Mongolia in his green Toyota Land Cruiser. I could write an adventure novel about the offroad driving miracles he’s performed. He speaks about as much English as I speak Mongolian, but Bindi was kind enough to translate an interview so I could tell you more about him.

Gana grew up in Ulaanbaatar and left for East Germany in his early 20s to become a chef. He studied there for six months and returned to a career that eventually led him on tourist expeditions as a back-country cook. He fell in love with the Mongolian countryside and decided to explore as much of his homeland as possible by becoming a driver for tourists. He’s since seen every part of the country and found a couple of favorite locations, including the Hongor Dunes of the Gobi and the Altai Mountains in the west. He’s become very well liked by the group and has a way of lifting our spirits when we’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

I mentioned Yeweng was covering the cost of a driver for our Western Mongolia trip. Since we made new arrangements in the Gobi and only need one driver for the second leg, Yeweng and Bayaraa split off to tourist destinations. I never got to introduce you to them and I don’t have room now, but I’d like to say a little goodbye. To Yeweng: thank you and I’m glad we had a chance to become friends! And to Bayaraa: bayarlalaa Bayaraa, bayartai!

Next time: the Gobi!

Yours truly,

Thea