Welcome to Bulgan Sum

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission to lay early groundwork for a museum at the Flaming Cliffs. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

Front entrance of the community cultural center in Bulgan Sum

When we finally arrived in Bulgan Sum it was late afternoon and the town center’s modest buildings cast long shadows across its snow-covered streets. Cows and dogs wandered past our cars as we unloaded our luggage. We would spend the night in the guest quarters of the Community Cultural Center, a two-story Soviet-era structure with a large hall, theater, and classrooms.

A small restaurant welcomed our party a block away, where everyone just barely fit at the single large table. The food was arranged elegantly and Walt commented that it was the best he’d had in Mongolia so far. Suutei tsai was served out of a giant thermos and everyone began to feel cozy again for the first time since leaving Dalanzadgad.

The restaurant in Bulgan Sum
The best food in the Gobi?

The drive from the biggest city in the Gobi to the main town of the sum of Bulgan is usually about two hours down a dirt road that follows the power lines. This time, it took us all day. We had to stop and shovel snow several times, making sure we stayed on the buried road. If it weren’t for the power lines, it would have been impossible to find the route.

Munkhsaikhan (left) is an ecologist who, until her recent promotion, was the area’s only ranger, gathering ecological data with the help of nomadic herders while running an organic farm and kids’ nature club. Tuvshinbayar (right) is a parliament member from Dalanzadgad.

But we made it. As we enjoyed rice with meat and hot tea, Munkhsaikhan, the ranger I’d met in September, joined us. I was happy to see her and happier to learn she’d been promoted and was expecting her third child.

We lamented running out of time for a workshop here, but Bolortsetseg decided to play our workshop DVD, “Dinosaurs Alive,” at the Cultural Center theater. Everyone was invited, and after some technical difficulties, the audience (mostly kids) got to see the full twenty-odd-minute chapter about the Flaming Cliffs, a world-famous fossil quarry that also happened to be their back yard.

A scene at the Flaming Cliffs from “Dinosaurs Alive” played at the Cultural Center in Bulgan Sum

Bulgan Sum was the first place the ISMD held workshops, in 2009, and the Movable Museum made it here in 2015 – the first and only time many here had seen a dinosaur museum. Both these efforts targeted children, so I was curious to see how adults here felt about dinosaurs. We also needed to know how locals felt about a museum at the Flaming Cliffs. We had a survey ready with questions on both topics, and the next morning, Binderiya stayed behind in the town to interview everyone she could. The results are fascinating, and I’ll share them with you in a future update.

The rest of us took our fate in our hands and attempted the drive to the Flaming Cliffs through the snow. Walt had to be on a plane the next day, so this was our last chance.

To be continued…

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