Geology in Mongolia often brings to mind the exploits of dinosaur hunter Roy Chapman Andrews in the Gobi Desert or the vast glaciers and majestic peaks of the Altai Mountains, haunt of the snow leopard. But our geology fieldtrip went to neither of those regions.
To the north of the Gobi and east of the Altai is a middle ground of basins and ranges, rivers and lakes, steppes and forests that reaches to the northern border with Russia. Elevations are moderate, rainfall is reasonable, and summer temperatures are mild.
Geologically it spans the Precambrian to Recent, from ancient metamorphic basement, through carbonate platform and Mesozoic redbeds, to Cenozoic basalt flows. Mineral deposits stud the region - the Erdenet copper mine, placer gold mines, and rich phosporite deposits. There's enough variety to suite any geologist's interests. For a group of mostly Americans, there was an added reason for choosing central and northern Mongolia -- this terrane is unlike anything in North America.
The Geological Society of America offered this tour as part of their GeoVentures program, an ongoing series of geological field excursions geared towards teachers, students, professional geologists, and anyone with an interest in geology. International Geotrips involve more than just rocks. Participants learn about the history, culture, environment and politics of the region, with local experts serving as guides. In our group of thirteen, a few people came for geologic features in their area of specialty, some were interested in the economic mineral deposits, and others wished to augment their teaching of geology and natural science. But everyone had another purpose -- to see Mongolia.
Our expectations were amply met. The tour was led by two local experts in Mongolian geology, Drs. Mingin Ch. and Tumenbayar B., along with GSA representative, Dr. Greg Holden. Mingin's expertise is stratigraphy, sedimentary rocks and fossils. Tumenbayar is active in economic geology and environmental problems associated with mining. Both have extensive field experience and are well versed in the general geology and tectonics of Mongolia. Greg has taught petrology and field mapping courses and has led a number of other international fieldtrips and GeoVenture courses.
Traveling in Mongolia requires self-sufficiency, route-finding skills, and local knowledge, and for that we depended on the experience and organizational skills of Tumenbayar's tour company, TB Geotour. The staff of two drivers, three mechanics, a tour assistant, and four cooks provided transportation and meals. They patiently answered our many questions about Mongolia - rocks, culture, and history - and gave us a deeper appreciation for a land rich in natural beauty and resources, a country that is reshaping itself as a democracy.
Certainly we took away an understanding of the geology and appreciation for the puzzles remaining to be solved. But we also cherish the new friends made on the trip and the generous hospitality and good humor of our Mongolian hosts.