A Double Rainbow in the Green Gobi

November 17th, 2010

Original Publication by National Geographic / “Field Notes” Blog.

A double rainbow appears over gers in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. (Photo by Stefanie Payne)

The beauty of travel is so often in the things you can’t plan for, the circumstances you don’t expect, and the experiences that you might never have imagined. Stefanie Payne wrote about one such experience recently in the Gobi Desert, where she traveled on our expedition to Mongolia.

Our expedition to the north of the Mongolian Gobi from the capital of Ulaanbaatar took about two hours by small plane, four hours of expert 4×4ing across desert “roads,” and critical directions from state-of-the-art GPS systems. In the Gobi there are no addresses, only coordinates.

In only four days, these coordinates guided us to such locations as the ice crevices at Yolyn Am, to distant rocky peaks that cradled Marco Polo sheep, to the Flaming Cliffs on the hunt for dinosaur fossils. We enjoyed milk tea and curd with local nomadic families, wobbled through sage brush atop horses and camels, slept in gers (also known as yurts), turned cartwheels across the sprawling sand dunes of Khongoryn Els—I felt this trip couldn’t get better. Then it did.

It was our fourth and final day in the Mongolian Gobi. We sat on the carved wooden balcony at the Three Camel Eco-Lodge, enjoying a dark national beer and relaxing in the late afternoon light.  I knew weather would affect our trip at some point: a sand storm or fabled sweltering heat, this I was well prepared for. I just hadn’t really thought about it until the rain approached from the distance, quietly walking its way toward our ger camp. Desert rain, with the intense and subtle energy of a nomad horseman crossing the steppe.

A rainbow arcs across the Gobi. (Photo by Stefanie Payne)

I looked towards Jeremy Schmidt, our National Geographic expert, while keeping my gaze fixed on the horizon, and commented, “I think the rain is a good omen.”  With a calm nod, he looked to us and began a story that had been passed along to him by Mongolian shamans on his previous travels to Khan country. He explained that, in Mongolia, rain prior to a journey was a good omen—a blessing from the gods to wash the roads clean for the weary traveler, shedding light upon the destination. He went on to explain that the Gobi was much greener this year.

Not long after the rain, the light of sun returned, lending a mysterious golden glow to the vastness before us. A double rainbow appeared. The bow stretched across the wide-open sky, anchoring into the green desert steppe. We were speechless at a sight so exceptional. So exceptional, that we had to remind ourselves to put the cameras down and enjoy this rare, fleeting moment.

Jeremy smiled.  “A good omen indeed!”

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