A DINOSAUR FOOTPRINT PARADISE
Ever wondered how your footprint would compare to a velociraptor or maybe a Shunosaurus (yes, that is an actual name of a dinosaur)? Well stop thinking about it and go find out! Shar Tsav, located in the Manlai Soum of the Umnugobi province, is the place to explore for you!
You may not have heard of this unique world palaeontologist heritage site? Why would you have, tucked away in the desert hundreds of kilometres from any sizeable urban population? But take note reader because this place is full of surprises and intrigue!
Our party started our travel to this dinosaur connoisseur’s delight in the early hours of the morning from Khanbogd. Plenty of snacks were included for the journey as there would be no shops along the way for breaks (bathrooms too!) in the vast sprawling desert landscape. The first hours were full of gazing into the distance, trying to spot the occasional wildlife other than camels (a lot of camels).
After an hour or so of following endless glaring water pipelines, protruding from the landscape, we came to a small, insignificant sign giving a vague direction of where we were heading. And so began the real journey driving in a rough direction towards our target, often stopping to get our bearings at a Ger that would miraculously appear over a rugged sandy outcrop. But this was all part of the journey, the experience of the vast Gobi.
After what seemed like hours of aimless driving and stopping at every inhabitant’s Ger (with its many camels), we arrived. Anticipation built as we drove up a hill and through the gates to a site found in the middle of nowhere, a sign welcoming weary travellers a refreshing sight. Now we were able to see what all the local fuss had been about.
We pulled up and hopped out and oddly saw very little, apart from a large sign and a caretakers hut, which seemed empty. Had we travelled such a long distance for an underwhelming feeling? The driver wasn’t worried though, he pointed past the sign and to the top of the hill. Walking up the slight incline, it became quite clear it had been well worth the wait!
Expanding out several kilometres was Shar Tsav, a palaeontologists paradise. Discovered in 1995 by Japanese and Mongolian researchers, the site contains over 18,000 (yes 18,000) dinosaur footprints from 4-5 different types of carnivores and herbivores. As you walk down the steps of the wooden walkway, you soon realise these aren’t just any footprints, they are incredibly well preserved (and selfie-worthy). Great detail is given to explain the great insights discovered about these ancient giants from a lost era. It is, in fact, the sight that proves dinosaurs lived in groups. Down to the depth of the impression, the size or cluster of these prints, great secrets have been uncovered. This is evident as you read the detailed descriptions along the walkway (in Mongolian and English).
Halfway walking the looped wooden walkway, you come to a small building, and if you were impressed by the clusters of footprints outside, you were about to be blown away! Apart from a good feeling of getting out of the blazing sun and feeling the cool air, you get to see dinosaur footprints on overload from a different perspective.
After many photos and a late lunch, it was time for the long trek back from this uniquely lonesome attraction. Was it really worth the hours of being cramped in a stuffy vehicle, driving around with a vague sense of being lost. The answer is a resounding yes, in fact, getting there was part of the experience, one that few places can offer like Shar Tsav. You won’t have to worry about overcrowding either as you will be lucky to come across others at the site. Once you arrive, you will not be disappointed, and even the most disinterested members of your party can’t help but be impressed.
Overall this is worthwhile visiting if you get the chance, more than once if you are crazy about dinosaurs and footprints (even then it may be a bit much). Depending on where you start, don’t be put off by the long journey and as long as you have someone with a good sense of direction its well worth your time.
Things to consider:
- Leave early. You will need most of the day (if not all) to travel there and back.
- Use the bathroom before you go. There is one there, but it isn’t 5 star and its a long way from there to civilisation!
- Bring plenty of snacks water and a packed lunch (have a picnic there).
- Bring a sunhat but also warm clothing as there is minimal shelter if it becomes windy.
- Bring a set of binoculars if you have them (it will be worthwhile for spotting wildlife such as wild asses and gazelles in the distance.
- If you can bring someone who has been there before.