Although it is snowing on and off today in the mountains around Khovd, spring has taken over in this part of Mongolia. Because we've been so busy, it feels like it has come all at once, but the transition has been as long and gradual as I have ever known it. The first signs came back in February when suddenly one week, when the sun was noticably higher and the days noticably longer, the ice stopped accumulating between the branches of the Buyant. For a while it just stabilized, and then it began to recede, leaving pockets of ice that melted, then pockets of water that drained. A few days ago I could still see a large patch of ice southwest of town near the nose where the Buyant heads west and up, but even that ice is nearly gone.
Aside from the melting ice, the first signs of spring were harder to spot. They were mostly visible from my hands and knees. Tiny sprouts began to appear in the thick mat of grass by the river. Small grayish-green leaves began to come from nowhere in the desert above. Very early, black beetles started wandering around up on the sides of Goat Red. Finally, the red geese returned to the river. I have also seen herons, swans, and ducks that are still waiting to be identified. Much more obvious are the leaves on the Uulias
trees, the ones that give Uuliastai its name. They line many of Khovd's streets. The younger ones have already leafed out, but the older ones—many a few hundred years old—are still working on it.
Despite all of this activity, much of western Mongolia is still a barren place for most Americans' eyes. In the past few weeks I've traveled to Govi-Altai, Uuliastai, Buyant, Myangked, and Mankhan. Spring can be windy here, making dust storms and whirlwinds common, but my memory of this time has been of mostly clear blue skies. I didn't notice it before putting this group of landscapes together, but it seems that clouds are much more common too, at least during the times that I have been traveling.