The Gobi Desert is a large desert region which stretches through China and parts of Mongolia. It is also sometimes called the Gov' or Govi. It has occupied an important cultural and economic role in both of these nations for thousands of years, and it is also a popular tourist destination. Like other areas of desertification around the world, this desert is characterized by harsh conditions and temperature extremes which can push most living organisms to their limits. Despite this, nomadic herders call this region home, and there are human outposts in many far flung regions of the Gobi.
Although most people associate sand with deserts, the Gobi is not actually very sandy. Much of it consists of rock outcrops, gravel, and dirt, with scattered shrubs in some regions, especially those near the Kerulen River, which provides some water to parts of the Gobi Desert. Some regions do have large sandy dunes, and these often draw tourists and visitors, due to their isolation and natural beauty.
The total area of the Gobi Desert is around 500,000 square miles (1,295,000 kilometers), making it one of the largest desert regions in the world, after the Sahara. The Eastern region of the desert has been used by nomadic herders for thousands of years, and some ecologists have grown concerned about the ecological stability of this region due to overgrazing and exploitation. Another region, the Bayanhongor, has a rich archaeological record of dinosaur fossils, along with a small population of rugged animals and plants.
One of the most important plants in the Gobi Desert is saxaul, a woody shrub which provides food, fuel, and shelter. Gazelles, polecats, plovers, wolves, camels, wild asses, bears, musk oxen, and Przewalski's horses can also be found in some regions of the Gobi. Many of these species are unique to the desert, as is the case with the Gobi Bear, which is the only known desert dwelling bear species in the world. The Gobi is also visited by snow leopards and other animals which live along its fringes.
Conditions in the Gobi Desert can be very harsh. It tends to be very dry, with rain coming in brief and sometimes violent bursts. Because much of the desert is in the north, it is also a very cold desert, with ice and snow covering large parts of it in the winter. The temperatures can get extreme, sometimes fluctuating wildly between day and night.