That Mongolian Valley

Remember that Mongolian Valley I mentioned about five years ago? The valley which is supposed to be very similar to the Centennial? For those of you who do not remember - or have not been with me that long - here is the blurb:

    After living most of my life in Oregon, I found Montana's Centennial Valley - and fell in love. I'm convinced there is no place like it on earth (although rumor has it, there is a valley exactly like it in Mongolia - but I don't expect to go looking for it anytime soon).

Well, like so many things in life, there was more truth tucked away in that rumor than I realized. And so, after six years at Elk Lake I find out there really is a valley in Mongolia which closely resembles the Centennial Valley. Not only is it real - I have had the privilege of seeing pictures and learning much about the valley and the people who live there. In fact, with the help of Cliff Montagne, the guest whose slide show introduced me to that far off valley, I hope to share some serious details about the land, its inhabitants, and the work currently going on half a world away sometime in the near future. Until then, here is a bit to show the incredible similarities between Montana's Centennial Valley and its Mongolian cousin.

Where is this place? What is it called? How is it similar? Here are just a few facts:

The Mongolian valley which shares many similarities with Montana's Centennial Valley is Mongolia's Darhad Valley. It is located in northern Mongolia, just about 200 miles from Lake Bakal, the world's second most voluminous lake. Tell me this description from Waderson.com (a fly-fishing company) doesn't sound like the Centennial. "Travelling to Mongolia's famous Darhad Valley, you will fish two outstanding wilderness rivers during this two-week fishing adventure. This is a trip for the adventurous angler, who enjoys camping out, good food, excellent fishing and stunning surroundings, on a professionally outfitted trip. Enjoy wild-river fly-fishing for Taimen, Lenok Trout and Grayling."

Except for the 'famous' part (which, from my understanding this valley is 'famous' in much the same way the Centennial is famous - for its rugged, undeveloped, wild and pristine beauty), they could be describing Montana's Centennial Valley. Even the fish are similar - trout and grayling!

Similar also are the valleys' vegetation. Willows line the stream beds. Evergreens blanket the mountain's shoulders. Grass carpets the valley floor. In fact, an article by Tracy Ellis available on the MSU website (entitled "A Land Without Fences") paints an interesting and yet familiar picture. "In the Darhad Valley of north-central Mongolia, nomadic herders live with little in the way of roads, electricity, medical care or contact with the outside world. The landscape is vast grasslands and soaring, snow-capped mountains, where winter temperatures average minus 22 Fahrenheit." Sounds a LOT like the Centennial.

Not only are the fish similar, the some of the animals are familiar too. While the natives graze more sheep than cattle (sheep used to dominate in the Centennial as well), cattle do reside in the valley during the summer. In fact, like the Centenial, the Darhad Valley is only a seasonal grazing ground. In addition, the Mongolian nomadic herdspeople have to deal with large predators - primarily wolves!

The topography and origin of the valleys are also similar. Sitting at a 5,000 elevation, the valley is unhospitable in the winter, but offers wonderful summer pasture. Another similarity unique to both is, while both valley floors are primarily grasslands, both have sandhills. Both valleys are dotted with water - a river, several shallow lakes of varying sizes. Perhaps the similarities arise, in part, from both valleys being created by glacial flows which occurred during a similar time frame.

Unlike the Centennial, Darhad Valley lands are held in common (not privately owned). Yet, here again, there is more similarity than one might catch at first glance. Remember, much of the Centennial Valley is public land - either federal or state. However, the primary difference between the valleys is in the people. While the Centennial has a few year round residents (including yours truly), most of its residents are ranchers who have summer grazing (with real houses) in the Centennial but with a home base at a lower elevation. The nomadic herders who summer in the Darhad Valley are, perhaps, an even hardier breed. Not only do they travel cross country from winter to summering grounds, often without any wheeled vehicle to assist, they transport not only their families, their gear and their stock, but their homes!

One more similarity: both valleys are 'areas of interest' to Montanans. The Centennial gets a lot of attention, primarily from wildlife lovers and those who get intense pleasure from pure, unadulturated nature. However, it is also a wonderful outdoor classroom drawing scientific-types from all over the country - including from Montana's own state university in Bozeman. In similar manner, a group of people from MSU, led by the Montagnes, have (for the last several years) traveled to Mongolia to spend several months working in the Darhad Valley, searching for ways to help the nomads improve their lives and land management. Perhaps, then, the most unique connection between the Centennial and the Darhad is: the Centennial Valley serves as a training ground for those traveling to the Darhad Valley each summer. Wow! One just never knows how much truth is contained in the rumors they hear.

Lady of the Lake

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