Chara Sands: Miniature Desert in the Freezing Cold of Siberia

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Just 40 kilometers from the Kodar Glaciers in Kalar district of Trans-Baikal region, right next to the snow-capped mountains and the limitless sea of taiga spotted with blue lakes and huge ice fields, lies a bright yellow spot – the Chara Sands. This sand dune is approximately 10 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide; some of the dunes are as high as 15 – 30 meters. The terrain here is so pronounced it almost looks like a real desert. Nowhere else in the entire tundra such large volume of loose shifting sands can be found. Against the backdrop of the cold mountains, the Chara Sands is an extraordinary sight.

Writes the Russian Geographical Society website:

The contrasts seem to be impossible: as if an incredible open-air museum was set up, displaying natural curiosities of the north and the south next to each other.

Chara Sands is a truly amazing place. It’s like a real desert, but with features you won’t see anywhere else except in Trans-Baikal. Cold blue icing right next to warm yellow sand; instead of camels, a reindeer caravan treads across the sands, tended by an Evenk driver. You might stumble upon an oasis among the sand ridges where palms gave way to northern larches. The desert is surrounded by mountains covered with snow even during the summer; the dunes run into bogs or lakes.

Despite the sands dune’s small area, the terrain is quite uneven here. In the central region it’s mostly dunes and dune chains, interspersed with blown hollows and hilly sands. In the outskirts, it’s sand ridges. Large dune chains look very impressive – between 150 and 700 meters long. And the whole chain stretches for 2.5 kilometers, 15-30 meters high. In the central part of the massif there’s a 40-50-meter high ledge integrated into the dune chain’s slope. In the south-west the dune chains get thicker, and are the highest. The windward dune slopes are gentle (10-15°), while the lee ones are steep (30-35°), covered with ripples.

Chara Sands was formed during the Muruktin (Zyrian) glaciation period (about 100 – 55 thousand years ago) as a lake delta at the front zone of the Sakukan glacier, when Chara hollow was filled with water. Wind erosion during the Holocene era affected the top 20 meters of the massif producing the ripples, dunes, blown sands etc., mostly stretched in the north-western direction.

Chara Sands is 6 kilometers from the district capital Chara; you can get there by plane or by train.






Photos by Alexander Savchenko

Also see: Tottori Sand Dunes: A Mini Desert in Japan and Lençóis Maranhenses National Park: The Flooded Desert

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