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July 16, 2009 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Camel Caravan in Mongolian Altai

The Altai and Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia each comprise dozens of mountain ranges that straddle Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. For three enchanted weeks in late June and early July, Mike Bone (propagator here at the Gardens) and I had the privilege of exploring four of these ranges and the steppes and deserts between them on behalf of Plant Select. Thousands of photographs later, we find ourselves back in the steppes of Colorado, sorting through our files, maps and floras, and basking in the glow of what is likely the most amazing trip I've undertaken in my career. If you squint, the Altai look very much like the Rockies. They lie at the very heart of Asia, as far from the Arctic sea as from the Indian Ocean, equidistant from Pacific and Atlantic. The flora (like the Rockies) derives from the Holarctic Kingdom: we share the same pasqueflowers, fringed sage and a large proportion of higher altitude plants seem identical. But "Vive la difference!" we found numerous endemic plants and of course, the yurts (which they call "gers"), the yaks, the Kazakh nomads and the complex history of wandering peoples is utterly different from what we are used to in our Rocky Mountains. These few pictures should give you a taste of the majesty of "the Golden Mountains" (translation of the Turkic "Altai") which have provided us a wealth of golden memories...

Tulipa heteropetala was still in bloom

The giant Altai columbine: Aquilegia glandulosa

Primula nivalis on summit of pass in Mongolia
Primula nivalis on summit of pass in Mongolia

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