Tuzbair Sor in Western Ustyurt: Geology of Kazakhstan

The snow-white valleys of Tuzbair Sor

Sor Tuzbair is a natural combination of deserts, hills and bluffs, one goes here to view the salt marsh and conquer rocky peaks.

Kazakhstan is not considered a popular tourist destination, and this is a great omission of travel agencies. The variety of terrain, climate and natural vegetation will not leave tourists indifferent. One of the places worth visiting in the country is the Tuzbair Field, which resembles the site of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Geographical features

Sor is a kind of salt marsh. The Turkmens call the area Shor Tuzbair. Sor Tuzbair is located in the Mangistau region in southeastern Kazakhstan. Nearby is the administrative center of Aktau, a port city on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Almost the entire territory of the region is covered by solonchak and sagebrush deserts, there are no water sources.

Around the soras stretches no less interesting natural places:

  • The Ustyurt plateau is an arid area without water bodies. Everywhere there are natural cracks, gorges, grottos, chinks (precipices). Dangerous enough, but impressive place, the top of which can be accessed by only a few roads;
  • The ascent of Manata is a deserted area without trees, on which the descents and ascents alternate. Because of the strong winds here, you should be careful on the slopes;
  • The brown cliffs are small chalky hills covered with wind-blown sand, clay, and quartz crystals. It is these that create the deceptive hue of the rocks, shimmering in the sun.

The climate in Tuzbaira is dry continental, with hot summers and mild winters. There is no rough vegetation – everything that grows in spring, dries out from the summer scorching sun. It is the wind that saves you from the heat. Strong winds constantly blow in the deserts, carrying limestone, dry clay and chalk over the area.

Chalk mounds are sometimes found in the Tuzbayir sora. These are the remnants of mountains, eaten by soil erosion, rain, wind, and sun. Between the hills there are ravines and gorges everywhere, some of which are impassable because of the large amount of clay.

For a long hike recommended comfortable athletic shoes and clothing, as well as stock of water at the rate of 5 liters per person per day.

How to get to Tuzbair on your own

Public transportation does not go by Tuzbair. The nearest settlements are small villages:

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Aktau-Beyneu highway runs to the north of the sor – this is the one that connects Tuzbair with civilization. The easiest way to get there is by car. It’s better to go by jeep or off-road car, as a car can get stuck in the swampy clay soil. What is the most convenient and fastest route:

  1. Turn off the highway to the village of Say Utes;
  2. Drive southwest toward Manata;
  3. On the south side, stick to the oil pipeline;
  4. Behind the oil pipeline, turn right and drive along the rocks to Mount Tuzbayir.

The cost of gasoline in Kazakhstan is about 40-45 rubles/liter. The exchange rate of the tenge is 4.5-5 rubles.

You can get to the valley of solonchaks on foot from the highway, but the way will take several hours. You should move towards the south until you see characteristic mounds of lime, chalk and clay.

How to get to the salt marsh

Solonchak, or sor, is the main attraction of Tuzbair. Tourists come here to see a real natural miracle in person. The solonchak is a lake of salt and a small amount of meltwater from the hillsides. In the spring, the waters flow into the lake, mix with the salt and form a viscous liquid. In the summer, the heat causes the water to evaporate, covering the lake with a salt crust.

The correct name of the sorah is composed of two words, Tuz Bair, which means “salt hill.”

The surface of the lake has a high density in summer, which allows you to walk on foot, occasionally deepening into the salt deposits to a depth of 10-15 cm. It is impossible to drive a car on the salt marshes, as the crust cannot bear its weight. There have been cases when a car got stuck in the swampy area. One can reach the salt marsh only on foot or by driving along the edge of the salt, between the salt and the rocks. Locals know reliable trails, but an inexperienced driver is better off on foot.

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Tuzbair sor and its surroundings. A worthy destination to complete the expedition – Mangyshlak / Mangystau #8 Kazakhstan, May 2018.

This is the final point of our itinerary, but there will still be a resulting report, debriefing, tips and answers to questions. For patient readers, in the final post, there will be a file with all the points, and there will be all the tracks. There will also be a map with pictures attached to the points on the map. And links to the rest of the report are at the end of this article.

We drove up to Tuzbayir along the asphalt Aktau – Beineu highway. We climbed up the highway and went to the right on the ground. We passed by the necropolis of the 16th century: 44.10018, 53.20213 We moved closer to the edge of the chink and saw such a view of the highway:

Sor, a type of salt marsh. Tuzbayir is located in the eastern part of the Western Chink of Ustyurt, south of the Aktau-Beyneu highway. (The terms are deciphered in the first posts of the epic). Tuzbayir, and not only it, on the Mangyshlak Peninsula is very bright due to the abundance of different colors and shades. First of all it is White (limestone, salt and if you are lucky with the weather – clouds), Blue Sky and Yellow-Brown color of soil/clay/stones, emphasizing the whiteness of salt.

The colors and shades depend on the time of day, the angle of the sun’s rays and their refraction in the atmosphere. That is why, to feel all the charm of these places, I would recommend to stay here at least a day. There are comfortable and picturesque places for overnight stays.

Tuzbair itself: 44.01027, 53.22716

But more important is not the point of the salt marsh itself, but a lot of viewing platforms, each of which opens the traveler a new, unique landscape. It is also a must to drive along the bottom of the chink. About that a little later.

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Tuzbair Lookout #1: 44.09026, 53.19621

In this report I did not set myself the task of showing you the exact correspondence of the photos to the points. All of the lookouts we marked are on a track that is no more than 30 kilometers long. So I highly recommend you to drive them all :)

Tuzbair Lookout #2: 44.07974, 53.20703

Here, everything is passable by almost any auto. Of course, it will be much more difficult on the ground in the rainy weather, but we were lucky – we rode on dry ground.

Tuzbair Lookout #3: 44.04663, 53.22466

Tuzbair Lookout #4: 44.04609, 53.23928

Tuzbair Lookout #5: 44.04905, 53.26531 Tuzbair Lookout #6: 44.05127, 53.29364 Tuzbair Lookout #7: 44.04645, 53.30633 Tuzbair Lookout #8: 44.03397, 53.35201 Tuzbair Lookout #9: 44.0248, 53.35879

When travelers go to Tuzbayir on a counterclockwise route, many recommend leaving the highway on unpaved roads near the village of Sai Otyos. It will lead you to the descent from the chink to the sor itself. But you will stand before the choice to see Tuzbair from above or below, or drive back and forth. And many of them even don’t see anything :(

Our variant is more preferable: we drive from the highway to the south along the top and then come back from the bottom to the north to the highway.

The beginning of the steppe road to Beineu (toward Sai Otyos): 44.02133, 53.43795

This is where we said goodbye to our fellow travelers, the second crew in the gray Pathfinder. The guys were in a hurry to get home and, probably, were satiated with the beauty of Mangystau :)

We really wanted to look at all the beauties of Tuzbaer from a different angle – from below.

So, the road went downhill (it’s in the last photo). Then the main, well-traveled dirt road goes straight toward Zhanaozen, and from there you can go to Bozzhir, but it’s not a logical route… We, on the bottom, stopped at a small observation deck, which serves as a brake pocket.

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Tuzbair Lookout / Brake Pocket #10 43.99447, 53.44248

Further down, we turned right, along the chink toward the Aktau – Beineu highway.

It makes no sense to put points there! :) I put one in the middle:

Thousands of gorgeous views along, on the bottom of the chink: 44.01339, 53.35408 :)

Just drive and admire. To the right are rocks, bizarre shapes and colors, to the left are salt marshes. Again, in dry weather – on any car!

Well, and if you are with you Charming Navigator, as in the photo below, you can admire her too ;)

We stayed in the steppe for many tens of kilometers ONE! :) Just the two of us in such a Paradise!

The sun was going down, and we easily decided on a cozy and beautiful place for a romantic evening.

Tuzbair Overnight location 1: 44.03802, 53.30306

We had everything with us ;) And a positive, romantic mood, and some firewood, and red, dry wine and African drums ;)

At first glance, a strange seating arrangement, but here are the views a little later, in the flicker of the fire!

When it got completely dark, we took up the drums :) 30 seconds of video below:

In the morning, having slept in, we had a photo shoot. Some special moments of this photo shoot of course do not fit into the format of this article, but those who want to find them ;) But not everything is there of course! A heavenly place together … Mmmmm ;) :)

Then we were going to continue to the south. We didn’t know for sure if there was a road there, but we wanted to try to drive down, along the edge of the sorus to the highway Aktau – Beineu. The off-line satellite maps showed something. But after looking to the right and driving about five kilometers, we realized that a dust storm was coming at us from the north! Driving in one car, through the rubble, in a dust storm, we thought it reckless.

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Compare the visibility in the previous photos and in the photo towards the dust storm:

Especially since there wasn’t a single living soul for 2-3 dozen kilometers. So we decided to head back to the southern ascent from the sorah to Chinok. The sun was shining brightly that way for now…

By the way, there is a very cozy parking lot near the entrance/exit. So, if you don’t want to spend the night far from the roads, as we did, sleep here:

Tuzbayir Parking/Lodging 2: 43.99187, 53.44472

And here’s a photo of the ascent/descent:

No dust here yet either! We did it! Hooray!

We exhaled, climbed to the top and sawed on the steppe dirt road through Sai Otyos, then Beineu, towards home… :(

Beginning of the steppe road to Beineu: 44.02133, 53.43795

Well, now I want to debunk the statement of some travelers that if you go clockwise through Mangystau, having seen Bozzhir in the beginning, you will be bored everywhere, including Tuzbair! AU! :) You just DIDN’T SEE TUzbair! :) It’s beautiful! So at least look at the photos of this post, apologize, and choose a route depending on the weather forecast! :) But about that already in the final review!

The crew “SALSA 808 – Travelers and Pathfinders” wishes you good luck on the road, especially if there are no roads! :)

Links to previous chapters of the epic :) :

There is a final report left – a recap :) Do not miss it! :)

Joy and Positive! :)

New travels and discoveries! :)

March 27, 2019 Tags: mangystau , mangyshlak , kazakhstan , salsa 808 , pathfinder salsa , vitaly salsa , salsa 808 travelers and pathfinders , travelers and pathfinders

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