Karakum Desert

Karakum Desert

The Karakum Desert, also spelled Kara-Kum and in Turkmen Garagum or Gara Gum. The Karakum desert is translated as “Black Sand” and is one of the largest deserts in Central Asia and on Earth. The Karakum desert occupies almost 3/4 of the territory of Turkmenistan and is Central Asia’s hottest sandy regionThe Turkmen Karakum is extending about 350 000 square km, stretching some 800 km from west to east and 500 km from north to south. It is located between the foothills of Kopetdag, Karabil, and Vanhyz in the south, the Khorezm in the north, the Amu Darya valley in the east and the western Uzboy channel in the west.

Karakum desert is a sun-scorched expanse of dunes and rare vegetation in the center of Turkmenistan stretching to the horizon. From the south it is held by the picturesque cliffs and gorges of the Kopetdag mountains, which break off from a height into the frozen “sea” of the foothills, beyond which the desert begins. In Karakum you can see everything from lakes and areas of dry subtropics to lifeless rocky areas, clay and gypsum plains and of course vast areas of loose sand. 

Camels in Karakum desert Turkmenistan
Yurts and tents in Karakum desert

The desert still manages to hold a few settlements, including the oasis town of Jeerbent, 160 km north of Ashgabat. It is a decaying collection of homes, battered trucks, yurts and especially camels. Jerbent is being slowly demolished by the desert as sands continue to blow the town from the overgrazed dunes. Although it doesn’t look like much, the village does offer a glimpse of rural Turkmen life,and you can watch traditional cooking methods and sit down for tea inside a yurt. Darvaza gas crater is also located next to the same road about 100 km north. 

Climate of Karakum desert

The climate of the Karakum is very continental, with long, hot, extremely dry summers but relatively warm winters for a continental desert. The average temperature depends on which part of Karakum you are in as the Caspian sea is a player in the Karakum climate. Average temperature in July in the north and along the shore of the Caspian Sea ranges from 26 to 28 °C and in the Central Karakum from 30 to 34 °C. In January, average temperatures are −4 °C in the north and +4 °C in the south, but temperatures may fluctuate from as low as from −20 °C to as high as 10 °C within a day. The average annual rainfall varies from 70 mm in the north to 150 mm in the south. Precipitation occurs mainly in winter and early spring, mostly between December and April. Snow is also not uncommon. 

Nature of Karakum

As you might guess the nature is quite harsh in Karakum which is also the attraction of it. The vegetation is adapted to the desert climate consisting mainly of grass, small shrubs, bushes, and trees. The humid and yet not that hot spring causes the colorful blossoming of several beautiful flowers in the desert which the animals will be eating with enthusiasm during the spring time abundance that only lasts for a short time.

The amount of animals in Karakum is fairly low but there are still many different kinds of them. Several species of lizards, snakes and turtles can be seen along with birds like skylarks, saxaul sparrows, wagtails, desert sparrows and jays. Among the rodents there are gophers and the funny looking jumping jerboas that “run” very fast. In the plains of the Karakum there are tolai hares, hedgehogs, barchan cats, corsac foxes, and  goitered gazelles.

It is also obvious that while in Karakum desert you will see a lot of camels and goats that are grazing what they can.

Sights near or in Karakum Desert

Page updated 13.2.2021

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