The Bogdinsko-Baskunchaksky Reserve is a natural area 50 km east of the Akhtuba River, created to preserve the intact semi-desert areas of the Astrakhan Region. The reserve is located in Akhtubinsky district and is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Through the territory of the Bogdinsko-Baskunchaksky Reserve, migrations of birds from the north of Siberia to wintering sites occur. Most of the near-water and waterfowl birds stop in the valley of the river Bitter, where the highly mineralized water flows. The reserve includes the Big Bogda mountain and the salty lake Baskunchak, from which about 80% of all salt is mined in Russia.
The protection zone of the Bogdinsko-Baskunchansky nature reserve was created in 1993. After 4 years, part of the territory was turned into a reserve. In addition to the Bolshoi Bogdo Mountain, the Green Garden tract, where artificial forest plantations in the waterless steppes and the Sharbulak tract rich in karst cavities, have entered the reserve. Today, there are two nature conservation areas nearby: a sanctuary of 32.8 thousand hectares and a nature reserve with an area of 18.5 thousand hectares.
Bogdinsko-Baskunchak Reserve has a rich flora and fauna. More than two hundred species of birds live in it, including several dozens of species listed in the Red Book of Russia. Biologists have repeatedly met in the protected area nesting rare steppe eagle, demoiselle crane and buzzard. In the Bogdinsko-Baskunchaksky Reserve 400 species of grasses, lichens and shrubs grow. Saiga antelopes migrate through these lands. And on the steppe expanses near the freshwater lake Karasun, you can see hunting wolves.
Particularly picturesque conservation area looks in April, when bright tulips bloom on it. From year to year the spectacle of endless tulip fields attracts many tourists to the Caspian steppes. For travelers, two ecological routes along the Bogdinsko-Baskunchaksky Reserve have been developed.
The steppe elevation rises to 149.6 m above sea level and is the highest place in the Caspian lowland. It stretches for 5 km and in form resembles a large beast, which lies down to rest by the lake. From the summit of Big Bogda, there are picturesque views of flowering slopes and small lakes. The only population of small lizards, squeaky geckos, is preserved here in Russia and in Europe.
Exploration of the mountain began at the end of the XVIII century. Famous naturalist travelers Samuel Gmelin, Peter Pallas and Ivan Auerbach took part in them. Over time, scientists found that the foot of the Big Bogd is located a few meters below the surface of the sea. And since the salt dome bulges out of the ground, from year to year the top “grows” by 1 mm.
On the mountain is a very different karst relief forms – grottoes, craters and underground cavities. To date, experts have studied more than 30 caves. The Great Baskunchak cave stretches for 1.5 km and is considered one of the largest in the Northern Caspian.
Locals worship the mountain as sacred. When the wind blows, muttering sounds appear on its slopes. The summit is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, and weathered relief forms on the southwestern side of the mountain are called “Singing Rocks”.
In the southeast of the Bogdinsko-Baskunchak Reserve in the picturesque tract Sharbulak there are also many karst forms. Here, on an area of 20 hectares, 10 caves were found.
One of the country’s largest drainless saline lakes is often referred to as the Russian Dead Sea. Looking at this reservoir from afar, it seems that it is covered with ice. So glistening layers of salt shine in the sun.
The bottom of the lake Baskunchak is so dense that trucks and even trains easily pass through it. In 1962, motorist Ilya Tikhomirov managed to accelerate across the lake to a speed of 311 km / h. Then, after the growth of salt production, the surface of the reservoir became unsuitable for races, so no one could repeat this record.
On the shore of the lake there is a lot of healing clay, and tourists are allowed to collect it as a souvenir. Local salt and clay are able to cure more than 50 diseases, so the sanatorium “Baskunchak” was built not far from the reservoir.
Those who come to the Bogdinsko-Baskunchaksky Reserve can see how salt mining occurs. This is a very interesting sight! Railway cars ride on rails laid directly on the surface of the reservoir, and special harvesters drive the mining. Depending on demand, 1.5 to 5 million tons of salt is taken from Baskunchak per year.