A herder gathers his sheep and goats in the middle of an early spring snowstorm.
Myagmarchuluun, a herder in northern Mongolia, takes a break near his friend's ger (yurt).
Neighbors help take down a ger (yurt) on moving day. The family will move from their winter camp near a rock wall to their spring camp close to a river. The structure of the ger is so perfectly suited for nomadic life that its design hasn't been altered in 1,000 years.
Although young men used to be given jade pipes by their fathers, most herders now smoke cigarettes.
A ger (yurt) in the parched and dusty Gobi landscape near the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine. Many of the animals in the area have become sick due to the dust that has kicked up from constant truck traffic shipping coal from the mine to China.
Erdenemunkh, a herder, chats over a plate of decorated curds and a thermos of suutei tsai, or salty milk tea.
Most herding families depend almost entirely on the meat and dairy from their animals for sustenance. Here, large stones are being used to press excess liquid out of curd.
Mongolia has traditionally been known as a sheep-herding country. Even today the average herder owns more sheep than any other animal to supply the national demand for mutton. Mongolia ranks third in the world for the number of sheep per capita.
Mongols take great pride in their various breeds of horses; this racehorse has brilliant blue eyes.
A young herder trims the manes from a herd of horses. The horsehair is commonly used to make rope.
Animals are milked at dusk in northern Mongolia. The milk will be used to make butter and yogurt.
A young nomad herds his animals by motorcycle after an early spring snowstorm.
A young herder carries baby goats to a small, heated ger (yurt) during a snowstorm to keep them warm and healthy.
A man milks his tethered goats in the Gobi Desert.
A Mongolian woman feeds milk to a lamb from an old soy sauce bottles.
A monk walks past an abandoned Soviet Era building on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.
Monks, young and old, chant prayers during a Buddhist ceremony at Dambadarjaalin Monastery in Ulaanbaatar.
Residents of Ulaanbaatar set paper lanterns afloat at an event celebrating the birth of Buddha.
A herder holding his gun and wearing his finest leather-and-silver belt stands for a portrait near his ger (yurt) in the Gobi. Historian and anthropologist Jack Weatherford says traditionally only men wore sashes or belts over their deel (robes) and this was a symbol of manhood.
A group of jockeys, trainers, and horse breeders gather before a Naadam horse race.
Naadam brings out the holiday spirit and competitiveness in everyone, both young and old. This young man shows off his horsemanship in front of his friends.
A herder proudly wears a hat adorned with a medal he won when his stallion came in first place at a province-wide horse race. Horses play a prominent part in Mongolian history and culture.
Monks in Ulaanbaatar take part in a traditional Tsam ritual. Tsam rituals consist of a series of masked dances and are often accompanied by narrated content. In Mongolia, like most other religious rituals, Tsam was banned during Soviet times. Now, this small monastery and a mask maker named Ganna are working to bring the practice back.
Deer stones, engraved with images of reindeer, are thought to date back to the Bronze Age. Of the roughly 700 stones that exist in the world, 500 are in Mongolia.
Nomads often make their own saddles by hand. Mongolian saddles are made of wood and are usually inlaid with silver.
A herder leads his horse home from a watering hole in a Gobi Desert oasis.
Camels are highly valued for all they offer in transportation, meat, milk, and wool.
A herding family, dressed in their finest feel (robes), pose for a portrait in front of their family alter.
Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world's last remaining nomadic cultures. For millennia they have lived on the steppes, grazing their livestock on the lush grasslands. But today, their traditional way of life is at risk on multiple fronts. Alongside a rapidly changing economic landscape, climate change and desertification are also threatening nomadic life, killing both herds and grazing land. Due to severe winters and poor pasture, many thousands of herders have traded in their centuries-old way of life for employment in mining towns and urban areas. Most herders who stay on the steppe push their children to pursue education and get jobs in the cities believing that pastoral nomadism is no longer a secure or sustainable way of life.
This essay features a selection of images from the book, Mongolia's Nomads: Life in the Steppe, sold by the Vanishing Cultures Project. Proceeds go towards supporting cultural initiatives in Mongolia.