Infiniti SUVs take an Indiana Jones adventure

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News
Infiniti SUVs take auto writers into the wilds of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, on a hunt for dinosaur fossils.

What do Indiana Jones, Mongolia and Infiniti SUVs have in common?

The answer is all about adventure, discovery and science. The inspiration for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" came from a colorful, real-life 1920s explorer and paleontologist, Roy Chapman Andrews.

Braving the forbidding desert and bandits of Mongolia’s Gobi region, Andrews made history by being the first to find fossilized dinosaur eggs.

Nearly 100 years after Andrew’s expedition, Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury division, facilitated a new dinosaur fossil hunt in the Gobi using 2018 QX50, QX60 and QX80 SUVs, plus the latest in high-tech, ground mapping technology.

Along for the ride, I witnessed the excitement of finding new fossils, the majestic vistas and scenery of the Gobi and drove the Infinitis across the same unforgiving terrain that Andrews traversed.

In the Gobi, there are no paved roads, just deeply rutted tracks that the locals carve seemingly at random across the plains. Rugged, powerful vehicles are a must, and the Infiniti SUVs managed well. The newest of the range, the QX50 with its advanced variable-compression engine, provided ample pulling power when needed, but it was the big QX80 with its superior ground clearance and softer suspension that delivered the most comfortable ride.

Base camp for our expeditions was the Three Camels Lodge, a cluster of 40 gers (aka yurts), literally in the middle of nowhere. Despite our remote location, the accommodations were surprisingly civilized and a welcome respite after a dusty, hot day hunting for fossils.

With its unique geological formations, the Gobi is one of the world’s best regions for paleontological research. Andrews found some of his most remarkable fossil specimens in the Flaming Cliffs area, so named for its stunning red sandstone hills.

Auto writer John McCormick explores the Gobi Desert.

On a visit to the same spot just prior to our arrival, Infiniti had teamed up with the Mongolian Institute of Paleontology and Geology and the Explorers Club Hong Kong. The expedition relied on a fleet of QX50s to explore the area and made the first use of drone-powered multispectral and thermal cameras.

In Andrew’s day, finding fossils was often a haphazard affair, but with the new mapping technology deployed on the Infiniti, future discoveries will be easier.

“I’ve worked through this area for 10 years, but using this technology have found new spots,” explained Dr. Badamkhatan Zorigt, paleontology expert and our guide. “These new maps are incredibly useful for the future of paleontology in this area.”

As I can attest, spotting fossils in the rock faces or on the ground is far from easy. But one of our hosts did find a significant specimen that Zorigt excavated for analysis at his laboratory.

Even for a total amateur, there is a real thrill in searching for fossils that can help unlock the secrets of the earth’s history. There is also a pleasure derived from the fact that as an auto writer, I am testing a vehicle in such an unusual and challenging environment, far removed from the trappings of a typical press event luxury resort in the US.

So, hats off to Infiniti for pushing the envelope and demonstrating the capabilities of its SUVs in such a dramatically different and illuminating fashion.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at