china danxia

Today I lived a dream. When I realized a few months ago that what used to be my desktop background for years is a real life place in China that I can visit, I knew I had to go. So here I am. Zhangye Geological Park. When we set out with a shared taxi (50¥ return trip, to/from our hostel) I could hardly contain my excitement. It was about an hour ride to the gate of the park (40¥ adult/20¥ student) from which a mandatory shuttle (20¥) took us to sites 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the geological park. I couldn’t help but gawk at the views from the shuttlebus itself until, alas, it started to rain… My heart dropped. We arrived at site 1 to find groups of people shivering in the plummeting rain, pushing to get onto any shuttlebus to hide from the torrential downpour. We were soaked, shivering, smiling, but let down. There was no way we could walk on the clay ridges, and the rainbow colours seemed to wash away with the rain. Thankfully, the shuttle busses aren’t signed in english and it’s impossible to tell which bus goes to which gate (north, east, west, and perhaps south?) without knowing the Chinese characters for either direction. We arrived at the north gate and realized that our taxi was in fact at the east one. The rain was so heavy that the shuttle busses wouldn’t go into the park again until it calmed, so we waited until finally the rain stopped altogether and blue sky appeared. The late afternoon sun glowed on the rainbow hills. My heart sighed relief. (I dropped Ryan’s android in utter admiration and cracked the screen.) No photoshop needed, the sunset brought out the natural colours of the hills so beautifully after their afternoon shower. We got lucky.

This unique geological sight is known as Danxia landform. The Danxia landform refers to various landscapes found in southeast and southwest China that “consist of a red bed characterized by steep cliffs”. It is a unique type of petrographic geomorphology found in China.

Danxia landform is formed from red-colored sandstones and conglomerates of largely Cretaceous age. The landforms look very much like karst topography that forms in areas underlain by limestones, but since the rocks that form Danxia are sandstones and conglomerates, they have been called “pseudo-karst” landforms.