Colourful rock formations in the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in China.The unusual colours of the rocks are the result of red sandstone and mineral deposits being laid down over 24 million years. The resulting ‘layer cake’ was then buckled by the same tectonic plates responsible for parts of the Himalayan mountains. Wind and rain finished the job by carving weird and wonderful shapes including natural pillars, towers, ravines, valleys and waterfalls – that differ in colour, texture, shape, size and pattern.
The mountains are part of the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in China. Layers of different colored sandstone and minerals were pressed together over 24 million years and then buckled up by tectonic plates, according to the Telegraph.
Here’s a photo showing some detail of the rich “layer cake” action going on.
There’s a similar formation in British Columbia called the Rainbow Range formed from a mixture of volcanic rock and various minerals.
While the photos are certainly incredible, there could be some slight photo manipulation going on to make the colors pop a bit more than they would naturally. This Flickr photo could be a more accurate representation, but still, the mountains are amazing.
The formations were shaped into the flowing valleys after thousands of years of rain and wind, and the region has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2010.
At the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in Gansu, China, tourists flock to see China's own version of the Grand Canyon: A mountain range of densely packed layers of minerals and rock that are dramatically striated into a layer cake of magenta, maroon, and lemon-colored stone.
As a new UNESCO World Heritage Site, Danxia is become far more popular these days than it was just a few decades ago, with tourists drawn to the remarkable forms of the mountains here.
Over millions of years, layers of different types of rock—including red sandstone and a whole lot of mineral deposits—formed on top of one another. Normal so far. But then, 40 or 50 million years ago, gigantic force of tectonic plates forced an island—the future India—into a collision course with the rest of Eurasia.
The catastrophic impact took place in slow motion: Over 50 million years, India—moving at about 27 feet per century—crushed into the larger continent, creating rifts of fractured rock and creating mountain ranges like the Himalayas. Over in the future Chinese province of Gansu, the collision disrupted the layer cake of red rock and minerals, too. Imagine a piece of paper with lines drawn on it—then imagine crumpling it up. The "rainbow" patterns we see at Danxia are the result of a similar crumpling, which explains their perfect striation.
Danxia was mapped by Chinese archaeologists in the 1920s and 30s, and it remained relatively unknown outside of the region—but that's quickly changing. It received protection as a UNESCO heritage site in 2009, and though Gansu is landlocked and lesser populated than more easterly provinces, it hasn't been immune to the rapid development of its neighbors, either—and the boom in tourism reflects that.
Danxia isn't the only instance of such dramatic coloration. There are a couple of similar examples in North America. For example, there's the Spectrum Range, in British Columbia:
The Spectrum Range is part of a "stratovolcano," or conical volcano, which are created by layer after layer of lava, pumice, ash, and minerals—a bit like Danxia's layer cake effect:
Further south towards the U.S., there's the Chilcotin Plateau—also known as the Rainbow Range. This range, too, is a huge shield volcano (19 miles wide!) that's mostly made up of a type of rock called Peralkaline—which have less aluminum and more sodium and potassium, part of what gives them their vibrant hue. Leigh McAdam hiked the Range and took the astounding shots below:
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Still, there's little else like Danxia's uniquely perfect lines of minerals and red rock. It's enough to make you wonder what other geological wonders are out there, just waiting for the world—or the internet, at least—to take notice.
Large areas of northwestern China are sparsely populated, and contain stunning scenic locations unheard of by outsiders. On this trip, the highlight is the Danxia Landform of Zhangye—magnificently multi-coloured mountains, valleys, hills, and cliffs that ripple away towards the horizon.
Detailed information about the trip activities and arrangements can be found below.
The name of the province we’re visiting, Gansu, was first used in the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD), after two areas belonging to previous dynasties were combined. One area was previously named Gan; the other, Su.
The Silk Road passed through Gansu, following a narrow route between the Tibetan Plateau (too cold!) and the Gobi Desert (too hot!) that’s known as the Hexi Corridor.
Zhangye was one of the stops on the Silk Road, and Jiayuguan was at the westernmost end of the area controlled by the Ming Dynasty. While the main focus of this trip is the Danxia Landform, the Buddhist sites and relics left by Silk Road travelers, and the Great Wall in the area of Jiayuguan, are also well worth a look.
China boasts many different kinds of unique and beautiful landscapes, from towering limestone karst mountains to expansive grasslands that reach as far as the eye can see. Formed from red sandstone beds by combination of erosion and uplift, the Danxia Landforms are also spectacular sights. Some Danxia Landforms have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Danxia landforms are sandstone formations, known for being very dramatic and colorful. The landform near Zhangye City has colourful and magnificent cliffs in a hilly and mountainous land. Danxia refers to isolated peaks, steep pillars, ravines, mountains and hills that have formed after a long period of erosion by wind and running water. Unlike limestone karst, Danxia landforms are composed of red sandstone, which gives them their characteristic crimson colouration. Several Danxia Landforms are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites because of their profound natural and aesthetic value. The area we’re visiting boasts majestic, multi-coloured slopes that give you the sensation of walking into a painting.
The Zhangye Danxia Landform is characterized by magnificently multi-coloured sandstone hills and mountains that ripple away towards the horizon. The area we’ll be visiting was used as the backdrop for the Zhang Yimou film, “A Woman, A Gun, and A Noodleshop.”
The Silk Road passed through Zhangye, bringing many travelers, but nowadays many choose to head straight to Jiayuguan. While in Zhangye, we’ll visit the Giant Buddha Temple, and the Horse-Hoof Temple and Caves.
Built in 1098 AD, and extended and renovated during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Zhangye’s Giant Buddha Temple houses the largest indoor reclining Buddha in China—nearly 35 metres from head to toe. The reclining pose signifies entry into nirvana. We’ll also see a variety of architectural styles in the temple, with the Ming and Qing Dynasties represented, amongst others.
The temple was built here after the Emperor of the time's tutor in Buddhism followed the sound of heavenly music and found buried an ancient statue of Buddha, reclining in the same nirvana pose of the Buddha we'll see in the temple.
The site of the Horse Hoof Temple has been in use since at least the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420 AD), and the snowy Qilian Mountain range makes a beautiful backdrop. It’s best known for its Hanging Temple and grottoes, and is a little similar to the famous Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, although less-visited. Some caves and relics were damaged by treasure-hunters, and damage was also done during the Cultural Revolution.
Some of the earliest Great Wall was built during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), including a line of rammed earth ramparts that stretched out into the desert. It’s said that these fortifications, and the soldiers stationed on them to repel attacks from nomadic tribes and bandits, played a large role in making the Silk Road safer for travelers and increasing the volume of trade along the way..
Some Han Dynasty sites remain, and on this trip we’ll visit ancient tombs to see frescoes that are illustrative of the customs and dress of the times, and we’ll take a look at a section of the Han Dynasty wall known as the Hanging Wall, said to have been restored using the Han Dynasty construction techniques.
The fortress at Jiayuguan marked the western end of the main line of Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) Great Wall, but some watch towers were built further to the west. Near a deep canyon, we’ll find ‘The First Beacon Tower’, built to give early warning, via smoke signal, of approaching attackers.