Monday, January 14, 2019

Exploring Shaanxi's Natural Wonders

Near the end of the Good Girl’s trip to Shaanxi, China, we stopped at two places that reminded us of National Parks in the southwestern United States: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands. 

After our stop at Hukou Falls, we traveled to Yanchuan County, some 90 miles northwest of Xi'an, to a giant horseshoe curve in the Yellow River. Visitors stand above and gaze downward. I immediately thought back to my trip to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon. The Chinese have built a safe viewing platform and a nearby pagoda at the top of a hill. In Arizona, on the other hand, you have to hike about three-quarters of a mile to the overlook. 

A Horseshoe Bend in the Yellow River
The Heaven and Earth Pagoda

Unfortunately, the day we visited was cloudy, and the recent rains gave the water an unappealing muddy hue. Nonetheless, the site is one of those natural wonders that are hard to forget. Yanchuan County is off the beaten tracks, near a number of old cave homes. 

Homes built into the side of a mountain.

The second attraction was a dramatic valley situated in Jingbian County in northwest Shaanxi province. “The Wave” is a sinuous sandstone landscape similar to the Wave in Arizona or slot canyons in Utah. The Chinese refer to these undulating areas as Danxia formations. 

Entering the Wave Valley

I’ve never been to the U.S. site, but a hike through the Wave in Shaanxi province offers eye-popping views of geological wonders. First, you descend many flights of stairs and then follow walkways as you explore. The metal pathways are excellent and safely constructed. Just remember you will have climb back up all those stairs on the return.

Overlooking the canyon.

Descending many flights of stairs.

The panorama constantly changes as do the shadows and sunlight bouncing around the formations. 

Sometimes the canyon walls are close enough to touch, and other spots lie open to the sun. I let my imagination run free and saw many shapes, as the face in this photo below. To me, the profile on the right (below) looks like someone is whispering in another's ear. Do you see the man in profile? 

I call this "The Whisperer."

The sun shining down creating reflections.

If you continue to the end of the trail, you will find a surprise: a small lake and a boat dock. 

Canyon walkways

Lake and Boat Dock

I wished we’d arrived earlier or later as the sunlight was harsh for photography, and the long return became overly hot. Take water, but don’t miss China’s Wave; it’s spectacular and worth the effort. The landscape is brutally dry, but you can easily imagine how it would vibrantly change during or after a rain shower.
Striations of Color

One of those serendipitous travel moments occurred at the very top of the stairs on my return to the overlook area. Huffing and puffing, I spied an elderly man with the most magnificent beard and facial features. He was dressed like a character out of a period movie and smoked a long pipe. I asked if I could take his photo and he humbly obliged. Of course, I had to ask someone to take my picture with him as well. 

Me and my new friend.

China is a country where you must expect the unexpected. Each day brings new knowledge of interesting culture and its long history. While life in China’s million-plus populated cities has become westernized, the outlying regions,like those in northwestern Shaanxi province, still cling to the old ways. The area provides a delightful mix of young and old, hardworking and friendly people. 

A Chinese family exploring the Wave.

Seems trite, but China is a massive country and requires multiple trips to even to touch the highlights. An itinerary that concentrates on Shaanxi province guarantees many rewards and lasting memories. We had quite the adventure from visiting the Terracotta Warriors in Xian and the artistic production of Everlasting Regret, to hikes in towering Huashan (mountain) and the roar of Hukou Falls. We'd be thrilled to return to China again.