Imagine trekking for hundreds of miles with your camel caravan in tow through the vast arid desert. You haven’t had cool water in weeks, and haven’t seen anything green for miles. Maybe you have hallucinated it a few times or been tricked by a mirage, only to be let down when the fresh water never gave you relief. How welcome would this little crescent oasis be?
Today we got experience another amazing natural wonder of China. Right in the middle of these sandy mountains there is a natural spring, pumping out fresh water to the weary travelers. Hundred of years ago this little spring put Dunhuang on the map for the Silk Road merchants. After a long thankless journey through the desert, Dunhuang was a gulp of fresh water. A place where their camels could refuel and the caravan take a few days rest. There is also a lot to see and culture to embrace with the nearby Mogao Caves which house many sculptures and paintings of Buddha.
Now the meager town of less than 200,000 brings in thousands of tourists daily to see this incredible rarity. Along with seeing this very out of place lake, many tourists will spend the better part of their day exploring the vast Sining Sand Mountains that surround this oasis. You can ride camels, quad bikes, or sled down the dunes, but I just chose to hike through these incredible dunes. Just about everyone hikes to the first great lookout over the oasis, but just a few choose to hike beyond and up one of the highest surrounding summits. You will start to find the expected solitude in the desert as you make this ascent. The top will reward you with a 360 view of the surrounding dunes and stoney mountains in the distant. From here you will see just how far these shifting sands go in the distance and what a relief this little patch of green must have been. Looking back at the oasis you will see the thousands of tourists look as if they are just ants off in the distance.
Any trip across the silk road would not be complete without this vital junction town of refuge for the weary merchants. The entrance to the park costs 120 RMB ($20) and the bus costs 2 RMB for the center of town.