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China’s Great Wall in the Desert and the Striped Mountains

Cover for China’s Great Wall in the Desert and the Striped Mountains

Gansu province in western China has a lot of interesting places and two that I always wanted to see was the end of the wall in the far west and Zhangye Danxia Landform, also known as the striped mountains.

The journey started at 2000m elevation in Xining. Jiuquan is a 3 hour high speed train ride through some really epic landscapes; starting with mountains in Qinghai, going through some big old rolling hills and ending in the desert in Gansu province.

Traveling northern China this time of year is great, it’s about 25-30 degrees and blue sky every day. After waking up in Jiuquan to the sound of about 30 Chinese people dancing to kpop on the street at 7am, we headed it to see the end of the wall.

Jiuquan Fortress with the mountains in the background - Gansu, China

Jiayuguan 嘉峪关 Great Wall

The farthest western point of the Great Wall is at Jiayuguan. We headed out to the fort but this was full of Chinese tourists and tourist attractions. You get a great view of the fort with the desert and mountains in the background. After about an hour at the fort we found a taxi driver to take us on a for around to the other places for the rest of the day.

There is a section of the wall that goes over a mountain. We went to check this place out but it wasn’t anything special. It’s just a wall that they rebuilt. It’s cool but it’s not what we were looking for. We wanted to see how the original wall looked going through the desert.

After a quick beef noodle stop we headed out the the first fire tower. This was a signalling tower used to warn China of a Mongolian invasion. They would light a fire for each 100 Mongolians invading. This place was really interesting and although its just a simple mud wall going through the desert it’s exactly what we wanted to see. Standing at what remains of the fire tower you can see a big long mud wall stretching off into the distance and the other side a ravine cut out by a river.

The Great Wall in general is amazing but it was interesting to see the farthest western point. The only problem is that now I need to see the farthest point of the wall in the east, maybe I can do this next year.

Looking down into Jiuquan Fortress - Gansu, China
The last fire tower the furthest point west on the great wall of China - Gansu, China
The great wall through the desert and over mountains - Gansu, China

Zhangye Danxia Landform 张掖国家地质公园

China is such a giant country that most of its sites go unnoticed. I think I found an Instagram post once of the striped mountains and then I knew I had to visit here. Zhangye is an hour east of Jiayuguan on the high speed train so after visiting the wall we jumped on the train straight there.

Zhangye seems like a nice quiet city. They have a small area in the city that is worth wondering around but the striped mountains was what we came here for. We aimed for a 5:20am start to see the mountains at sunrise. 05:20 came and no car had arrived, turns out the guy that was supposed to call the taxi was asleep behind reception so we ended up leaving 30 minutes late hoping to still catch the 06:30 sunrise.

Early sunrise over Zhangye Landform - Gansu, China
Balloons over Zhangye Landform - Gansu, China
Zhangye Landform - Gansu, China

On arrival the sun was coming up but we still had time. As we walked up the steps to the first viewing platform the sunrise was casting over the mountains. The combination of the yellow sunrise, big shadows and striped mountains was epic. Arriving so early meant that we missed the hoards of tourists and after walking around for a few more hours it started to get really busy. After 10:00 it seems like all of the tour groups had arrived and it was too busy so we decided to call it a day.

These mountains should defiantly be on anybodies travel list for China. The photos don’t do this justice, you have to go and check it out and experience the mountains in person. It’s really accessible and relatively cheap, we paid about £10 for entry to the scenic area and transport around the mountains.

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