Danxia Rainbow Mountain
Due to the geography and anthropology mix to paint Zhangye's multi-hued mountains. And Gansu province's Rainbow Mountains live up to its name.
What to visit
That's not only because the 50-square-kilometre range in the Qilian Mountains' foothills on the edge of Zhangye city has colourful streaks across it. Its individual landforms have also been dubbed with names like "A Supernatural Tortoise Looking Up at the Sky," "Small Potala Palace" and "Monks Worshiping Buddha."
The first viewing platform
The first viewing platform is the largest platform and the nearest to the entrance, at 10 minutes' walk away. You don't need to walk up many steps to get to the viewing platform. It's practically at ground level and you can see the high, colourful mountains.
Use your imagination and you will see shapes in the mountains known as Monks Worshiping the Buddha, the huge “scallops”, Monkeys Rush into the Sea of Fire, and Rainbow Hill.
Second Viewing Platform
There are two platforms at this point — one at the base and one at the top of a hill. You only need to walk for a few minutes to get to the base platform but it takes a lot of effort to get to the top. At the base platform, you can see a mountain that’s shaped like a sleeping beauty.
The top platform is the highest viewing platform. It has 666 steps, which take about 30 minutes to climb. The wooden path to the top platform is like the Great Wall winding along the ridge. At the top, you can take a photo of the panoramic view. It's also a good place to enjoy the sunset.
Third Viewing Platform
The third viewing platform allows a view of the famous 'Seven-Color Fan'. The mountain looks like it has been painted with a colourful palette. The huge rolling hills look very soothing with their pastel colours.
Fourth Viewing Platform
The fourth viewing platform has the most stunning view. It is on a ridge that runs from east to west. Standing on the ridge and looking south, you can feast your eyes on the variegated colours of Qicai Shan (Seven-Color Mountain).
"Colorful Embroidery near the Silk Road" is likened to both ribbons of the material and the ancient trade route along which it was transported.
Indeed, each formation in the Rainbow Mountains is splendid on its own. But the best way to view the range is by looking down from onboard helicopters, parasails and ultralights that soar over these peaks.
Yet to truly see the full panorama of Zhangye's incredible swath of the planet's crust requires a hike through the nearby Ice Valley, named because glaciers whittled the gorge and its landforms aeons ago.
While the rocks may not be as vibrant in hue as the Rainbow Mountains, they're still tinted with cultural designations. One five-meter-high stone alone shares three names because it's said to resemble a red flag, neighing horse and torch of Qilian.
The range of vertical spires includes such formations as "Yin -Yang Pillars," "Three Friends," "Camel Greeting Guests," "Goshawk Head," "Toad Looking at Red Clouds," and "Turtle Diving into the Sea."
Truly, Zhangye is a place where natural scenery blends with landscapes of the mind, where imagination is projected onto the rocks that project toward the sky, and where stone and culture show their colours, in every sense.
Best time to visit
Marco Polo spent a year here around 1274 and wrote in his book "The Travels of Marco Polo" that this region was an international trade market. Nowadays, it has turned into a tourism city that attracts many people. June and July each year are the best months to visit Zhangye National Geological park. During the rainy season, the water can cool you from the summer heat and add moisture to the air.
It is best to visit in the morning and at dusk, especially at sunset, when the colours change continuously, showing yellow and red layers covered by a light grey layer.
Approximate sunset time: 7:30 pm in spring and autumn; 8:00 pm in summer.