China’s vast land mass still manages to amaze and surprise even the most geographically and geologically conversant among us. Its myriad of beautiful landscapes, both graceful and rustic, can seem to go on endlessly. China is synonymous with the immense, the grandiose, and the spectacular. Another revelation coming from this enormous but enigmatic country are the Danxia landforms. These beautiful landforms are made of sandstone formations, and are incredibly colorful and stunning.
Some of these areas have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and rightly so. The sprawling hills and mountains go on forever, meeting the horizon with their kaleidoscope like hues. They appear in the Gansu province of China in Zhangye city. The Danxia landforms are red sandstone, formed in peaks, steep pillars, mountains, hills and ravines shaped by over time (some 24 millioon years) and erosion caused by running water and powerful winds. Further oxidization brought on by hot temperatures dried up the area, contributing to the creation and subsequent exposure of the multihued levels of sediments. The area looks like a giant swirling mix of colors from an artist’s palette.
A Zhang Yimou film, “A Woman, A Gun, and A Noodleshop,” recently used the Danxia landform as a backdrop in some of the scenes. When one sees the images of the place, the initial reaction is, “How ‘shopped’ are these photos?” The pictures are untouched and devoid of any digital manipulation. What one sees in the photos is how the place would appear to the naked eye.
Geologists hypothesize that the physical formation present today is a result of millions of years of orogenic activity. Orogenic movement is the structural deformation of Earth’s lithosphere caused by plate movements tectonic in nature. Whatever may have formed it, China, specifically in the Gansu province has another wonder that is quickly attracting tourists. Boardwalks and pathways have been, and are being erected, an acknowledgment from the Chinese authorities that they have another glorious terrain like no other, which they hope to share with the rest of the world. Marvel at the Danxia landforms here and be mesmerized by yet another natural wonder.