Brief Impression about Mingsha Mountain & Cresent Lake Nature Park

The Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake Nature Park is a popular attraction in Dunhuang to expore stunning desert scenery and take part in exciting sand dunes activities. The park consists of the Mingsha Mountain and the Crescent Lake surrounded by sand dunes of Mingsha Mountains. Dunhuang is also known as Shazhou (Town of Sand) in ancient time. This is how it gained the name.

For people who want to take a short stay in desert, the Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake Nature Park is the best choice. It is close to the downtown of Dunhuang, without the harsh and extreme climate and convenient facilities are equipped. The easy walking trails allow different ages of tourists to explore the desert. Besides, many interesting sand dunes activities are available if you want to try something exciting.

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Where is the Mingsha Mountain located?

The Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake Nature Park is located at southern outskirt of Dunhuang city, about 6 kilometers away from central city, 4.1 kilometers from Dunhuang Museum, 12.7 kilometers from Mogao Caves, 74.7 kilometers from Yadang National Geo Park.

How to transfer to Mingsha Mountain

From the city center (Dunhuang Municipal Goverment), there is a straight avenue, named Mingsha Road, leading to the gate of the park. It is only a short driving of 6 kilometers. For independent travelers, you can take the public bus No. 3 from Panxuan Road (1 RBM). Travelers can eave take mini-bus directly from Dunhuang Airport or Dunhuang Train Station to the park, which takes only 3 RMB. Convenient and fast taxi is also available, which costs about 15 RMB.

Mogao Cave Location Map Mingsha Mountain Location Map

Sites to see

Mingsha Mountain

Dunhuang Mingsha Mountain (Echo Sand Mountain) is a sand mountain range which stretches from the cliff where the Mogao Caves locates, to the Danghe Dam on the west. It is about 40km in length, 20km in width, 100m in average height. The highest altitude is 1650m.

The Mingsha Mountain is composed of tinny hyaline sands of five different colors – red, yellow, blue, white and black, and winds its way up and down showing different shapes. Some of sand dunes stand like a golden pyramid, some lie as the fish scale, some wave like a snake.

The biggest feature of Mingsha Mountain is that the sand echoes here. When a strong wind blows, you can hear loud sound like roaring made by the moving sands. While when light wind blows, the sand echoes like some gentle sound of orchestral music. This is how the mountain gained the name of Mingsha (Echo Sand M)

So how can the sand dune echo? Actually sand echoing is a spectacular geographic phenomenon. In some desert or sand dunes, due to the special climate and geography, sand particles mainly the quartz vibrates, move up and down and rotate in the airflow created by wind. All these movements together create many cavities as diabolos. The wind blows through the caveties and rubs with sands, finally forms the echoing sound.

Cresent Lake

The Cresent Lake (Chinese: 月牙泉; pinyin: Yuèyá Quán) is famous for its shape of a crescent moon. It is located in an oasis surrounded by the sand dunes of Mingsha Mountain. The lake is nearly 100 meters long from south to north. The largest width is 25 meters, and the largest depth is 5 meters. The Crescent Lake is known as the First Spring in the Deserts because it has never dried out since its origin. It was already a famous attraction in Han Dynasty (BCE 202-8). During Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), there used to be a large complex of halls and towers by the side of lake, but many of them ruined in the later eras. At present, travelers can see several Tang-style architectures which make the lake scenery much peaceful and exquisite.

The earliest Western record about the Crescent Lake is the book The Gobi Desert wrote by Mildred Cable & Francesca French. While traveled in Dunhuang region, they visited the Crescent Lake, and recorded in their travelogues - "All around us we saw tier on tier of lofty sand-hills, giving the lie to our quest, yet when, with a final desperate effort, we hoisted ourselves over the last ridge and looked down on what lay beyond, we saw the lake below, and its beauty was entrancing."

You may how did the lake originate in the desert, and how can it never dry out? There are so far two different explanations but none of them is verified. Some people indicate it is the remained lake of ancient river – Danghe River. Dahe River changed its way, and most of its watercourses were covered by sand mountains. While the Crescent Lake region is in the lower position, and still can get water supply from underground water. Some people say there is a fault on the southern side of the lake edge. The water supply is from the underwater from the higher fault.

Then how can the lake never be covered by the moving sands? Because the mountains on the southern and northern sides of the Crescent Lake are much higher than then mountains on the eastern and western sides. The winds blows from west to east or from east to west will carry the falling sands up to the back sides of mountains. So the sands can never move to the lake.

Mingsha Mountain Stunning sand dunes
Mingsha Mountain Mingsha Mountain
Crescent Lake Wang Yuanlu
tang-style building Tang-style architecture

Activities

Enjoying the stunning desert landscape, exploring the lendendary stories of Crescent Lake – these are not the only things to do in the park. The specific nature here offers you many exciting and interesting outdoor activities for you to have fun.

Sand skiing - the sand skiing is one of the most popular activities with travelers, especially the youth and children. Hike up to the top of sand mountain, and slide down by a cushion. While touching with the sand, you will have chance to hear the echoing sound of sands. The sand skiing charges ¥15.

Camel riding - camel riding is a very spectacular experience. Riding on a tall, and marching forward the sand dunes. This is what the ancient travelers did on the Silk Road. The camel riding charges ¥80-100.

Glider - if you want to see the stretching sand dunes of the Mingsha Mountain and panoramic views of the Crescent Lake, you can try flying the glider. The journey charges by distance, usually from ¥160-1600. There are also sightseeing small helicopters of which the prices are higher than the gliders.

Motor cycling - four-wheel overlanding motor cycle takes you to conquer the desert.

Mingsha Mountain Motor cycling

Sunrise and Sunset

Sunrise and sunset are fabulous here. To catch the sunrise, travelers need to climb up the top of Mingsha Mountain before 6:00 AM. You should get to the park early, because it costs much time and energy to climb the sand mountain. The western sand hill near to the Cresent Lake is best location for watching sunrise. Sunset usually happens later here, especially in summer days. It comes around 20:30 – 21:00. Travelers usually get into the park around 17:00 because the temperature of both the air and sands are very high, and the sun light is very strong.

Mingsha Mountain Sunset Sunset

Visiting Route

After entering the park, you can walk about 20 minutes to the Crescent Lake. If you want to save energy, you can ride the sightseeing vehicle (¥10). Then visit the fabulous architecture aside of the lake, stroll around the lake to explore its uniqueness.

From the lake area, you can hike up to the top of Mingsha Mountain to enjoy the magnificent views of desert. From the higher location, you can also get full views of the Crescent Lake. The sand skiing and motor cycling are available on the mountains.

Useful tips

Best time to go - seasonal advice

Dunhuang has a typical continental arid climate. It is dry, and has little rain all year around. There is large temperature gap between daytime and night. Summer and autumn(May to Ocbober) are best season for travel Dunhuang, because there usually sand storm in spring. And it is too cold in winter. Whenever you are planning to visit Dunhuang, be fully prepared for the strong sunlight and wind.

Ticket & Fee

Tickets: May to Oct: ¥120

Important Notes: the expiration of the entrance ticket is three days after your first checking in, which means you can get back to visit the site again in the second or the third day if you want. But you have to leave your fingerprint when you check out the first visiting.

Photography location

The western and eastern sand dunes are best location for photography where you can see the vast stretching desert. Look down from the sand dunes, you can take the full views of the Crescent Lake. If you have a SLR camera, you’d better prepared a cover to prevent from the tinny sands.

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