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The Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake Nature Park is a popular attraction in Dunhuang to explore 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.
★ Recommended Dunhuang Tours including Mingsha Mountain Crescent Lake Nature Park
The Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake Nature Park is located at southern outskirt of Dunhuang city, about 6 kilometers away from central city (Shazhou Night Market), 4 kilometers from Dunhuang Museum, 12 kilometers from Mogao Caves, 75 kilometers from Yadan National Geopark.
From the city center (Dunhuang Municipal Government), 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 RMB). 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.
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 the 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 cavities and rubs with sands, finally forms the echoing sound.
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The Crescent 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. 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. Danghe 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 blow 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.
Enjoying the stunning desert landscape, exploring the legendary 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.
Camel riding is a very spectacular experience. Currently, only the Mingshashan & Crescent Lake Scenic Area provides camel riding program. Riding on a tall, and marching forward the sand dunes. This is what the ancient travelers did on the Silk Road. The camel riding site is located inside the scenic area, which means you have to purchase a ticket to get in the scenic area first if you want to ride camel. The price of Mingshashan Camel Ride is about ￥100 / per person / per camel, excluding the entrance fee and other activities in Mingshashan & Crescent Lake Scenic Area.>>Learn More about the Camel Riding at Mingsha Mountain
To enjoy the best of the sunset, sunrise and starry sky here, from late April to mid-October, you can choose to camp in the desert. The camping base is located at the back of Mingsha Mountain. After you sign up for camping, the camping base will send a car to pick you up in the urban area. Desert BBQ and Buffet Hot Pot are offered as dinner during the camping.>>Learn More about Desert Camping at Mingsha Mountain
Slide down from the top of dunes with a sandboard to experience speed and passion, and listen to how the sands really echo and move in winds. You will experience the Sand Sliding activity during evening time around 20:30 when the sand has cooled off from the heat of daytime.The sand sliding charges ￥15.
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.
Riding a motorcycle to traverse the up-and-down rolling dunes is the most exciting activity in the desert. You will ride from the foot of Mingsha Mountain to get to the top of the mountain to enjoy the vastness and beauty of Mingshashan Desert, then ride the same way back. The price is about CNY 120 per person.
Note: The actual price for the activities may be subject to change in different seasons. Please do not hesitate to contact us for the updated info!
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 Crescent Lake is the 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.
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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.
Besides camping at desert, there are also some hotels near the Mingsha Mountain and Crescaent Lake Scenic area, such as the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel (敦煌山庄). It is only 1.5km away the scenic area, you can also choose to stay at The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel which is nice and fancy with nice environment and good facilities equipped among them.>>Learn More about where to stay in Dunhuang
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 October) are best seasons for traveling 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.
▶ Tickets: ￥110 (May to Oct); ￥55 (Nov to Apr)
▶ 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.
The western and eastern sand dunes are the 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.
Usually, 2~4 days are needed to explore highlights of Dunhuang. The world heritage site Mogao Caves and the stunning landscape of Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake are two Must- Go attractions which need a full day to visit. You can then spend one more day to explore the western region of Dunhuang to explore the history and Gobi landscape at the ruin of Great Wall, Yumenguan Pass, Yandan Landform, etc. As for the downtown sites, if time allows, don't miss the Shazhou Night Market and Dunhuang Museum.
Some travelers usually travel Dunhuang with other destinations in Gansu, such as Jiayuguan, Zhangye, Lanzhou, etc. One can even travel from Dunhuang to Turpan, Urumqi and Kashgar of Xinjiang.
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[Important] Travel News for Expats: China travel is reopening now! Travel with China Discovery and learn about where to visit & requirements for each destination! Read Details >