Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shapatou: Yellow River Oasis on the Silk Road

Traveling toward Shapatou National Nature Reserve, we came upon a viewing tower for tourists being constructed on the bank of the Yellow River--at exactly 38ยบ00'N!  Shapatou was a major crossing on the Silk Road, where Tengger Desert sand dunes meet the Yellow River.  A section of the Great Wall rises up east of the river, crumbling but still impressive.  Ancient travelers crossed the river on rafts made of inflated sheepskins, which are still used to give rides to the tourists.
            The 50-year old Desert Research Institute is within the park.  We found a graduate student, Dr. Liu, studying soil samples in her laboratory.  Forty researchers work at the Institute, which pioneered a straw-squares system for control blowing sand.  This technique is especially important for keeping sand off the railroad tracks through the desert, from Inner Mongolia to Gansu.
            Desertification is a major concern in this part of China. 
blowing sand treatment
Tree planting is happening all over the country, as a carbon sink and an attempt to control sand storms.  Winds on our second day in Shapatou gave us a small taste of the sand storm potential, which sometimes is so heavy in the spring that haze from China whitens the sky in our Sierra Nevada home.
Our rooms were right in the park and we enjoyed the river and wetlands at dusk and dawn. The meeting of sand and river at this ancient human crossing is truly spectacular.  Riding camels up the dunes was unforgettable, and surprisingly comfortable, though there were jolts when the camels stood up and sat down.  It was a treat to dip our feet in the cold river after a long day of walking.
            If quiet contemplation of Yellow River history and nature if not enough, there are also bungee jumping, zip-lining, hang gliding, sand sledding, dune buggy riding and jet boating here!
            Next stop is a half-day drive south along the Yellow River to the big city of Lanzhou.

(Thanks to our guide, Kinder Shu Jinde, for use of the Yellow River marsh photograph)

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