The Rainbow Mountains Of China


It seems almost surreal – spectacular red sandstone cliffs with highly contrasting bands of colours that make the range look as if it had been stained by rainbows. This is the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in China’s Gansu province, which is located along the ancient Silk Road. The unusual colours of the rocks are the result of red sandstone and mineral deposits that have accumulated over 24 million years.

Danxia refers to the type of rockform found in China; danxia landform consists of a red bed characterized by steep cliffs. While danxia landform can be found across many provinces in China, this particular group in northern central China has attracted attention for its spectacular beauty. The rock forms range in colour from deep red to green to yellow that glow intensely after a rainfall. The sheer beauty of it never fails to awe, leading visitors to dub the colourful Zhagye Danxia as ‘The Rainbow Mountains’.

Do you know how the colours came about? The deep reds are caused primarily by the mineral hematite, which is essentially iron-rich mineral that oxidized when the rock formed, achieving that rusty hue. Geologists surmise the rocks that had less iron and more sand and clay turned yellow, while the greenish-blue rocks are probably from organic plant matter or a mineral called glauconite found in marine environments.

If you ever get the chance to travel to Gansu, don’t miss out on this unique, breath-taking site. Gansu is a also an ancient port on the Silk Road, and along the well-travelled route you can also see Buddhist sites and relics left by Silk Road travellers.

In 2010, the region was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. For now, we’ll let these amazing pictures speak for themselves.








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Authors: Laurence McGonnell, Corazon Castle

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