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Rize Valley is the western fork of the upside-down "Y" that represents the main tri-valley system of Jiuzhai Valley (of course Jiuzhai Valley's main tri-valley system does not describe a perfect "Y" – not even by a long shot – for this is mountainous terrain and nature seldom creates perfectly geometrical mountainous shapes). Like Shuzheng Valley – and, indeed, like each of the three main valleys of Jiuzhai Valley – Rize Valley slopes downhill, from south to north, roughly. It is the first valley that the visitor arrives at coming from the south, i.e., from Chengdu or from nearby Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport (JZH), which is typically the route into Jiuzhai Valley (the only other route into Jiuzhai Valley would be via Longnan, also terminating on Provincial Road 301, but heading in a north and westerly direction instead of the north and easterly direction that Provincial Road 301 takes from Chengdu and from JZH – and besides, no tourist, foreign or domestic, travels to Jiuzhai Valley via Longnan, Gansu Province, though Longnan Chenxian Airport serves the Longnan area even if it doesn't bear an international designation such as the typical IATA designation).
Rize Valley is 18 kilometers long and begins at its southerly tip with a section of primeval forest that covers about half of the entire greater Jiuzhai Valley area. Rize Valley describes a series of smooth "S" curves along its south-north section (it turns eastward farther north, connecting with Zechawa and Shuzheng Valleys) as it snakes its way northward, its northerly half, except for the west-east oriented section, being one long series of scenic sites – almost all of which are lakes. In fact, except for the virgin forest and a single waterfall, all of the scenic sites of Rize Valley listed below are lakes (note that the valley has other scenic sites not profiled below, such as caves), but very picturesque lakes, for sure! There is an easy-on, easy-off shuttle bus that serves the valley, but since the entire length of the valley is covered with dry, firm pathways – or boardwalks across less dry, less firm terrain – it can also be traversed by foot, and of course, one can alternate between walking and riding the shuttle bus.
Beginning then at Rize Valley's southernmost extremity, the following scenic sites – and in the following sequence – are distributed along the valley...
Yuanshi Senlin ("Primeval Forest") – aka Virgin Forest, is a pristine woodland that has been allowed to remain in its natural state. Indeed, in this part of China, even trees that fall into the lakes are permitted to remain there unless their presence blocks the flow of water among the lakes, which are typically connected via a stream, as is the case here, for Kongque Hedao ("Peacock River") runs the length of the valley and thus through the valley's series of lakes. If one is up to it, one can climb to the pinnacle of the 500-meter-high aptly named Sword Rock, which offers a great view of the valley below.
Tian E Hai ("Swan Lake") – has one foot in the primeval forest to which it is a neighbor, as it were. The 2250 long and 125 meter wide lake lies in a deep valley whose steep walls are densely lined with fir trees. Swan Lakes exudes utter tranquility, its surface reflecting the surrounding tree-lined valley walls, its shallow edges bordered with reed-like grasses and flowering plants among which ducks and other waterfowl forage. The lake isn't called Swan Lake for nothing, for migrating swans frequent the lake, returning year after year to perform the annual mating and nest-building rituals that ensure that there will be swans swimming about in Swan Lake for years to come.
Cao Hai ("Grass Lake") – is perhaps the shallowest, and for its size, the most elongated of Rize Valley's lakes. Moreover, given Grass Lake's shallowness, it should not come as a surprise if the lake were Rize Valley's grassiest, though this is not automatic; it requires nutrients at the bed of the lake, which is obviously fulfilled in the case of Grass Lake. Belt-shaped Grass Lake is bordered on both sides by tall cliffs, which further facilitates the growth of grass, since it prevents the water from becoming overly heated.
All of these factors come together to produce a lake that bears a mysterious aspect, but also one that is beautiful, especially from mid-summer to autumn, when the lake's grasses flower in a palette of colors. Being a cool, shady lake, Grass Lake attracts many diverse waterfowl, which also adds to the picturesque beauty of the lake. In autumn, the lake's grasses turn a pleasing golden hue before eventually fading into a lackluster tan, but even in late fall, with broken, decomposing shocks of grass and with the occasional shrieking waterfowl competing with fellows for whatever food remains in the lake, Grass Lake presents a charming sight, and during the heavy but fine rains of autumn, the lake takes on yet another enigmatic aspect that portends a period of extreme austerity ahead for the birds that choose to remain near the lake.
Jianzhu Hai ("Arrow Bamboo Lake/ Sea") – is also a shallow lake, measuring a depth of only 6 meters at its deepest, which also explains the presence of copious amounts of the tall, slender bamboo plant, Pseudosasa japonica, called arrow bamboo, aka hardy (as in "resilient") bamboo. Arrow Bamboo Lake figured in the 2002 film, Hero, starring Jet Li and directed by the famous Yimou Zhang, effusively praised (also by yours truly!) for his 1991 film, Raise the Red Lantern (starring the planet's most beautiful, most enchanting female, Li Gong) that at the time was not shown in China (but note that Yimou Zhang directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics).
Xiongmao Hai ("Panda Lake")– Jiuzhai Valley has few pandas today, though the rare panda flock still wanders about the valley's primeval forests, including the southern end of Rize Valley. One of the favorite haunts of the panda, when pandas were much more common in Rize Valley than they are today, was the lake that came to be named after them. Panda Lake, whose 14-meter-deep waters are pure and clear, is amply deep for frolicking pandas to bathe without scraping bottom. Since Rize Valley is narrow and "deep" (high-walled) here too, and since the waters of Panda Lake are tranquil (partly because the wind can only reach the lake when it blows along the direction of the valley), Panda Lake reflects the surrounding landscape in that uncanny, kaleidoscopic way that presents the inverted image of the above-water landscape on the lake's surface, where the edge of the lake's surface marks the horizon, as it were, between the real skyward image and its reflected counterpart on the surface of the lake.
Since the terrain slopes greatly here, many of the lakes of Rize Valley, as with Shuzheng Valley farther north, are "stepped" vertically, meaning that they end in waterfalls, as is the case with Panda Lake, which ends in – yes, Panda Waterfall, which drops in all 78 meters over the course of three staggered precipices, or steps. Panda Lake is at its most kaleidoscopically beautiful on days when the blue skies above are dotted with large, white, popcorn-shaped fluffy clouds.
Wuhua Hai ("Five-Flower Lake") – is also a shallow lake, one of the shallowest lakes in all of Jiuzhai Valley, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a pond or even a pool, rather than a lake. Five-Flower Lake is a classic travertine pool that displays a myriad of bright colors that each depend on the makeup of the calc-sinter deposits at the bottom of the pool at that particular location, causing the bottom of the pool to appear in a variety of shades of yellows, blues and greens – at least when it comes to Five-Flower Lake, though other lakes of Jiuzhai Valley also display shades of bright red, purple and orange (for a brief explanation of how Mother Nature produces calc-sinter, or travertine, read the second footnote of the Jiuzhaigou Overview article).
For some reason, travertine pools tend to be most picturesque during autumn, perhaps because the pastel-like colors of autumn complement the almost surreal, kaleidoscopic yet pastel-like tints of the travertine pool. Like many of the lakes in Shuzheng Valley, the string of lakes in Rize Valley that includes Five-Flower Lake ends in a waterfall, this one a narrowly channeled waterfall, causing the lake, owing to its shape when viewed from above, to resemble a colored, tilted gourd that is slowly and endlessly pouring out its identically colored contents.
Kongque Hedao ("Peacock Riverway") – aka Peacock River, is the river that runs the length of the base of Rize Valley, meaning that it of course flows through all of the lakes of Rize Valley. But the Peacock River also makes a fork near Golden Bell Lake (a description of the lake follows immediately below), where the western feeder branch of the river arrives at the junction with the main river from a narrow ravine that is not part of Rize Valley, while the main branch of the river arrives from the south, i.e., along the base of Rize Valley. The river's waters are as transparent as untinted glass, and since the riverbed in many places consists of travertine, the Peacock River struts its colors like a peacock struts its tail feathers. The peacock motif is reinforced here in Rize Valley by the predominance of colors that match the peacock's coat: dark greens and sapphire blues, interspersed with rich golden hues.
Many, if not most, lakes the world over are at their enchanting best during autumn, and the string of relatively placid lakes – less the waterfalls, of course – that make up much of the Peacock River are no exception; from the beginning of autumn's brightly-lit pastel colors to the end of autumn's faded shades of brown, the Peacock River, thanks to its excellent mirroring properties, shows off the beauty of Rize Valley like no other season can, even if the spring is bursting with the energy and excitement of renewed life. There is something about the melancholy of autumn that reminds us humans each year of our own mortality, and that is nowhere more poignantly on display than at the banks of the Peacock River.
Jinling Hai ("Golden Bell Lake/ Sea") – is in fact two connected lakes whose overall outline resembles that of a bell. The color of the travertine at the base of Golden Bell Lake, despite the lake's name, presents itself in deep shades of indigo blue, though in mid-autumn, when the fiery pastel colors of early autumn have given way to less colorful though no less brilliant tones – and before the inevitable decay of late autumn sets in – the surrounding landscape of Golden Bell Lake takes on a bright golden hue that is mirrored on the surface of the lake, hence the "golden" part of the lake's name is most certainly accurate at this time of year, though, of course, the priceless lake derives its name partly from the figurative meaning of the word "golden" and partly from the polished sheen of a typical bronze bell, which is as emblematic of the Buddhist temple as it is of the Christian church.
Zhenzhu Tan ("Pearl Shoals")/ Zhenzhu Pubu ("Pearl Waterfall") – Pearl Shoals is a broad, shallow course of water that flows over a 310-meter-broad, gently sloping bed of travertine, ending in a drop, or waterfall, of 28 meters. Both the shoals and the waterfall can be appreciated in and of themselves, but together they form a pleasing unity, since the gentle, shallow body of water that seems to slide over the ledge abruptly changes character once at the ledge, where it spills over, crashing against irregular stones that form another ledge slighly displaced in relation to the first ledge and creating a spray of mists as the thus broken sheet of water courses noisily over this irregular ledge and falling, in all, in a 40-meter arc into the lake below.
Pearl Shoals and Waterfall are considered one of the highlights of Rize Valley, rivalling, in their own way, Shuzheng Valley's famous Nuorilang Waterfall. If the visitor follows the boardwalk here, s/he will enjoy an enviable broadside view of the torrential waterfall in all its beauty and magnificence. Pearl Shoals and Waterfall was the venue for one of the scenes in a CCTV (China Central Television) adaptation of the famous 16th century historical novel, Pilgrimage to the West (alternately known as Journey to the West, Monkey King or simply Monkey – to learn more about Monkey King, which is a fictional chronicle of the life of the humble monk, Xuan Zang, who traveled, together with a motley crew of assistant monks, from China to India during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty period in order to learn about Buddhism firsthand (and whose story, with motley crew, has inspired more than one Hollywood production in recent years), read the footnote at the bottom of this page).
Jing Hai ("Mirror Lake/ Sea") – is a kilometer-long, narrow lake that is lined by forests on either side. On the northern side of the lake (the valley makes an almost 90 degree turn here, running in a west-to-east direction) rises a tall mountain that is reflected in the lake, whose suggestive name is chosen for all the obvious reasons. Typical of the deep, narrow canyon lakes of Jiuzhai Valley, Mirror Lake is largely protected from the wind (except for the wind that courses along the direction of the valley), meaning that it generally presents a placid surface appearance, which of course reinforces the lake's mirroring properties.
At dusk and at dawn, i.e., during the most tranquil periods even on days when the wind blows along the valley, Mirror Lake is at its enchanting best. Lucky, early-bird visitors have spoken of seeing 'fish swimming in the sky, birds flying in the lake', a reference to the fact that on cloud-filled dawns, the lake presents a double, inverted image when viewed from a slight distance, with the lake's underwater image seemingly projected onto the cloud blanket above and the sky's cloud-and-bird image projected onto the surface of the lake.
Mirror Lake respresents the lower, or northerly, end of Rize Valley, just before the valley meets the junction that links all three of Jiuzhai Valley's main tri-valley system, and thus marks the end of our journey through Rize Valley.