Mount Danxia, situated beside the Jin River some 50 kilometers northeast of the city of Shaoguan, covers an area of more than 280 square kilometers (28,000 hectares, or 69,190 acres). Mount Danxia consists primarily of red sandstone that has been built up over the aeons via stratification, with the alternating colors of the stratified layers clearly visible on exposed cliff faces, reflecting varying degrees of oxidization. At the same time, this particular landform, which exists on several continents around the world and which takes its name from Mount Danxia itself (i.e., giving rise to the UNESCO-recognized designation "Danxia Landform"*), has typically been exposed to massive, long-term erosion, leaving landforms that rise up from the surrounding terrain, as it were, in the shape of freestanding blocks, pillars, etc., and usually with sheer, barren walls.
Mount Danxia Scenic Area comprises numerous peaks, columns, palisades and stone bridges. In addition, some of the Danxia Landforms here are not freestanding, but consist of a ramp-like half-mountain ending in a sheer wall. Other, more eroded, free-standing Danxia Landforms are in the shape of animals and birds as well as human torsos, insist the Chinese people themselves, though they may have a richer imagination than we others on this point. The main part of Mount Danxia presents a large, centered, circular block surrounded by pillars, suggestive of a mosque ringed by minarets. On a good-weather day with blue skies sprinkled with puffy white clouds, the juxtaposition of huge red sandstone surfaces, the colors of the sky, the jade green surface of the Jin River and the bright green color of the foliage suggests a representational canvas painted by Mother Nature herself.
There are a number of tree types on Mount Danxia, mostly broadleaf varieties, the most common of which is the Danxia Phoenix Tree that comes in 10 varieties, 4 of which are very rare. There are 14 exemplars of the Danxia Phoenix Tree on Mount Danxia that are over 100 years old. Another rare tree on Mount Danxia is the Danxia Parasol, which, since its discovery and botanical identification on Mount Danxia, has only been observed in a very few other places on earth. The most common - and most popular - flower on Mount Danxia is the orchid, of which an especially rare species, designated by botanists as the Dharma Orchid, is one of the two most rare orchids on the planet. When the orchids on Mount Danxia are in bloom, their scent fills the mountain air with an intoxicatingly sweet fragrance that attracts the local residents in droves. The region's moderate, subtropical climate, which includes a monsoon season, provides ample water for the trees and flowers on Mount Danxia.
Mount Danxia produces tea as well. The mountain's own Baimao Tea is renowned as one of China's three top teas. Its name refers to the soft white downy hair that covers the Baimao tea leaf. Baimao Tea has a sweet, mellow taste with a delicate fragrance and a faintly yellow, pleasing color. It has been awarded a Chinese gold medal for its excellent taste, fragrance and appearance.
There is a legend (in China, almost every distinctive natural feature can be "explained" by a legend, often a legend involving, as does this one, a love story) that "explains" two of the special natural features found at Mount Danxia...
There was once an honest, hardworking young man named Dan Zai. A fairy named A Xia who had long observed Dan Zai fell in love with him, descended to the world of mortals and promptly married her cherished Dan Zai. The couple lived a blissful but short existence together until the stern Jade Emperor ordered the fairy, his employee, to return to her duties at his palace. Being love-stricken, the fairy refused, whereupon the enraged Jade Emperor turned the disobedient fairy into the beautiful, reclining stone figure, Jade Fairy Constraining the River, situated on one bank of the Jin River (which river empties into the Zhe River about 15 kilometers, as the crow flies, northeast of Shaoguan, while Mount Danxia itself lies about 40 kilometers further upstream, also as the crow flies, northeast of Shaoguan), and turned Dan Zai into the figure, Hooded-Monk Peak, on the river's opposite bank. Thus Mount Danxia derives its name, according to the legend, from the "Dan" of Dan Zai and from the "Xia" of A Xia
Other interesting sites on Mount Danxia include: Zhanglao Peak; Xianglong Lake ("Flying Dragon Lake"), so-named because it suggest a flying dragon; as well as Yangyuan Pillar (with the unmistakable shape of the male organ) and Yinyuan Cave (whose opening has the unmistakable shape of the female organ... and note the Yin-Yang duality implied in these names). At the foot of Zhanglao Peak is a grotto-temple built during the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty, while about halfway up the mountain lies Biezhuan Temple, which has an interesting history related to the social upheavals that marked the transition period between the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasties (to learn more about Biezhuan Temple, click here, then scroll down to the "Present-Day" section).
Mount Danxia has numerous ancient cliff tombs and primitive burial sites left by the prehistoric people who inhabited the mountain in Late Paleolithic and Early Neolithic times. In addition, a number of stelae with inscriptions left by emperors or by members of the literati (writers, poets, painters) of China's dynastic past can be found here.
Finally, the banks of the nearby Jin River are always worth a stroll, while on the river itself, the visitor can indulge in swimming and boating. For the fun-loving, hardy type, the nearby Wu River offers white-water rafting on the Nine Torrents and Eighteen Shoals stretch of the river, which stretch is situated between the cities of Pingshi and Lechang (located about 80 kilometers and 50 kilometers, respectively, as the crow flies, northwest of Shaoguan, or about 40 kilometers west-northwest, as the crow flies, of Mount Danxia).
* Note that the Danxia Landform, besides being widespread in China, is found in the western part of the U.S. (in particular, in the southwestern part of the U.S.), in central Europe and in Australia. For example, Australia's famous Ayers Rock ("Uluru" in the language of Australia's Aboriginal people) is also of the same red sandstone as many of China's Danxia landforms. In China, the following four additional provincial locations (note that Mount Danxia in Guangdong Province represents the largest such site) have been officially classified by UNESCO as belonging to the Danxia Landform:
Fujian Province: Mount Guanzhou and Taining
Hunan Province: Mount Lang and Mount Wanfo
Jiangxi Province: Guifeng and Mount Longhu
Zhejiang Province: Fangyan and Mount Jianglang