Wuyang River Scenic Area
Wuyang River Scenic Area is situated along the stretch of Wuyang River that runs through present-day Zhenyuan, Shibing and Huangping Counties in Guizhou Province, a locality rich in history and culture. There are two autonomous prefectures in Guizhou Province, both of which are home to a large indigenous contingent of Miao people, and one of which, Qiandongnan Miao & Dong Autonomous Prefecture located in the southeastern part of Guizhou Province, is also home to Wuyang River Scenic Area.
Like many other beautiful regions in China that have been formed as a result of continental upheaval* and subsequent glaciation/ erosion, leaving mountains, rivers and lakes, Wuyang River Scenic Area is marked by just such continental upheaval and glaciation/ erosion that has left behind a breathtakingly beautiful trail of mountains, deep gorges, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, as well as grotesquely shaped cliff faces and other odd rock formations everywhere.
Wuyang River Scenic Area comprises Mount Yuntai, Feiyun ("Flying Cloud") Cliff, Tiexi River Valley and Ancient Walkway, Qinglong ("Black Dragon") Cave, and Wuyang Three Gorges, which consists of Long Wang ("Dragon King") Gorge, Dong ("East") Gorge, and Xi ("West") Gorge.
Mount Yuntai is located about 15 kilometers north of the town of Shibing. It is characterized by high peaks, steep cliffs, and caves adorned with stalactites and stalagmites. The area around Mount Yuntai is a typical karst landscape, i.e., the bedrock is of carbonate origin, either limestone or dolomite, that erodes unpredictably, leaving pitted stones, some above ground and some in the form of sinkholes, and some of which "pitting" results in caves of varying sizes. Temples, pavilions and remnants of other ancient structures, including stone walls and gates with inscriptions carved upon them dating from the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, can be found here, surrounded by dense forest cover. The region is a melting pot of Taoist, Confucianist, and Buddhist beliefs.
Feiyun ("Flying Cloud") Cliff is located at the foot of Mount Dongpo, roughly 12 kilometers east of the town of Huangping. The cliff itself is highly irregularly shaped (in the form of a cloud, whence the nickname), if not grotesquely pitted, the result no doubt of glaciation and aeons of subsequent erosion. A temple with adjoining pavilions, corridors and archways was built here, the original buildings dating from the Ming Dynasty, as indicated. Because the temple lay on a key route in ancient times, it also served as an inn for passing government officials, artists and scholars, many of whom left inscriptions here as testimony to their visit. The Guizhou Museum of Ethnic Fesitvals, which is the venue for many ethnic festivals in Guizhou Province each year, is located at Feiyun Cliff. There are also permanent displays of ethnic costumes, artworks, musical instruments, articles of worship and various household implements and utensils at the museum.
Tiexi River Valley and Ancient Walkway
The Tiexi is a small freestone river that is a tributary to the Wuyang River. It lies in a majestic valley richly adorned with vegetation and boulders, some of the latter of which are grotesquely shaped, as are so many other rock formations in this karst landscape. An ancient walkway, about a 20-minute drive from the town of Zhenyuan, is located along the stream – and crosses it in places. The 3½ hour tour by foot along the ancient walkway offers some spectacular views of the valley floor and the surrounding valley walls, often also grotesquely shaped. The walkway passes a mystical pool of unknown depth called the Dragon Pool that covers about 500 square meters and whose waters, though not specifically fed by hot springs, is warmer than the air, with the result that Dragon Pool is generally enshrouded in a blue-green mist.
Qinglong ("Black Dragon") Cave is a large complex of temple buildings, some of which are anchored onto the cave-like (concave) cliff faces of Zhonghe Mountain, somewhat reminiscent of the City of Petra in the Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (which city, in contrast, was carved out of the sandstone cliffs of the labyrinthine canyon in Jordan where the uforgettable scene of the pursuit of the Holy Grail – a chalice in this case – took place).
Black Dragon Cave comprises Zhongyuan Si (Zhongyuan Temple), Yuhuang Ge (the Jade Emperor Pavilion), Zhusheng Qiao (Zhusheng Bridge), Ziyang Shuyuan (an academy of classical learning), and Xianglu Yan (Longevity Palace). Apart from the uniqueness of the manner in which a number of the temple buildings are attached to the cliff faces, which has resulted in a decidedly facade-like aspect of verticality, the architectural style of Black Dragon Cave is simple and austere, blending in with the surrounding landscape in perfect, aesthetic harmony. Black Dragon Cave was granted protection as a key cultural site by the Chinese government in 1988.
Wuyang Three Gorges
Wuyang Three Gorges refers to three time-worn old gorges along the Wuyang River in the southeastern part of Guizhou Province. They constitute the primary natural sightseeing attractions of Wuyang River Scenic Area, and are home to strange, secluded caves, springs that bubble up from the karst bedrock below, stunningly beautiful waterfalls in various dimensions (though they tend to be of the short rather than the tall variety, and narrow rather than broad), and grotesque cliffs barren of vegetation that alternate with steep tree-and-shrub-covered valley walls that narrow and broaden as the river twists and turns along the valley floor. A trip through these beautiful gorges is a mystical experience in itself, and reveals perhaps why so many religious sects from China's ancient past – from Taoists to Confucianists to Buddhists – chose to build monasteries and temples in this spectacularly beautiful setting, so conducive to meditation.
* This is the crustal uplift that occurs either when two continental plates collide, compressing and eventually crushing the landmasses of both plates along the areas of contact (the Himalayas are believed to have been formed in this way, when a piece of an African continental plate broke loose and "slammed" into an Asian continental plate... "slammed" because these processes take place over billions of years, yet they represent some of the most powerful forces at work on our planet), or when a thinner, denser oceanic plate collides with a thicker, fluffier contintental plate and slides underneath it into the molten mass below on which the plates ride, eventually releasing enormous quantities of gasses as the oceanic plate "melts" ("new" earth is being produced elsewhere on the planet to make up for this loss, as it were... in fact, it is the creation of the "new" earth (Iceland is one such new-earth "factory") that exerts pressure on the existing plates in the first place, causing them to constantly shift, sometimes colliding head-on and sometimes just rubbing up against each other).
The gasses that are released when a downward-sliding oceanic plate "melts" force their way upwards through the cracks and crevices of the continental plate above, lifting the continental landmass into mountains in some places and leaving depressions in others (lakes will be formed in the latter). Sometimes a large cone is formed (think of the shape of the orange-red cone used by road repair crews), leaving a permanent "hole" in the surface where gasses and molten matter continue to escape (aka volcanic activity), which "hole" may eventually become plugged for a number of years and may fill with water, becoming a lake, but this temporary plug is always subject to being blown away in a powerful explosion if the dormant volcano beneath suddenly "awakens".
It is the constant shifting of these techtonic plates, as they are called, especially where several smaller plates come together (smaller plates are by definition less stable, since a plate's ability to absorb pressure is to a large extent related to its size), that causes earthquakes, a terrible price that we humans pay for the awesome beauty of mountains, waterfalls, lakes and rivers. There is much more to the theory of plate techtonics (many more factors that come into play) than this brief introduction can hope to cover, but this is basically the bittersweet process that produces mountains, volcanoes, and earthquakes, which latter phenomenon, where they occur on the floor of the ocean, may also result in a tidal wave of biblical proportions, otherwise known as a tsunami.