The area bears witness to the synthesis of Taoist, Confucianist and Buddhist philosophy, where the latter, at first deemed hostile to the other two, eventually came to be seen as a superstructure embracing them. The Thousand-Buddha Caves of Bezeklik were excavated in the period of the Sixteen Kingdoms* during the Western Jin (CE 265-316) and Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasties. Moreover, according to Chinese mythology (viz: The Herd-Boy and The Weaver Girl legend, also intimately related to the Milky Way and Summer Triangle constellations), the clothing and the oral traditions of the peoples of the Flame Mountain Range, with its many canyons – of which the Tuyugou Great Canyon is the most majestic – have been directly influenced by the earthly activities of the weaver-girl, a fairy, or celestial maiden. The ancient Uighur villages and the beautiful scenery in Grape Valley contribute as well to the unique charm of Tuyugou Great Canyon.
The Tuyugou Great Canyon is about 8 kilometers in length and spans an average width of about 1 kilometer. In the great canyon itself stands the highest peak of the Flame Mountain Range with an altitude of 831.7 meters. The canyon, running in a north-south direction, cuts the Flame Mountain Range into two halves. The view of the these majestic mountains with their distinctive, layered appearance – reflecting differences in temperature and in the soil's physical properties – ending in snow-capped peaks silhoutted against deep-blue skies, is an experience to be envied.
The Tuyugou Great Canyon was previously a so-called box canyon: both the north as well as the south end of the canyon ended in a cliff from which there was no way in or out. Today, thanks to the miracles of modern engineering, the cliffs that formerly boxed the canyon in now permit China National Highway 312 (aka Route 312, currently being expanded into a freeway, G312, in many places), which spans the breadth of China from Shanghai in the east to the farthest extremes of the Gobi Desert in the west, to pass through the Tuyugou Great Canyon.
Tuyugou, which means "small, impassible valley", is the phonetic transcription of the canyon's name in the Uighur language. For ages, owing to the steep walls of the canyon combined with the lack of a passageway at either end, people failed to take in the "wholeness", or unified appearance, of the great canyon, being consigned instead to observing only details. It was first in 1992 that a simple highway dubbed the "Connected Hearts Road" was built, finally opening up the canyon to a unified view. Today, when you stand on the highest point of the "Connected Hearts Road" atop the mountain range and look downwards, you will see a meandering mountain road zig-zagging across a valley floor a thousand feet below and a slowly-flowing meadow stream edged with green grass.
The east and west walls of the Tuyugou Great Canyon have always been called "the natural fire walls". Here, the heat can reach temperatures as high as 60 degrees Celsius, one of the highest recorded temperatures on earth. The mountains on either side of the canyon's walls are painted in a variety of colors, the shades of which change with the shifting state of the weather. The meadow stream on the valley floor flows gently southwards, its waters, fed by the runoff from the mountains, remaining cool and refreshing.
According to another mythological legend, the goddess Nu Wa, observing that the earth's cardinal points had shifted, creating a hole in the sky and thus exposing the realm of the living to danger (there being 3 realms: heaven, hell, and that of the living), melted the right combination of stones in order to patch the hole in the azure sky.
If ever there was a spot of blue sky deserving of being mended, it would surely be that which provides an azure backdrop for the network of canyons in the Flaming Mountain Range, with their earthy reds, yellows, browns, greens, and blacks!
* The period of the Sixteen Kingdoms is more commonly referred to as the period of the Sixteen States – or even the Sixteen Barbarian States, since it refers to an interregnum when a string of non-Chinese tribes filled the power vacuum in a weakened Jin Dynasty in northern China (i.e., the Western Jin Dynasty) as the remnants of this dynasty moved southward, eventually developing into the southern dynasties (the Eastern Jin Dynasty). The various and successive rulers of the Sixteen States period (no single ruler exercised power over the entire region), much like Genghis Khan and his decendants would do centuries later, adopted Chinese cultural and governmental practices as best they could, but were nonetheless considered alien by the indigenous Chinese. They were eventually replaced by rulers of Chinese origin whose period of rule is referred to as the Northern Dynasties period. The time line for the period of the Sixteen States is roughly CE (Current Era) 300 – 440.