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Home / Trip Diary / Gansu / Days 35 & 36 – Desert Trekking and a Flat Tire

Days 35 & 36 – Desert Trekking and a Flat Tire

August 22nd-23rd; 384km/66km; Jiamusi,GS to Dunhuang, GS to Dunhuang,GS

During our extra time in Jiayuguan we received several recommendations for our next stop. We were originally planning on going straight west towards Xinjiang, but apparently there was a very famous city along the way that would be about a 100km detour. The city was called Dunhuang, and a couple said that it was one of the “must see” tourist destinations in China. It was a former stop on the Silk Road, a sort of oasis in the middle of the desert, and has a few famous ancient sights including an actual oasis and 1000 year old Buddha grottoes built into a cliff side. Well, this trip is all about seeing China, so we figured we would have to add it to the list.

“Police Escort” TO the Expressway

We’ve been escorted off the expressway by police before, but today we got to be escorted to it. Actually, this was just one of the friends of the motorcycle shop that we had met last night at dinner at the “cow factory” who owned a CFMoto 650-NK. Everyone told us that the provincial road west was in bad condition and so we should take the expressway.

In the morning we were met at the hotel by the owner of the CFMoto, the shop owner, and his wife who sent us off with some more photo-ops. Unfortunately there was a light rain in the morning, but not too bad we couldn’t ride in it. It was about a 15 minute ride to the expressway where we side goodbye to our cop friend.

Melon Country

Melons lining the road to Dunhuang

Melons lining the road to Dunhuang

The expressway riding was pretty easy and uneventful. As we continued our way west, we could notice the air getting noticeably warmer (it was actually cold in Jiayuguan) and the rain stopped too. After 300km on the highway, we found our turn off at “Melon Country”, the translation for the name of the city where the exit for Dunhuang is which in Chinese is 瓜州 or Guazhou.

Actually, this name was not with justification as the whole road was lined with melon stands. The whole 100km desert road south towards our destination had stands dotted on the side of the road. We stopped at one as we hadn’t had any lunch and now that we had actually officially entered the Gobi Desert and the heat was now becoming quite draining.

At the melon stand we chatted with the older lady who seemed extremely excited to meet us. She asked us how to say a variety of words in English and was diligently practicing them in front of us. She also practically through melon at us. Without even asking she had cut some slices for us, and each time we finished one, she’d have two more ready for us to eat. She wouldn’t let us pay either as she even forced us to take another full one with us as we left despite our protestations that we didn’t even have room for it in our bike.

Trek in the Desert

Camel riding that was available (we opted for sightseeing by our own feet)

Camel riding that was available (we opted for sightseeing by our own feet)

That evening we found a hotel and luckily had enough time to see one sight before the end of the day. We went to the Crescent Moon Lake, which is the oasis out in the desert just on the outskirts of the city. This was actually a fantastic destination as the lake is right at the base of a giant desert sand mountain which you are able to climb up and watch the sunset from. Another positive is that the shifting sands of the mountain seem to have made it impossible to develop much on it which means there are none of the usual paved walkways and staircases typical of natural scenic areas in China.


The Mogao Caves

Mogao cave mural that is outside (and so can take pictures of!)

Mogao cave mural that is outside (and so can take pictures of!)

The next morning we woke up early to drive out to the Mogao caves, the most famous attraction in the city with hundreds of Buddha statues and frescoes in dozens of caves in a cliff wall. We joined a tour (which is required apparently for preservation purposes) and saw several quite beautifully decorated caves. The grand finale were two with giant statues in them, one a reclining/sleeping golden Buddha and another that was 26m tall and filled an entire cave. It was quite impressive but unfortunately no photos allowed.

Afterwards, we made our way the 30km back to the city to pack up our stuff at the hotel, finally checking out by 12.

The Mogao caves

The Mogao caves

Flat Tire in the Desert

It appears we were not destined to get anywhere today unfortunately (another 0km day). About 40km outside of the city, about 1/3 through the Gobi desert back to the expressway, I ran over something that I thought was a small rock, but either way did not agree with my tubeless tire.

Being stuck in the middle of the desert when the temperature is near 35C/100F is not fun. Unfortunately though we had no choice. We were lucky enough to be able to flag down a family driving in a pickup truck as well as two guys on a scooter, who seemed more interested in what on earth two foreigners were doing there but still happy enough to help us lift the bike onto the truck.

Specialty tire repair shop that fixed our flat

Specialty tire repair shop that fixed our flat

By about 4:30, about 4 hours after setting off, we had finally got the tire patched at a tire repair place on the outskirts of the city (we basically had to backtrack all of our progress) and had to decide what we wanted to do for the day. Unfortunately, didn’t seem to make much sense to push on anymore since late afternoon is actually the hottest part of the day in this part of the country. This is of course given to the fact that all of China runs on Beijing time despite our being somewhere around 2 timezones away to the west. So we decided to go back to town, find a hotel and try and get an early start in the morning to finally keep going west and enter province number 11, Xinjiang!

About Buck

Buck, originally from New York, first came to China in 2006 traveling with some friends and immediately fell in love with the country, returning frequently including a semester studying at Tsinghua University in 2009. He finally moved to Beijing after graduating from the University of Toronto in 2010. He has a passion for adventure and travel, completing numerous long distance motorcycling and hiking trips around the U.S., Canada, and China including a circumnavigation of the U.S. (13,840km) and a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (3,500km). When he's not wandering (and sometimes when he is), Buck works as a web developer and marketing consultant in Beijing.