Hongshi Gorge is just one of 11 scenic areas in the Yuntai geopark. // © 2016 Michelle Juergen
As I carefully climbed down multiple series of steep stone steps carved into the maroon- and sienna-colored rock, I felt like I was back home in the U.S., descending into one of Utah’s magnificent canyonlands.
But, in fact, I was in China’s own version of Zion National Park: Hongshi (Red Stone) Gorge, part of the Yuntaishan (Yuntai Mountain) scenic area. The destination, located about 25 miles north of the city of Jiaozuo, in Henan province, was named a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2004.
From overhead, the red-brown cliffs dotted with emerald foliage look like a congregation of giant Chia Pets. Once visitors trek downward into the ravine, they’ll feel transported into a mythical wonderland, with views of saw-toothed peaks covered in rich verdant hues above, pools of seafoam-green water below and seemingly endless stretches of 1.4 billion-year-old rock formations in between. Travelers will crisscross over the small waterfalls, streams and pools that run through the gorge as they journey along the walkway carved into the cliffs.
Chimerical views awaited around every curve, and when the time came to return to the parking lot, I closed my eyes and tried to remember each vivid scene, as though not wanting to wake from a beautiful dream.
Hongshi Gorge is just one of 11 scenic areas in the nearly 50,000-acre park. Other sites include multiple gorges and waterfalls, including Yuntai waterfall, claimed to be the highest in China at 1,030 feet; the brilliantly turquoise Zifang Lake; Macaque Valley, a natural reserve for wild macaques; Wanshan Temple, built in the Ming Dynasty; and a 3,450-foot-high glass-bottom walkway that clings to the side of the mountain.
Just one ticket, which is valid for two days and runs about $9 or $18 depending on the time of year, is needed to visit all of the park’s scenic areas, and shuttle buses are available for an additional fee. Recommend that clients carry water with them and wear comfortable shoes, as there are many precarious steps and uneven walking paths.
Yuntaishan is also frequently crowded, so be prepared to wait your turn for fantastical photos — which may still have strangers in them, as most of mine did. But I didn’t mind — it was all just a part of the surreal nature of the destination.