Just as water and fire are incompatible, neither can a desert and a spring coexist. But this is not the case for the Crescent Lake that is surrounded by the Mingsha (Echoing-Sand) Mountain. The golden sand hill and the blue lake cast a beautiful contrast in a harmonious existence.
The lake lies at the north side of Mingsha Mountain which is 5km southwest to Dunhuang city where the Mogao Caves are located.
“All around us we saw tier on tier of lofty sand-hills, giving the lie to our quest, yet when, with a final desperate effort, we hoisted ourselves over the last ridge and looked down on what lay beyond, we saw the lake below, and its beauty was entrancing.”
—- “The Gobi Desert” by Mildred Cable and Francesca French
The Crescent Lake was called “Wowa Pond” in West Han dynasty. It is said to be the place where Wu Emperor of Han Dynasty got the “Horse from Heaven”
The Crescent Lake is also known as the Crescent Spring, Crescent Moon Spring, or Yueya Spring. It can be considered a natural wonder of the Gobi Desert. Just as its name implies, the lake appears like a crescent moon and with its crystal clear water, resembles a turquoise or pearl inlaid in the vast desert. Some say it reminds them of the eye of a beautiful woman, lucid, beautiful and amorous. Others say it looks like the mysterious, gentle and seductive lips of a pretty woman, or a slice of a lush, sweet and crystal cantaloupe.
One should visit both the Crescent Lake and the Echoing-Sand Mountain together. Entry to the area can be by using either the shuttle buses, located left of the entrance, or by walking along the main path to the lake if you have enough time. Another option is to ride on a camel and have fun sliding down the slope of the sand dune before walking to the lake. Admire the thick reeds swaying gracefully in the breeze at the southern bank of the lake; as well as a group of elegant pavilions and temples dominating the skyline.
Visitors are able to witness the variable scenes of the lake from early sunrise to sunset; such as the soft glow of sunrise and the smooth mirror image at dusk. It is during the latter time that the lake reflects the rosy clouds and golden dunes of the surrounding. In the evening, blue neon light encircles the lake resembling the moon on the ground. The scenic area stays open till late in the evening, allowing visitors to enjoy themselves under the starry night. It is also a photographer’s paradise as ticket is valid for three days. Hence, photographers have the opportunity to shoot at different time of the days.
Overall, one not only wonders the strange co-existence of an oasis and a desert, but also the opportunity to have great sand adventures, such as camel rides, ‘dune surfing’ and shooting arrows. Other exciting facilities such as gliding, motorcycling, karting, SUVs and helicopter rides are also available. One would definitely marvel the dramatic view at the top of the dunes.
Designated a World Heritage Site, the lake has been shrinking over the years and is now about a third of its original size. In early 1990s, the water level was lower than 0.7m (2.3 feet), while according to measurements made in 1960, the average depth of the lake was 4 to 5 m, with a maximum depth of 7.5 meters. Luckily, In 2006, the government with help started to fill the lake and restore its depth; its depth and size have been growing yearly since then.