An Improbable Beauty: Crescent Lake, China

All around us we saw tier on tier of lofty sand-hills, giving the lie to our quest. 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.

– British missionaries Mildred Cable and Frencesca French

Near the western edge of the formidable Gobi Desert and north of the Mingshasan (whose name means “echoing sand mountains”) lies the historic city of Dunhuang, a resting point for merchants and pilgrims travelling through the ancient Silk Road that traversed from west China to Rome. Six kilometers south of Dunhuang is Crescent Lake (Chinese: 月牙泉; pinyin: Yuèyá Quán).

When British missionaries Mildred Cable and Francesca French sighted it in the 1920s, it took their breath away. It is easy to see why. Like a scene from a Salvador Dali painting, the crystal-clear water of the crescent-shaped lake is a sparkling contrast to the barren sand dunes all around it. The lake is about 100 meters long, 25 meters wide and has a depth of up to 5 meters. Remarkably, it has never dried out since its discovery during the Han dynasty, giving it the nickname of First Spring Lake. Around the lake, a group of Tang-style buildings housing ancient sculptures and frescoes add to the picturesque scene.

The Mingshasan or Echoing Sand Mountains of Dunhuang.
Crescent Lake at Sunset

A video showing an aerial view of Crescent Lake:

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