Zhangjiajie, China 2011


In July of 2011, I flew to Shanghai, China to explore and Trek Southern China. My first stop was Zhangjiejie. I hadn’t met up with my Chinese interpreter yet and managing the small stuff, from getting a taxi, booking a hotel room, and reading the signs, were a major challenge. The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a unique national forest located in Zhangjiajie City in northern Hunan Province in China, about 32km away from the downtown of Zhangjiajie City. Covering an area of of 4,810 ha. It is one of several national parks within the Wulingyuan Scenic Area.

Southeastern China map
Shanghai skyline

In 1982 Zhangjiajie was recognized as China’s first National Forest Park. In 1992, it was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.  Within the park, there are altogether more than 8,000 rock pinnacles, towering into the sky.

Tourist map of Zhangjiajie

Pictured below, the most notable geographic features of the park are the pillar-like formations that are seen throughout the park. They are the result of many years of physical erosion.

Looking south off of the upper pavilions in the Zhangjiajie Park

Pictured below, much of the weathering that forms these pillars is the result of expanding ice in the winter and the plants that grow on them.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China

Picture below, the weather is moist year-round here, and as a result, the foliage is very dense. The weathered material is carried away primarily by streams.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China

Around 380 million years ago (Middle Devonian Period), a large amount of terrigenous detrital material floated into Zhangjiajie as a littoral environment. After hundreds of millions years of sedimentation and compaction, the parent rock quartz sandstone of Zhangjiajie was formed.

My trekking buddie, Robert Stevens and I are looking off of the “Emperor Pavilion” at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China; 2011

Around from 350 to 290 million years(late Devonian Period), the Hercynian orogenesis changed Zhangjiajie from sea to land. After long-term weathering of sandstone, red weathering crust-iron hat was formed.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Around from 290 to 200 million years (Permian Period and Triassic Period), the lowered crust changed Zhangjiajie area into sea again with deposition of limestone and thus became the parent rock of karst landform below and forming the caves. Some of the largest in China.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Around 200 million years ago (Late Triassic Period), the Indosinian uplift, lifted the Zhangjiajie area and changed it into land. The previous formed limestone occurred on the surface.

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Around from 180 to 80 million years (Jurassic Period and Cretaceous Period), The Yanshan seismic movement caused the fracture and deformation of rocks in the Zhangjiajie area. Many inside joints and fracturing of the rocks occurred.

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Around from 65 to 30 million years (Paleocene Epoch to Oligocene Epoch). Crust was relatively stable. The raised mountain experienced weathering, denudation, filling, and leveling up.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Around from 23 to 2.6 million years (Neogene Period to Early Quaterary Period) , The Himalayan Orogeny led to intensive lifting of Zhangjiajie area. The constant undercut of rivers was stopped by “Iron hat ” and shifted to lateral erosion and broadening. Eventually ‘ denudation plane of Wulingyuan Period’ with elevation of about 800 meters is formed at top of ‘Iron hat’.

Hiking down into the Zhangjiajie where clouds moved in and rained for awhile.

The geo-tectonics over the last 2.6 million years has uplifted the crust in Zhangjiajie area. Running water along the joints and fissures has cut the quartz sandstone into the landforms like mesas, tablelands, peak walls, peak forests and single-peak groups.

Macaque Monkeys found in the lower levels of Zhangjiajie

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China is infested with macaques. 1000s of them. Admittedly, these monkeys looked cute and harmless, and indeed upon seeing them, my trekking group were quick to whip out their cameras. But these macaques were aggressive, and not afraid of humans. We witnessed 1000s of them, approaching us from the jungle. Many suddenly rushed at us with unbelievable velocity, letting out a roar and in one fell swoop. In these numbers, we were very intimidated.

A view of Zhangjiajie from below

The first 3D movie “Avatar” was on show at the cinemas around the world in 2009, which displays an amazing “Pandora” world with a lot of floating mountains and unknown creatures with magic powers. Hence, the movie made a great flutter worldwide and also intrigued people’s curiosity about the Avatar Mountains.

From below, the Zhangjiajie Natiional Forest Park

Back to reality, those mountains are not floating, but the authentic prototype inspiring the movie director Mr. James Cameron to design the Avatar mountains can be found and in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China and will also make you wow at the incredible ability of nature creation on such fascinating pinnacles.

Zhangjiajie National Forest and Wulingyuan Scenic Area

Over 97.7% of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is clad with a vast expanse of primitive sub-tropical forests. There are 191 species of tees, of which many are rare. In addition, hundreds of species of animals are found in Wulingyuan. Among them are rare animals such as the Chineses giant Salamandar, Asiatic wild dog, Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, Chines water deer, civets and pangolins.

Robert Stevens and I are leaving Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

As if the Wulingyuan and Zhangjiajie National Parks aren’t magnificent enough — for their topography, for their rare plants and trees and for their stupendous (though panda-free) fauna — they’ve been officially designated by Unesco as a demand for the protection and the benefit of all mankind.

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