The Great Wall at Shandan

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It takes a bit of doing to get out to this part of the Great Wall and once you get there, take care of your own transportation for any extended stays. The first leg of the trip takes you to either Lanzhou or Dunhuang and from either city you'll take a train or long-distance bus to Zhangye County (Zhāngyè, 张掖). From Zhangye County, take another long-distance bus to Shandan County (Shāndān Xiàn, 山丹县). The bus leaves every hour from 8:00am to 3:00pm.

What's left of the Shandan portion of the Great Wall in Gansu faces the twin dangers of natural erosion and human destruction. Most of the Wall is split up, broken, crumbling and piereced by kilometer-wide gaps. Still, for Great Wall enthusiasts, history buffs or tourists visiting Dunhuang, a visit to the best of the ruins is well worth the effort.

The Shandan Great Wall (Shāndān Chángchéng, 山丹长城) was first built over 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty, but it was not well maintained in the centuries tha until the Ming Dynasty emperors built a parallel wall along the ancient barrier. By then the Han Dynasty Wall had already become useless as a defense against marauding horsemen and the Ming Wall fared little better, succumbing to desert and farmhands in less than 500 years.

The Shandan Wall runs for 100 km (62 mi), from Xiakou (Xiákǒu Zhèn, 峡口镇) in the southeast past Shandan County to Dongledakouzi Mound in the northwest. Most of the fortifcations are now "mounds," and although distinguishable as manmade structures, it will not be long until the former Wall resembles naught but a line of strange dunes.

Still, it all makes for a great hike, bike ride or drive for explorers with a love for history—nothing evokes contemplation so well as such once-magnificent ancient ruins.

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