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Crescent Spring — First Spring in the Desert

Written by Candice Song Updated Dec. 4, 2020

Known admiringly as 'First Spring in the Desert', Crescent Spring in Dunhuang is situated at the foot of Mingsha Mountain (part of, named after, and typical of the surrounding Singing Sand Dunes). Seen from afar, Crescent Spring resembles a crescent moon, hence its name.

A legend goes that the Seven Star Grasses, with specialized properties for curing difficult and complicated diseases, grow at Crescent Spring, and those who eat them will live forever, therefore, the Crescent Spring is also called 'Medicinal Spring'.

Highlights of Crescent Spring

Reed BushesReed bushes along the spring

Crescent Spring is about 200 meters (650 feet) long from east to west and 50 meters (160 feet) wide from north to south, becoming deeper from west to east and five meters (16 feet) deep at its deepest part.

Crescent Moon Spring with its lush vegetation is sustained by spring water and is a true oasis in a desert.

Crescent Spring has nestled in the vast desert for thousands of years. Its water is very clear and sweet, even though it is exposed to stormy sands. It merely ripples in the breeze in the face of harsh weather.

Near Crescent Spring are reed bushes whose reflections waver in the spring water as the wind blows. Around the Crescent Spring are the peaks of the Mingsha Mountains (large sand dunes), which make a "singing" sound even on sunny days if the wind blows strong enough.

SunsetSunset at the Crescent Spring

The best times of a day to visit Crescent Spring are sunrise, sunset, and night. At sunrise or sunset, a soft glow falls on the lake surface. The sparkling oasis reflects the surrounding golden sand dunes.

In the evening, blue neon lights around Crescent Spring light up, outlining the moon shape on the ground, which is complementary to the starry sky.

The best viewpoint (at sunset) is on the peak of the dunes to the east of Crescent Spring. There you can not only get a full view of the lake but also can appreciate the beautiful sunset.

There are a number of desert entertainment programs, such as riding a camel, sand sliding, riding a motorcycle, taking a glider, and camping.

Want to throw yourself into the vast desert, enjoy the beautiful wavy shapes of the smooth yellow dunes by riding a camel, and explore the oasis in the desert? See our 5-Day Dunhuang In-Depth Private Tour.

Travel Tips

1. Avoid visiting at noon (in summer) as it is very hot. Early morning or late afternoon is better.

2. Prepare sun protection: hat, sunglasses, sun-proof clothing, etc.

3. Prepared a cover for your camera to prevent damage from sand blown by the wind.

4. Crescent Spring is in the same scenic area as the Mingsha Mountains. The expiration of the entrance ticket of the scenic area is three days after your first entry.

5. It's twenty minutes' walk from the entrance to Crescent Spring. Comfortable shoes are advised (as well as the sand-proof shoe cvers available at the entrance. You can also take a sightseeing vehicle instead of walking.

6. Traveling with us can make your trip more efficient. For example, you can use the travel agency entrance to enjoy less queuing time. See our 6-Day Dunhuang and Zhangye Photography Tour (including Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Spring).

Why Wasn't Crescent Spring Swallowed by Sand?

Crescent SpringCrescent Spring

Crescent Spring has long been a "sightseeing spot" — since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD). So, how could it exist for such a long time (at least two thousand years) and not be buried by sand?

There are two reasons.

The first reason is subsurface replenishment. There was once a desert river running through Dunhuang called Dang River. Crescent Spring was originally a section of the river. The river was gradually buried, only leaving the spring above ground. The underground river means it doesn't dry up.

The other reason is due to its dunes'-edge location, prevailing winds, and surrounding landforms. There is a large breach in the encompassing dunes to the northeast of Crescent Spring, which forms the sole entry for wind. Easterly, and less so northwesterly, winds prevail there.

Easterly winds, which blow in from an area devoid of dunes, enter the breach and rotate centrifugally upwards, blowing sand higher up the spring's surrounding dunes and onto their far sides.

There are also no dunes to the northwest, so northwesterlies also add little to the sand there. Gravity and northwesterlies push sand down toward the spring, but easterlies push the sand back up again onto the dunes. Thus, the oasis is naturally preserved in equilibrium.

Visit Crescent Spring with Us

If you are interested in planning a trip to Dunhuang to visit Crescent Spring, you are suggested to enjoy the Mingsha Sand Dunes at the same time. We can help you arrange your tour according to your interests and requirements. See the popular tour plans linked below for inspiration:

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