At the southern foot of the Tianshan Mountains, on the other side of the forbidding Tarim Basin lies Xinjiang's desert forest, Luntai Huyang Poplar Forest Park, as oxymoronic as that may seem. The reason life flourishes in such an arid zone is due to the Huyang poplar trees. Luntai is the world's largest preserve of Huyang poplars, 27, 000 hectares' worth.
Luntai County, lying at the southern foot of the Tianshan Mountains and the northern edge of the Tarim Basin, possesses the world’s largest, densest and best-surviving “living fossil of the Tertiary Age” - a natural Huyang (diversiform-leaved) poplar forest of more than 27,000 hectares. The Huyang poplar forest is common desert forest meadow vegetation in the Tarim Basin, growing from upper to lower reaches of the Tarim River valley. In spite of a rather simple structure, clearly the forest has ecological markings of the bio-zone in which it grows. The Tarim Basin boasts the world’s largest area of natural Huyang poplar forest, and the roadside forest of over 2,700 hectares is merely a small part of the whole. The forest grows along the meandering course of the silt-laden Tarim River, and stretches to the remote horizon. There is a beautiful small lake in the forest, where waterfowl including swans from the Tarim river find nesting grounds, hares and corsac foxes compete with hawks going after after rabbits burrowing in the poplars' roots.
Huyang poplars are called "most beautiful" in the local Uighur dialect, but that may more accurately be termed "most hardy". Huyang poplars grow only in the desert, and have always been engaged in struggle with it. Faced with cruel broiling heat and drought, only these diversiform-leaved poplars still stand in the desert, brimming with energy and life force. It is also acclaimed as the “desert hero” because of its unyielding life force and amazing ability to endure drought, sandstorms, and saline and alkali soils. Folk culture has made a hero out of them for their ability to grow erect for a thousand years, live for a thousand years after falling, and live and remain undying after death for another thousand years.
In autumn, Huyang poplars show their most splendid attire of the year. Middle of October is the ideal time to visit Luntai, when the poplars put on a riotous yellow show of dying leaves. In fact, all the shades towards crimson turn up in the endless sweep of branches, particularly among the red willow and oleaster, but deep yellow prevails, lending the forest an eerily beautiful glow. Those few weeks in October are one of nature's great affirmations that abundance can come from desolation. The sturdy trunks and gigantic crowns manifest that they have stored up enough energy and the fragrance of the grounds are refreshing and nice.
This park is a nice place for spending a weekend in nature, having a break from noisy week, relax and feel safety and calm under strong and high poplars that grow here for hundreds of years.
The entrance to Luntai Huyang Poplar Forest Park costs 50?. The best time to visit is October and November (20 October to 15 November), but of course at other times, the park is also charming with the beauty of the poplars. Be sure to take warmer clothes for the nights, take enough food, water and compass.
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