For our last day in the Wulingyuan/Zhangjaijei area, we hired a guide who had been off and on bugging us for days. We bumped into him while looking for a place to eat last night. He suggested a newly opened area and we weren't sure what to expect since his English is so bad – he said he would arrange a mini-bus for us, but instead we ended up in an old VW taxi. Michele and I got in back and our guide, a friend of his, and the driver crammed in front.
After about an hour ride over curvy, steep, mountain roads; we drove up the first dirt road we have been on in China. At the end of the dirt road is a entry pavilion to The Canyon Ride. That isn't what it is called, but it is closer to a Disneyland ride than anything else. In a good way. Really. It is also, to me, emblematic of China. Start with a gorgeous place, over-develop it to make money and provide jobs.
We bought our ticket at the Pavilion, walked through the gate, and were at the top of the longest steepest staircase I have ever seen – 300 meters high (at 7 steps per meter, that's 2100 steps). We were told this took 10 years to build but that seems long.
After climbing down the 2100 steps, we got to the top of a 100 meter high slide, all polished granite. (It looked much scarier than it was.)
All this was to get us down into a Escalante, Utah type slot canyon with a big stream at the bottom. It was beautiful and very familiar to any one who has hiked in South Eastern Utah, except…
At the bottom of the stair/slide entry was a waterfall – made by diverting part of the stream through a channel hacked through the almost vertical canyon walls at about 500 feet up.
Across from the bottom of the waterfall, sales stalls are being built to provide jobs for food and trinket vendors. Why anyone would climb all the way down here and all of a sudden decide they need a new Hello Kitty analog trinket is beyond me, but seems like there are billions and billions of these sales stalls everywhere; so they must work.
From there it is a wander down a very improved path along the canyon floor, and in long stretches, hanging from the canyon walls, over the stream.
At about three quarters of the way down the canyon, we went through a cave – still on the improved path.
In Utah, this would be a two to three day day backpacking wilderness experience, if it could be made at all. And there is no question that it would not have been made by Michele and me without the improvements. Here it is a two hour canyon ride (which we stretched to three by walking slowly) and jobs for, maybe, a hundred people.