If you have a lot of time to explore it, why not go on a day trip from Beijing and see all the other attractions the region has to offer?
Just around two hours from Beijing is a desert seemingly dropped out of nowhere—a small stretch of sand amidst the lushness of the countryside. This is the Tianmo Desert in the Hebei Province.
Located at the foot of the Dragon Treasure Mountain around 90 kilometers from Beijing, Tianmo features two huge sand dunes.
Its presence in the area has confused the locals for some time; why would there be a desert in the middle of lush vegetation? Its seeming incongruity has earned it the name “Heavenly Desert,” and its origins remain a mystery.
There used to be camels here, and visitors could pretend to be desert people and ride the camels from one end of the sand dune to the other. Other people said that there were also fun activities like horse racing and sand skiing, plus driving rough-terrain vehicles up and down the sand dunes.
When we arrived though, only a sleepy dog met us at the gate, and an old man who gave us the tickets. There were nothing and no one else in the sand dunes except for structures like these which used to shelter desert animals.
There was a “cave” too, which looked convincingly like a real stone house. My friend told me to knock on it, and I was surprised to feel it yield under my hand! The whole house was made of plaster, part of a movie set shot here in the desert.
A huge tire also looked convincing, until we saw through a tear in the rubber the styrofoam with which it was made. It made me knock on the trees as well, to see if these were real (yes, they were).
Beyond the sand dunes, we could see the man-made Guanting Lake, its windmills producing electricity. We went there afterwards, but unfortunately, the roads we had chosen were blocked by construction equipment. Too bad, really. It would have been wonderful to get close to the windmills.
So if you have a bit of time to spend in Beijing, take the chance to go visit Tianmo, the Heavenly Desert, in the Hebei Province. You can either take a guided tour in any travel agency, take a cab, or take the 919 bus from Beijing. If you choose the latter, be prepared to walk because there is no public transportation going directly to Tianmo. We had a private car so it was easier to get around.
Entrance fee is 30 yuan. Children are free.