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From Sand Control Model to Hot Tourist Spot

Shapotou scenic zone, located in Zhongwei city in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region, has become a must-see for tourists who visit Ningxia.

Shapotou means "the end of a desert" in Chinese. In fact, Shapotou lies at the junction where the Yellow River meets the Tangeer Desert, allowing visitors to enjoy both splendid desert scenery and beautiful riverside views in the zone.

But in the 1970s, people visited Shapotou for learning and investigation, instead of for pleasure.

According to Zhang Hongxia, a tourist guide in the zone, "In the 1950s, the Baotou-Lanzhou Railway was built for western development. Since some parts of the railway are in the desert here, we started a sand control project to ensure its operation. Through the hard work of scientific researchers and people in Zhongwei, a mode involving five methods was developed to create it."

"When the mode achieved success, many people came here to learn from the experience. They were surprised to find Shapotou was a place with charming views and advised us to develop tourism here," she adds.

So the railway came first, then a mode to control sand, and finally a scenic spot.

Before the 1950s, the climate was harsh in this area. Sand and dust weather could be seen in 330 days of the year and the rate of vegetation coverage was less than 1 percent.

Local people called their hometown "the sea of death" as it had neither birds in the sky nor plants on the land.

Under such circumstances, famous meteorologist and geographer Zhu Kezhen led the people of Zhongwei to create a method of tying wheat straw up in bundles and then forming many one-by-one squares to control the movement of the sand.

This method effectively fixed the sand in place. Then psammophytes, which thrive on sandy soil, were planted on the squares to further bind the sand.

More methods were also added, forming a complete mode to control the sand and protect the railway.

Over the years, as people advanced, the sand retreated, turning Shapotou into a model of sand control.

Now, the desert in Shapotou has become an attractive scenic spot for travelers.

"When I stood in the desert, I was so excited that I sent a message in my Wechat Moments to declare my arrival," said Wu Qiuhuang, a visitor to the zone.

When sand is no longer a serious threat, the scenic zone can continue its development to attract more visitors.

More recreational projects activities focused on travelers' experiences have been added in recent years. For example, tourists can take a raft made of sheepskin on the Yellow River, or they can take a desert surf-car or SUV in the desert.

"Many visitors are satisfied to have high participation in these projects. They say that the projects are really cost-effective," says Zhang.

In 2004, Shapotou was recognized as one of the "10 most interesting places in China".

Furthermore, improvement of the zone can be seen in the enhanced service provided to visitors and more standardized management.

A 3D glass bridge has also been built in the zone in 2017 as part of the upgrade work.

"In the future, I hope our zone will attract more visitors and become an international desert tourist destination," says Zhang.