The Stone Forest

Stone Forest, described by some as having “the most fantastic scenery in China”, is located in the Yu’nan Yi Nationality Autonomous County in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. A 120-kilometer drive southeast from the provincial capital, Kunming, and you are at Stone Forest. From a distance, it does indeed look like a dense forest, but as you draw closer you will find that the “trees” are all slender stone pinnacles. According to geologists, the Stone Forest is a special type of limestone formation known as karst. Some two hundred million years ago this area was submerged under a thick layer of lime- stone at the bottom of the sea. Later, the movement of the earth’s crust caused the sea bottom to thrust upward and became land. Owing to solvent action, long deep cracks developed in the limestone, and rainwater running through the cracks gradually eroded the stone into the present shapes.

Stone Forest covers an area of more than 26 thousand hectares, 80 hectares of which are the most frequently visited for their concentration of stone formations. First to greet the visitor is a huge natural stone wall carved with eight red Chinese characters which translate: “A myriad pinnacles stand erect, receding one after another into the distance.” Tile inscription is after the handwriting of Zhu De, the People’s Congress, who wrote the lines when he visited the area.

Strange pinnacles resembling bamboo shoots, giant pillars, pagodas, swords, lions, sleeping tigers, camels or wild oxen will surround you on every side once you enter the “forest”. The formations range in height from five to thirty meters. Some stand in solitary loftiness, some in clusters. Between the pinnacles deep chasms wind in and out like corridors. The stones have holes like windows in them, and there are also labyrinthine underground caverns. Men of letters have sung their praises over the ages in poems and prose, while graphic descriptions are Follow the 1,200-meter path into the heart of the “forest” and you will come suddenly upon a mammoth rock suspended be- tween two towering cliffs overhead as though about to fall. This “rock hanging by a hair” may well discourage you from proceeding. But don’t worry, it’s guaranteed not to fall for the next ten thousand years or so!

Just follow the zigzag trail and you will arrive at “Sword Peak Pool”. A sharp biotic-like stone pro}cots straight upwards out of a pool. The crystal-clear water, outlined by a twisting walkway, is like a natural jewel in its setting. Fish glide among tile reflections of surrounding stones. Beside the pool stands a stone horse. Has he come to drink? But his head is raised in a whinny.

A meandering stairway leads from the pool to Lotus Peak, through caves and over the tips of several pinnacles to the highest point of all in Stone Forest. This is Peak Viewing Pavillion. From this natural vantage point you get a bird’s-eye view of the entire “forest”. The pinnacles below are of fanciful shapes taxing the imagination.

Many of the stones are named, for example, “Mother and Children Viewing the Scenery”, Phoenix Preening Its Features”, “ Elephant on a Platform”, and “Woman Longing for Her Husband”. Many have legends connected with them, of which the epic poem Asbma is well known.