Traveling the World of Travertine

UNESCO Travertine Formations are Few and Far Between

We’ve explored and guided in and around Songpan for a long time now. One of our favorite characteristics of the Songpan region is the vast collection of travertine and karst formations. It is one of the best in the world and we know because we’ve also made our way to some amazing sites in Europe and North America. Now, don’t get me wrong, we can rave all day long about the beauties of the Balkans and the incredible diversity of Yellowstone National Park.

This isn’t so much a comparison as it is an introduction. Many people have never heard of Songpan and don’t know about the rich geological features of the region.

Key geological formations in Songpan County include Huanglong National Park and Muni Valley’s Zhaga Waterfall and Er Dao Lake. There are also travertine pools near Shangsizhai Village in Jiuzhaigou County. It is not uncommon to encounter springs with calcium deposits below them throughout the Huanglong Nature Preserve surrounding Mount Xuebaoding.

One of our most popular day tours is the guided experience to Muni Valley. It is common for our visitors to express deep feelings of awe as they stand before Zhaga Waterfall. Many say they expected the trip to be good but had no idea what was waiting for them. The waterfall isn’t listed on Wikipedia. Zhaga Waterfall is 306 feet high and over 100 feet wide in some places. The elevation of the falls is 10,728 feet.


Similarities and Differences

One of the differences between Yellowstone and Songpan is water temperatures. The temperatures of the springs and travertine formations in Yellowstone is very high. This is not the case for Huanglong or Muni Valley. Huanglong’s pools freeze in winter.

Zhaga Waterfall is spring fed which keeps it moving all year long. Even though the waters in Muni Valley are not hot, many of them are thermal springs so they maintain consistent temperatures throughout the year. Don’t be fooled by a trip to the “hot springs” above Er Dao Lake. They are not hot but they don’t freeze in the winter.

Steam rises from Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Huanglong National Park contains colored pools like this one stretching thousands of meters down the main valley.

Winter in Huanglong creates feelings like you’re in another world.

Zhaga Waterfall flows all year long.

Another difference between Songpan and some of our favorite places abroad is access. The volume of tourists in China’s parks requires a different approach than some places. In that way, it is very similar to Yellowstone which is also very crowded. But when compared to places like Croatia or even Bua Tong Waterfall in Northern Thailand, it helps to know that you cannot swim in the pools or leave the boarded walkways throughout the park.


Adventure Abounds

In addition to the incredible scenery provided by travertine and karst formations, adventure opportunities abound in such environments. Rock such as limestone provides incredible climbing venues. We’ve taught all our kids how to climb outdoors on limestone. Krabi Province in Thailand, areas throughout Sichuan, and the Dalmatia region in Croatia are all favorites.

Approaching Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand.

High altitude sport climbing in Songpan is not for the faint of heart.

Paklenica National Park in Croatia is a haven for climbers.

One thing to keep in mind in the Songpan area is the holy status many unique formations have. If rock formations are strewn with prayer flags or have Tibetan mantras carved into the stones, please be respectful. These are not for climbing.

There are places for biking, hiking, and even some climbing but be sure to observe your surroundings and exercise some common sense if the area appears to be dedicated for religious purposes.


Why is it Important to know the Geology of a Region?

You don’t have to be a geology expert to enjoy the splendor of the region. Many come and go and don’t even know what is below the falls or what makes the pools. Our guides share insights as you go, unlocking the science behind the scenes. This kind of learning enhances the experience and creates a deeper appreciation for what you encounter. Such knowledge can also deepen your experience as you travel to other places around the world as you make associations and comparisons.

Whether you are here for the adrenaline or just want to soak up the natural environment, the geological diversity of Songpan is incredible to experience. We hope this way of introducing the geology of Songpan provides you with some better-known references from around the world.

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