Several other attractions around Jiayuguan could be combined with a trip to the fort. 6km south of town are the ruins of the First Beacon Tower (第一墩, dìyīdūn; ¥21). Built on the Great Wall in the sixteenth century, the long-abandoned tower lies crumbling on a cliff top overlooking the Taolai River at the foot of the Qilian Mountains.

The Overhanging Wall (悬壁长城, xuánbì chángchéng; ¥21), 8km northwest of the fort, is a section of the Great Wall connecting the fort to the Mazong range, originally built in the sixteenth century and recently restored. The ramparts afford excellent views of the surrounding land; it was more atmospheric before they built a crass tourist village nearby, but is still worth a visit to gaze out west and imagine what it was like when this place represented the end of China’s civilized world.

The desert also harbours a couple of unusual collections of ancient Chinese art. One is the Underground Gallery (新城魏晋墓, xīnchéng wèijìnmù; ¥31), 20km northeast of Jiayuguan. Actually a burial site from the Wei and Jin periods, more than eighteen hundred years ago, the brick-built graves contain vivid paintings of contemporary life on each brick.

A kilometer beyond the fort are the Heishan rock carvings (黑山岩画, hēishān yánhuà). These look more like classic “cave man” art: a hundred or so pictures of hunting, horseriding and dancing dating from the Warring States Period (476–221 BC), are etched into the cliffs of the Heishan range. Visiting the First Beacon Tower and the two art sites in conjunction with a tour of the fort and Overhanging Wall takes a full day. Hiring a taxi to get you around will cost ¥200–250.

Finally, one stupendous but rather inaccessible natural sight is the July 1st Glacier (七一冰川, qīyī bīngchuān; ¥51), located 4300m up in the Qilian Mountains some 120km from Jiayuguan – remarkably close considering how toasty Jiayuguan is in summer. A day-trip by taxi costs around ¥600. Travel agents in town provide tours with an English guide for ¥700. It’s a long day, involving a three-hour drive, followed by five hours climbing up and down, and three hours driving back. The do-it-yourself option is to take a train to Jingtieshan (京铁山, jĭngtĭeshān) then a taxi – around ¥140 return.

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