Cool Karst at China’s Shilin Stone Forest: 270 Million Year Old Natural Wonder [35 PICS]

June 6th, 2013 Permalink

Imagine 96,000 acres of forest, then swap out the trees in your mind’s eye for huge karst formations, some of which formed at least 270 million years ago, and that “stone forest” is Shilin in China. Since the Ming Dynasty in 1368-1644 AD, the collections of intricate karst formations and landscapes at Shilin Stone Forest have “bewitched” people; the site became known as the ‘First Wonder of the World,’ according to the China Travel Guide. South China Karst is not one Stone Forest, but made up of many such individual landscapes of all sizes. In fact, UNESCO says South China Karst has “outstanding universal value” and named two smaller stone forests, Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village, both as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here’s a look at Shilin Stone Forest in China.
[35 Photos]

Lunan County, China, Stone Forest, Shilin

Imagine 96,000 acres of forest, then swap out the trees in your mind’s eye for huge karst formations, some of which formed at least 270 million years ago, and that “stone forest” is Shilin in China. It’s located about an hour away from Kunming. Shilin is dotted with 65 reservoirs and ponds. Photo #1 by Richard IJzermans

Stone Forest, Ashima rock

Stone Forest’s most famous attraction, Ashima rock. A legend that has been told for thousands of years says that “the forest is the birthplace of Ashima, a beautiful girl of the Yi people. After falling in love she was forbidden to marry her chosen suitor and instead turned into a stone in the forest that still bears her name.” Each year on June 24th, the locals celebrate the “Torch Festival, which features folk dances and wrestling competitions.” Photo #2 by Kent Wang


Shilin - Stone Forest near Kunming, Yunnan

Karst is made up of limestone and the landscape includes caves and sinkholes as underground streams erode the rock into fascinating formations that “look like petrified trees thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone.” Photo #3 by Brücke-Osteuropa

Kunming's Stone Forest

The tall rocks cut by erosion are said to look like they’ve grown out of the ground similar to stalagmites. In Chinese, Shilin means Stone Forest. Photo #4 by shanidov

Gardens, Shilin (Stone Forest)

“Split and eroded by wind and rain, the tallest reaches 98 feet (30 meters) high,” wrote Lonely Planet. “Legend has it that the immortals smashed a mountain into a labyrinth for lovers seeking privacy.” Photo #5 by mikeccross

Stone Forest China

Shilin Stone Forest is but a part of the South China Karst, a larger karst landscape located in the Chinese provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan. Photo #6 by s tsui

Shilin Stone Forest pond

According to UNESCO, “South China is unrivaled for the diversity of its karst features and landscapes. The property includes specifically selected areas that are of outstanding universal value to protect and present the best examples of these karst features and landscapes. South China Karst is a coherent serial property comprising three clusters, Libo Karst and Shilin Karst, each with two components, and Wulong Karst with three components.” Photo #7 by tak.wing

Shilin Stone Forest waterway

Stone Forest Pond waterway. You could get lost in the labyrinth as the karst forests have caves, peaks, ponds, waterfalls, and underground rivers. Photo #8 by P Jaksa

Stone Forest Pond at Shilin

7Wonders explains, “The rocks have memorable names such as Ten Thousand Year Mushroom (10m high), Mother and Son, Camel Riding on Elephant, Avalokitesvara Rock, Buddha Stone, Rhinoceros looking at the moon and beautiful maiden ascending from the water, etc.” Photo #9 by Kent Wang

Sword peak pond in Shilin Stone Forest

Sword peak pond in Shilin Stone Forest. In fact, the University of Houston geologic history states, “The locals seemed to have named nearly every eroded surface. The main scenic areas include the Major, Minor and Naigu Stone Forests, Zhiyun Cave, Jibailong Cave, Qifeng Cave, Lunar Lake, Long Lake, and Big Water Fall. The Major and Minor Stone Forests are considered to be outstanding examples of karst topography in the world. Situated in the upper part of the nearly pure limestone (primarily CaCO3) of the Permian Makou Formation, the rocks are extremely weirdly shaped, looking like animals or human beings. These scenic spots are given interesting names such as ‘birds feeding their young’, ‘phoenix preening itself’, ‘glossy ganoderma of eternity’ and so on, making visitors always give full-play to their imagination.” Photo #10 by LHOON

Tall rocks seem to emanate from the ground in the manner of stalagmites, with many looking like petrified trees thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone

China Travel related “an old local saying says that ‘If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time.’ Truly, the site is one of the most important attractions of Yunnan.” Photo #11 by malaysia traveller

Shilin Stone Forest, One of the World's Natural Wonders

One of the World’s Natural Wonders. Photo #12 by malaysia traveller

Path and steps through Shilin Stone Forest

Path and steps through Shilin Stone Forest. Photo #13 by BrokenSphere& #14 by Brian Yap

The elephant in the Stone Forest

The elephant in the Stone Forest. Photo #15 by LHOON

The Stone Forest in Shilin, UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2007

South China Karst, UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2007. Photo #16 by sylvain kalache

Flowers at China's Stone Forest

7Wonders goes into more detail with the legend: “Asham of the Sani (the Sani people are a branch of the Yi nationality) was bore into a poor family in today’s Yunan region. The girl was very clever and she began helping her father herd sheep at the age of 12. One day in the mountains she saved a boy named Ahei who had lost his way while picking wild fruit. Ahei, a 12-year-old orphan, had to toil for the landlord. Sympathizing with the poor boy, Ashma took him home. Ashma’s parents took pity on Ahei and fostered him. Ahei and Ashma grew up together and they fell in love with each other. They got married and lived a happy life. But Ashma was later abducted by the man, Azhi, the landlord’s son who was eager for the lady’s beauty. When Ahei-the husband learnt the event, he killed the landlord and his son and rescued his wife-Ashma. The lovers went into the stone forest and lived happily there ever after, giving birth to fine sons and daughters who are said to be the ancestors of the Sani people.” Photo #17 by malaysia traveller

Rocks not tree make up the Stone Forest

The Naigu Stone Forest has a weathered black surface. The local language, Sani, call it “Naigu” meaning “black”. Both Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village are part of the South China Karst and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Photo #18 by malaysia traveller

Water in the Stone Forest, Shilin, China

This presentation says “the Stone Forest covers 140 square miles and is split into 7 parts.”…The climate among “the thousands and thousands of rugged stone peaks, pitch-black caves, and towering arches” is often “very warm, averaging around 65 degress Fahrenheit,” but “drops under 40 degrees at night.” Photo #19 by sylvain kalache

Taken at the Stone forest - Yunnan, China

The University of Houston’s Dr. John Butler wrote, “Dissolution lakes of enchanting and picturesque scenery, the Lunar Lake and Long Lake for example, are widespread in the Lunan region. The Big Waterfall is situated in the southeast of Lunan County and 19 km away from the downtown area. It flows swiftly over the 90 m fall and is the most spectacular waterfall in Yunnan Province. The Lunan caverns — Zhiyun Cave, Jibailong Cave among others — make up another fascinating world. The Shima Dragon Palace, which resembles a fairyland dragon palace, is concealed underground at depths of 100m or more. In particular , a magical scenery named ‘dragons groaning and tigers roaring’ in Qifeng Cave is a natural creation and a true masterpiece of geological agents.” Photo #20 by Njambi Ndiba

Shilin Stone Forest

China Travel Guide states, “Subterranean Stone Forest in Zhiyun Cave, distributed underground among several caves and occupying a total area of about three square kilometers (720 acres). Strange Wind Cave, composed of Penfeng Cave, Hongxi Spring and an underground river. From August to November, gales lasting two to three minutes sweep out of the cave every 30 minutes. Long Lake is a karsts lake that is three kilometers (two miles) long but only 300 meters (zero point two miles) wide. The lake features underwater stalagmites and stalactites and a small island in the center of the water. The source of the Dadie Waterfall, Ba River, is a branch of Nanpan River. In the rainy season, up to 150 cubic meters (196 cubic yards) of water per square inch plummet down the 88 meter (288 feet) drop.” Photo #21 by Berend Bosch

Walkway between the main portion of the Stone Forest in Yunnan

Walkway between the main portion of the Stone Forest in Yunnan. Photo #22 by Chris (dcmaster) & #23 by malaysia traveller

Entering Shilin

Walkway through the sharp karst. Photo #24 by sylvain kalache

View from within the karst forest

View from within the karst forest. Photo #25 by sylvain kalache

Rock Forest

Howard Hillman wrote of these fascinating rock forest formations, “How the Stone Forest originated: Some 200 million years ago an ancient seabed covered with limestone sediment rose to become land. Then, wind and rain slowly eroded the limestone, leaving behind the bizarre rock pillars we see today. Some are nearly as tall as ten story buildings. The rock formations resemble people, animals, plants, and whatever else your imagination may identify.” Photo #26 by xiaoming wang

Shilin Stone forest outside Kunming

Hillman also advised, “To enjoy the Stone Forest at its serene best, go either early in the day or late in the afternoon. You’ll avoid the crowded paths and loud talking guides. As a bonus, the lower angles of the sun make the rock pillars more striking to the eye and camera.” Photo #27 by Stephen Zopf

China.org wrote, that the “natural karst stone formations resemble a forest; some are elegant, some are rugged and each has distinguishing characteristics that make each seem lifelike.” Photo #28 by malaysia traveller

China folk Culture villages Shenzhen

Having visited the site, David Learns Chinese warns that there is no sign, at least in English, letting you know that if you step out of the Stone Forest entrance, then you can’t get back in without paying again. Out the front entrance is where you can find drinks, so pack one. Photo #29 by Chris (dcmaster)

Shilin Stone Forest consists of 1,000 stone pillars from 15 and 100ft high

Shilin Stone Forest consists of 1,000s of stone pillars from 15 and 100ft high. Photo #30 by malaysia traveller

The Stone Forest or Shilin

David Learns Chinese related, “We’d gone to Naigu Shilin, the Black Stone Forest, part of a complex in Lunan Yi [an ethnic minority] Autonomous County. The entire area could be thought of as a giant Chinese garden. The contorted, sharp-edged limestone pinnacles stretch up 20, 50, 100 feet. If you have a feel for rock this is a great place. And so nice to breathe in the fresh high-elevation air, and hear the sharp cry of hawks and other birds.” Photo #31 by sylvain kalache

Stone Forest - Shi Lin

China Journeys explained that karst is “a German term for the region in Slovenia where the process was first investigate.” Also “you can be sure that all domestic visitors will visit the rock of A-Shi-Ma where they will hear the legend. Supposedly, Ashima was a beautiful maiden of the Sani People (a sub-group of the Yi) who was kidnapped by an evil landlord’s son. Her true love came to save her but she then drowned on the way home, turning into this rock with just a slight resemblance to a girl carrying a bamboo basket.” Photo #32 by Wilson Loo Kok Wee

Stone Forest Panorama

UNESCO states, the South China Karst region “represents one of the world’s most spectacular examples of humid tropical to subtropical karst landscapes. The stone forests of Shilin are considered superlative natural phenomena and a world reference with a wider range of pinnacle shapes than other karst landscapes with pinnacles, and a higher diversity of shapes and changing colours. The cone and tower karsts of Libo, also considered the world reference site for these types of karst, form a distinctive and beautiful landscape. Wulong Karst has been inscribed for its giant dolines (sinkholes), natural bridges and caves.” Photo #33 by Gilad Rom

Sunshine and Shilin Stone Forest, China

Sunshine, or the lack thereof, is supposed to make the rocks appear various colors. Photo #34 by Sebastian Böll

Stone Forest, Kunming, China

More advise on how to best see Shilin, which is just one of the many stone forests. “A road runs around the central area and it is well worth walking beyond this as few visitors ever do. A good trail runs from A lady yearning for her husband around to the Ten thousand year old glossy ganodernma (for which, read mushroom-shaped rock) and back to the road via a very tight squeeze. This may not have the pick of the peaks but is quiet and a great place to have your picnic, if dry. (Food options in the park are limited and it is best to bring your own.)” Photo #35 by Alexandria

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