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It’s hard to believe there are geographical locales that have gone undiscovered until recent decades, particularly in a country as widely explored as China, but the Dongchuan Red Lands appear to be just that sort of recently discovered world gem.

Dongchuan is about 250 kilometers northeast of Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province. It’s a rural yet stunningly beautiful area, notable for its bright red earth. The striking red color of Dongchuan’s land comes from rich deposits of iron and copper. In the warm, humid climate of Yunnan, the iron in the soil undergoes oxidization to form iron oxide, which is naturally red in color.

Modern legend has it, (and websites like China Trekking document it), that in the mid-1990s, a small group of Chinese photographers happened upon Dongchuan when photographing the nearby Wumeng mountains. The first photographs of the red terraces and valleys were award-winning in the photography world, to the extent that they allegedly kept Dongchuan’s location “a closely guarded secret.”

Very few secrets are kept forever, and word of the area eventually spread, leading photographers and travelers alike to this mountainous destination. It didn’t have a name at first, and naturally it was casually referred to as “red soil” or the “red land.” A consensus was reached to officially refer to the area as Dongchuan or Dongchuan Red Land, which is the name of the nearest city, the district capital.

It took centuries for the iron and copper oxides to be deposited in the soil and develop into Dongchuan’s signature hue. In the spring each year, when the area is plowed, visitors and photographers come to see squares of freshly upturned red earth. The red of the soil alongside the green of the crops, the yellow of the buckwheat, and the blue of the sky are truly breathtaking.

Because it went largely unnoticed for so very long, Dongchuan has very little in the way of advanced commerce and infrastructure like hotels or public transportation. However, local travel agencies are organizing package trips and routes to this picturesque locale, and there are guesthouses available.

For an amateur photographer, a professional shutterbug, or anyone looking for quality hiking in an area unsullied by an abundance of technology, the Dongchuan Red Lands are a prime destination that you won’t find on your ordinary tourist map.