Visiting the Dunes:
Our group visited the dunes for a half-day in the morning. We had the Mogao Caves already schedule for the afternoon. To do it again, I would spend more time at the dunes exploring but a half-day is certainly enough, especially if you are sensitive to sun and heat (and sand!).
How to Visit the Dunes:
After gearing up, it's up to you how to experience the dunes. You may choose to walk around but there are all kinds of transportation choices to get you around the dunes besides your feet: camels, dune buggies, jeeps, 2-man gliders among others.
Our group happily chose a camel ride for our trek over the dunes.
Preparing for the Dunes:
While it was warm, we were not uncomfortable. After carefully considering what to pack for our Gansu trip, I'd recommend wearing lightweight pants, t-shirt, shoes (not sandals), hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.
We were told that kids of any age are welcome to visit but they would probably need to be seven or eight before they could ride a camel on their own. Smaller children sit in the saddle in front of an adult.
The heat and length of time in the sun should be a big consideration for kids. As long as they are well protected from the sun and have plenty of water to drink, they should have a great time.
Detailed Dune Visit:
- Entered and donned our orange boots. This period included plenty of time for mocking each other and taking silly photos.
- Got organized into camel packs. You'll be given a number that somehow (mysteriously) matches a camel's number. If you're more than five people, you might be broken up as they tend to want only five people per camel group. A leathered, cigarette-smoking, Dunhuang camel-hand will bark you onto your camel which may or may not agree to have you on its back. Fear not, the poor beasts are cajoled into submission but getting on and off can be tricky. (No one in our group fell off, though we did lose a camera cover, a water bottle and a hat along the way.)
- Trekked along the dunes with our camel guide towing the lead-camel's nose-attached lead. We paused to take plenty of photos and were privy to the full breadth of camel sights, sounds and smells.
- Trekked without camels to the tallest dune. We pre-purchased slide (yes that's right) tickets so that after our self-trek, we could be put two by two onto inner tubes to slide down a pre-formed rut in the sand.
- Found our camels for continuation of the trek to the Crescent Moon Lake. Post slide, and a visit to perhaps the foulest restroom in all of Mainland China, we got back on our trusty camels to finish the trek to the Crescent Moon Lake - a natural oasis on the other side of the dunes. The "lake" has been helped into the shape of a crescent moon (I guess an ancient oasis isn't impressive enough by itself). There is a temple complex next to the lake and the green against the sand makes a beautiful scene.
- Had a very brief visit to a souvenir stall where I bought empty bottles for us to fill up with Gobi Desert sand and then we hopped an electronic shuttle for the five-minute drive back to the gate.