Anxi, in central China, averages 300 sandstorms per year.

Wander far enough west along China’s Silk Road and you’ll run into the humble town of Anxi. Perched on the edge of the Gobi in northwestern China, it’s the sandstorm capital of the world. Three hundred days a year this place looks like it’s shrouded in a San Francisco fog. But what fills the air is desert dust, whipped by winds that blast through town. The Gobi is the driest desert on earth, and you can feel the grit of powder-fine sand in our teeth. It also gets into your camera lens, so you might want to have it serviced after you swing through.

Even with plastic slats draped across ever hotel entrances their lobbies are covered in dust, with sand drifts mounting up in the corners. One look at the residents and you realize there’s no hope for your complexion. In a nation with a surplus of creamy smooth cheeks and brows, the face in Anxi have the weathered look of a rancher in the Outback. Which is essentially where they live. Camels are a familiar sight out here.

The highways in and out of Anxi are the most desolate stretches of road I’ve ever seen. Straight and seemingly endless, they cut through 360-degrees of gravel landscape that stretches, featureless and flat as a pool table, to the horizon. Only the occasional dust devil or passing sandstorm breaks up the lunar emptiness.

Anxi (meaning Tranquil West) is a town of contrasts, with both ancient ruins and a surrounding forest of modern wind farms. The self-proclaimed “world’s wind warehouse” churns out energy at over 700 watts per cubic meter. It also hosts a section of the Great Wall, where the fabled Silk Road splits into northern and southern routes. All of this is tucked into Guazhou County (formally Anxi County), China’s tea headquarters up near the Outer Mongolian border.

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