The Helan Mountain is 200 kilometres long north and south and 20-60 metres wide east and west, and 3, 556 metres at the highest point. Thanks to a cool and moist weather, the mountain is cocooned in a mantle of luxuriant forests and grass and looks like an aerial oasis whose green colour is in striking contrast to the golden sand of the desert around it. The dense woods of the mountain are a paradise of rare animals and precious birds, including red deer, goats, river deer, leopards, martens and Crossoptilon auritum, which is the mascot of Ningxia. For good reasons, the Helan Mountain is a major nature reserve under state protection.
As the popular folk rhyme goes, What a nice Ningxia is, the south China north of the Great Wall! In the east the Yellow Rover serpentines like a dragon, and in the west the Helan Mountain is a treasure of nature. The mountain is also a natural barrier. Its massive body serves to protect the people and the land in the south from sandstorms and cold currents from up north, and makes it possible for the Yellow River to become a boon for Yinchuan Plain. Because of its strategic location, generals from central China liked to turn the mountain into a defence work to keep invaders at bay. That is why old battlefields dotted the foot of the mountain. There are as many battle formations at the foot of the Helan Mountain as the clouds in the sky; day and night urgent military documents were dispatched in a constant stream, these lines by the Tang poet Wang Wei capture exactly what happened in the old days. The value of the Helan Mountain also manifests itself in its wealth of sites of cultural and military interest and scenic resorts the serpentine ancient Great Wall, Buddhist statues, stone inscriptions, large amounts of cliff paintings, to name a few. The Lesser Gunzhongkou on the eastern side of the mountain is the site of the summer palace of Li Yuanhao, the founding emperor of the Western Xia, and a cluster of old temples that are thronged with pilgrims.