Jiuzhaigou means "valley of nine villages," because it once harbored nine, but other numbers are more significant now. About 80 hotels are clustered cleanly at the mouth of a Y-shaped, 20-mile-long valley in the Min Mountains of central China, where 280 buses wait to shuttle this day's 18,000 or so visitors up the very pretty route, past a chain of flower-colored, ribbony lakes and fingery waterfalls, underneath escarpments chevroned with maple, spruce, or bamboo forests cut by the talus of old landslides. (Clouds permitting, it's just a 40-minute flight from Chengdu, the tree-shaded jumping-off point in Sichuan Province nestled near some of the major germinating sites of China's civilization 3,000 years ago.) Boardwalks circuit the little lakes and reedy creeks, and the buses stop to let parties of trippers stroll at their own pace. Then they queue to catch another and continue on.