I was beginning to wonder if we'd taken a wrong turn. We were looking for China's super-secret space center.
Our four-hour drive from Jiuquan in China's west had taken us past picture postcard fields and fish ponds framed by looming snow-capped peaks, through an oasis of green and finally across the arid Gobi desert.
We had pushed through numerous military checkpoints and past cameras that flashed and took our picture as we sped past the seemingly endless shimmering sand hills. There should be no doubt we'd arrived at the right place, it just didn't feel like it.
If this really was the epicenter of China's space race, then why did it feel so relaxed?
A few hours later I'd be in a room crammed with TV cameras and reporters where the atmosphere was electric in a weird sci-fi way. But at that moment on those narrow scrubbed and manicured streets it felt almost like a vacation town.
Our hotel when we arrived was so new gardeners were still planting the flower beds, and builders' white sheets covered the new red carpet.
Sadly, in this town that claims to offer the ultimate in uplift, space rockets, the elevator was not working. The porters however were only too happy to help.