Granule ripples are found mainly in four regions of the Kumtagh Desert in China; they are characterized by an asymmetrical shape, with gentle lower slopes on both sides and abrupt crests. The ripples tend to be oriented perpendicular to the prevailing winds, except when they form near obstacles such as yardangs. The wavelengths (λ) range between 0·31 m and 26 m and heights (h) range from 0·015 m to 1 m. The relationship between wavelength and height can be described by a simple linear function, and the mean ripple index (λ/h) is about 20·4 for the study sites. The sediments are poorly sorted, with negative to very negative skewness at lee and stoss slopes and between-ripple troughs, which confirms the ‘poured in’ and ‘shadow’ appearance described by previous researchers. The bimodal or trimodal distributions of grains (with modes of −1·16φ, −0·5φ and 3·16φ) and the enrichment of coarse particles at the ripple surface (with coarse granule contents ranging between 5·2% and 62·1%) indicate that the underlying layer is the original sediment source and that the granule ripples resist erosional processes. Although the impact of saltating particles and, consequently, the creep and reptation of coarse grains are responsible for granule ripple initiation at a micro-scale, however, the characteristics of local sediments, wind regimes and topographical obstacles, as well as the feedbacks among bedform and airflow, more strongly affect the development and alignment of granule ripples at a macro-scale.