Taroko National Park sprawls across three counties, Hualian, Taijhong,
and Nantou, in eastern and central Taiwan. The Liwu River, born in high
mountain springs and rushing over falls and through narrow valleys, has
created in the park exceptionally beautiful natural vistas. Sheer cliffs
of marble, lofty precipices, and valleys sprinkled with resilient trees
and plants combine to create a setting of wild, natural beauty found nowhere
else in Taiwan. The plentiful wildlife and points of cultural interest
further ensure a schedule full of things to see and do in the Taroko National
precipitous marble groge are surely one of the park's most popular attractions
and represents a geological feature unique to this area. Sea coral, foraminifera,
coraline algae, and other calcium fixing organisms, which lived under
the sea on the continental shelf southeast of the Asian mainland, accumulated
gradually to form massive bioherm in many areas measuring a kilometer
or more in height. The weight of these bioherm slowly transformed the
calcium carbonate structures at the base into limestone, which, when compacted
by tectonic forces metamorphosed into marble.
The geological history of the Taroko area is similar to that of the rest
of Taiwan. Sometime between 4 and 5 million years ago, the Philippine
and Eurasian plates met beneath the ancient Pacific Ocean and began pushing
the seabed upward to form, what would eventually become, Taiwan. As wind
and river flows eroded the landscape and carried much of the softer surface
rocks away, they carved out the dramatic Gorge and towering cliffs of
marble, which thrill visitors today.
The hard, marble surfaces of Taroko Gorge do not afford much soil accumulation.
Therefore, trees that are able to make their home here need to be exceptionally
hardy. Trees in Taroko rely on the dispersion of seeds or spores to locate
other patches of opportunity to set roots and grow. Whether on the back
of a breeze, or through the helpful intervention of a bird or squirrel,
Taroko's trees have, one seed at a time, made their presence felt throughout
the Gorge here.
The water network at Taroko forms a trellis (patchwork) pattern, as most
rivers in Taroko National Park run vertically to strata, creating vertical
valleys, and most feeder streams run horizontally, creating horizontal
Liwu Stream is the main river running through the Taroko National Park.
Arising between the Hehuan and Cilai Mountains, the northern course is
joined by many feeder streams until, around Tienhsiang, it continues largely
on its own until dividing into the Laohsi and Sakadang Streams. Then,
around Tienhsiang, it continues largely on its own until dividing into
the Laohsi and Sakadang Streams. The northern course is longer and slower
than the southern, which takes a much shorter path to the sea and courses
over numerous scenic waterfalls along the way. The erosive force of the
Liwu is evident wherever it has found a path downward. This fact is most
readily evidenced in the deep valleys of the world-famous Taroko Gorge.
Nearly half the area of the park rises over 2,000 meters above sea level.
One-sixth of this rises to 3,000 meters and higher. Twenty-seven of the
peaks in the Taroko National Park are among Taiwan's "Top 100"
highest mountains, the most famous of which include Nanhu, Cilailian,
and the Hehuan Ridge. The mountain scenery here is both peaceful and awe
biological terms, each high mountain peak is its own island of biodiversity,
and each has its own unique animal and plant life. For example, the favorable
natural conditions and four months of winter snows found atop Nanhu Mountain
make it an exceptional environment for alpine plants. One hundred sixty-seven
plant species, nearly all such species found on Taiwan, make their home
on this small patch of mountain real estate.
Different types of plants are found at different altitudes in the park.
Alpine tundra plants are found above 3,000 meters, where winter snows
linger for four months of the year. Typical plants here include the Yushan
Juniper, Angelica morrisonicola, Nanhu Rhododendron, and Nanhu Epilobium.
Coniferous forests, such as fir and Taiwan hemlock, dominate areas between
2,000 and 3,000 meters above sea level. Deciduous forests and a rich plant
undergrowth cover land below 1,500 meters. At this altitude any given
hundred square meter patch of land is home to 40 to 80 different plant
Significant changes in altitude in a small geographic area give the Taroko
National Park a complex ecology. Sharp slopes and minimal human incursion
have created a safe haven for animal life, making the park host to many
different kinds of animals. Preliminary surveys have identified 34 varieties
of mammals (6 of which are unique to Taiwan), 144 bird species (14 of
which are unique to Taroko and 80% of which remain in the park year round),
15 types of amphibians (representing 1/2 of reptile species in Taiwan,
3 of which are found only in the park), 32 varieties of reptiles (3 of
which are unique to the park), 18 types of freshwater fish, and 251 types
of butterflies (28 of which are unique to the park).
sites showing evidence of prehistoric settlement have been discovered
within the park. The Fushi site, located along the southern bank near
the mouth of the Liwu Stream, is the best known of these. Recognized as
a "Class 3" historical site, Fushi contains a geometrical pattern
formed by 85 upright stones set in place by Neolithic inhabitants of the
Taroko area around 2,000 years ago. Other vestiges of prehistoric inhabitants,
including pottery shards and stone blades, have been found at the other
sites of pulowan, Sidagang, Badagang, Shanli, Taosai, Lienhua Pond, and
two principal branches of the Atayal tribe, one of Taiwan's main aborigine
groups, are called the Atayal and Sedek. The latter are is further subdivided
into the Western Sedek and Eastern Sedek. It was the Eastern branch, emigrating
some 250 to 300 years ago from the Atayal homeland on the western slopes
of the central mountain range, who first came to the open wilderness of
Taroko and made it their home. To date, the remains of 79 distinct Atayal
villages have been found. The Atayal subsist on clear-cut farming, supplemented
by hunting and fishing. The well-known Atayal tradition of facial tattoos
is a cornerstone of Atayal culture. The tattoos carry deep meanings for
the wearer and for his or her clan, representing familial and clan ties,
signifying one's coming of age, or testifying to a great accomplishment.
The trail between Heren and Taroko was originally known as the "Northern
Road" (Bei-Lu). It was improved under the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty and
then linked, under the Japanese, to a new coastal roadway (the predecessor
to the current Su-Ao Coastal Road). A trail crossing over Hehuan Mountain,
linking eastern Taiwan to the west, was established by Japanese colonial
administrators around 1915 and used mainly to open up communications with
the Atayal communities along its route. The Taroko National Park has taken
care to maintain this trail so that it looks much as it did nearly 100
years ago. Finally, the Central Cross-Island Highway, traversing some
of the park's most dramatic scenic areas, is today the main artery of
transportation and communication between the park and the world outside.