island's only national park sited along a system of dormant volcanoes
is the Yangmingshan National Park, in northern Taiwan. History has witnessed
the eruption of this range at least three times. It was the last of these
that created the mountainous profile which today watches over Taiwan's
capital of -- Taipei. Volcanism, still present deep beneath Yangmingshan,
makes itself known through the craters, sulfur vents, and hot springs
which today dot the park. Yangmingshan's volcanic soil, wet and temperate
climate, and well-fed mountain streams endow the park with a rich and
National Park encompasses 11,455 hectares of mountainous terrain situated
just north of Taipei City. As the only national park in Taiwan readily
accessible from an urban center, it serves as a nature preserve as well
as a recreation area for the throngs of visitors who thread their way
up into the park on weekends.
million years ago, the Philippine and Eurasian plates closed in on each
other beneath the Pacific Ocean. As the Eurasian plate buckled and lifted
above the Philippine plate, tremendous energies were released in the form
of volcanoes, which formed along the line of collision. Between 2.8 million
and 300 thousand years ago, magma heated to over 1,000oC poured out over
the surface to form volcanoes and, eventually, a range of undulating peaks
where once stood only a flat, sandy sea bottom. The Datun Volcano range,
comprising the park's highest peaks, is the dormant vestige of those ancient
volcanoes responsible for creating the mountainous topography of this
northernmost corner of Taiwan.
The Datun range flanks the Taipei Basin (a prehistoric lake) to the north.
The 20 or so lava cones in the Datun network rise from between 800 and
1,100 meters in height, with each cone belonging to one of 8 vent systems.
These eight are now the peaks of Datun, Jhuzih, Cising, Shaogengliao,
Neiliao, Huangzuei, Nanshih, and Dinghuosiou. The over two million years
of volcanic activity in the area has given Yangmingshan National Park
a very unique terrain. Both types of volcanoes, cinder cones and Holoids,
are found in the Yangmingshan National Park. The geometric cone shape
of the former, created by a gooey mixture of rock and molten lava expelled
from an active volcano, characterizes peaks such as Cising, Huangzuei,
Siangtian, and Datun. holoids, formed by highly viscous lava, create volcanoes
that have rounded tops and tapered edges and suggest, from a distance,
a bowler hat. Several of the tributary cones of the Cising volcano are
good examples of tholoid volcanoes. Volcano craters can be seen at the
top of the Siangtian and Huangzuei cones. A volcanic fissure, formed by
the release of searing subterranean gases, can be seen at Lengshueikeng.
While volcanic activity ceased in Yangmingshan after the creation of shield
volcanoes 300,000 years ago, the heat of cooling magma still keeps things
blistering not far beneath the surface. The heavy annual rainfall over
Yangmingshan feeds underground streams, which turn to steam under the
earth and emerge at the surface as fumaroles and hot springs. A hot spring
"belt" 18km in length and 3km in breadth, sprinkled throughout
with steam vents and springs, follows a tectonic fault which runs from
Beitou in northwestern Taipei to Jinshan on Taiwan's northern coast. Today
hot springs are enjoyed both for their peculiar natural beauty and for
their reputed restorative and healing powers.
Heavy rain during the annual subtropical monsoon dumps a lot of water
onto the Datun mountain range. In light of the steep grade of this range,
water typically makes a short, fast journey from the mountain heights
to the valleys below. Dramatic waterfalls further hasten this journey
at many points along the way. Fast-running brooks and picture-perfect
waterfalls are located throughout the Yangmingshan National Park. Principal
streams in the park include the Nanhuang (originating on the south side
of Cising Mtn.), Beihuang (originating on the north side of Cising Mtn.),
the easternly flowing Masu River, and southerly flowing Shuangsi. Main
waterfalls include those at Datun, Juansih, Shengren, and Fonglin.
Ponds in the park are of several types. Siangtian is an excellent example
of a body of water formed when rainwater filled a volcanic crater. Menghuan
Lake was created when tectonic activity caused it to sink below the level
of surrounding land. Juze, a lava clammed lake, was created when molten
lava plugged a river's natural outlet down the mountainside. Today its
waters have long since dried up.
Warm, acidic soil lacking in calcium and kept well watered by cool northeastern
monsoon rains makes vegetation in the Yangmingshan National Park distinctly
different from that found in other areas of the world which, otherwise,
are at similar latitudes. The result is that plants normally found at
altitudes of 2,000 meters are found growing in Yangmingshan.
Vegetation in the Yangmingshan National Park can be categorized into three
groups: water plants, grassland plants, and forest vegetation. Water plants
are distributed in the ponds and lakes sprinkled throughout the park.
An endangered wetland plant found in the park is the Isoetes taiwanensis
Devol, a type of aquatic fern. Other water plants include special varieties
of reeds, flowering plants, and grasses. The Arrow Bamboo and Japanese
Silvergrass are special species of grassland plants found in the park.
The former is protected by law and found growing mostly toward the top
of the Datun range along the windward side where it tends to grow in clusters.
Silvergrass is a robust grass species capable of surviving where most
others could not.
One of the most popular sights in Yangmingshan during autumn is that of
fields of silvergrass waving in the breeze. Subtropical rainforest evergreens
and broadleaved evergreens dominate forests, with an amazing variety of
plants growing beneath the forest canopy.
Springtime spreads carpets of flowers over Yangmingshan. Multicolored
azaleas, pink mountain cherry blossoms, camellias, and more cover the
hills with mosaic beauty.
(Grass Mountain) was the name originally affixed to the area, which at
the time included the area encompassed by the Datun, Cising, and Shamao
mountains. During Japan's colonial occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945), government
plans to create a national park in these mountains were proposed but never
implemented due to the disruption of World War ¢ºII. Soon after
their assumption to rule in Taiwan, the ROC government renamed Caoshan
to Yangmingshan, paying tribute to a respected Chinese philosopher, Yang-ming
Wang. Plans were made as early as 1963 to create a national park, which
was envisioned to encompass the Datun and Cising mountains as well as
Jinshan, Yeliou, and Fugueijiao along Taiwan's northern coast. However,
lack of a the legal framework under which to establish such a "national
park" had not yet been promullgated and the plan for a park had to
be, once again, shelved. The Yangmingshan National Park finally became
a eality in the summer of 1985.
The Yangmingshan area holds rich deposits of sulfur -- a key gunpowder
ingredient. As such, sulfur extraction and processing was the engine of
early commercial development here. In the earliest days, Chinese fishermen
bartered agate and bracelets for sulfur with local aborigines. During
much of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) sulfur mining was forbidden by imperial
edict. The court opened mining to imperial officials only during the mid-1800s
and, by the time the island became a Japanese colony in 1895, the Cising
Mountain mine had already risen to become a major sulfur producer. Business
brought Chinese settlements to the area, which soon led to a broader economic
development of the Datun mountain range and its foothills.
The Datun mountain range was also a major growing area for indigo, the
all-important natural dye which lent a brilliant blue color to fabrics
worn both at home and abroad. The damp climate of Yangmingshan was well
suited to the indigo plant, which was cultivated extensively. Around the
turn of the last century, indigo, along with tea and camphor, was one
of Taiwan's top exported products.