Wūshāndǐng Mud Volcano 烏山頂泥火山 is a modest geological curiosity in the hilly badlands of Yàncháo 燕巢, Kaohsiung 高雄. It is the largest and most impressive mud volcano field in Taiwan. I first heard about the place through this excellent article by Richard Saunders, who also published an illuminating article about mud volcanoes in the China Post.
I happened to stop by while coming back from Héngchūn 恆春 in November 2014. Getting there was simply a matter of hopping off highway 22 at the right moment and ascending the crooked, winding roads that lead to this peculiar backcountry attraction. Entrance is accomplished by signing your name on a form by the gate. After that you’re free to roam the small nature reserve and explore all the weird stuff coming out of this point on earth.
Although I have a background in physical geography I don’t recall learning anything at all about mud volcanoes in my program—they aren’t anywhere near as geophysically important as igneous volcanoes. The method of action seems simple enough: geothermally-heated water mixes with underground mineral deposits to create a kind of slurry that is then propelled to the surface by internal pressure. Taiwan is home to about a dozen or so, not all of them active, and Wushanding is allegedly the most impressive of the lot, which isn’t say too much. Don’t set your expectations too high!
The most active mud volcano at Wushanding contains a frothy, viscous pool broken by several big bubbles every minute. The pool is modest in size, about half a meter at its widest extent. It did not overflow the rim while I was around but there was evidence of recent mud flows running down the side of the cone and into the forest. I took a stroll into the woods to see how far they went.
That trip into the forest was rewarding: here I found a tiny mud volcano about the size of a dinner plate hidden in the trees. It was a cute little thing, murmuring away in the shade, occasionally splashing nearby leaves with little specks of mud. My guess is that a more diligent investigation of the surrounding area might reveal even more, but none so large as what can be seen in the main field.
The most impressive feature at Wushanding is a dormant cone about five or six meters in height. Someone had hammered a bamboo tube into the side, causing me to wonder whether this particular mud volcano had been deliberately extinguished for the benefits of tourists and the safety of the surrounding region. I was especially suspicious after noticing a small hole cut into the ground off to one side, possibly to relieve the pressure beneath the surface. Has this mud volcano field been sanitized?
At any rate, Wushanding makes for a nice stopover if you happen to be in the area. Nearby Xīnyǎngnǚ Lake 新養女湖 might also warrant a look, though I didn’t think to stop there this time around, and you may as well skip over the border to Tainan 台南 to scope out Cǎoshān Moon World 草山月世界 if you have the chance.