A recent mud flow at Wushanding mud volcano field

Wushanding Mud Volcano 烏山頂泥火山

Wūshāndǐng Mud Volcano (烏山頂泥火山) is a modest geological curiosity in the hilly badlands of Yanchao, Kaohsiung. 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.

Wushanding mud volcano cone

I happened to stop by while coming back from Hengchun 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 gloopy fluid emerging from this point on earth.

Another look at the older cone at Wushanding

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!

Boiling over at Wushanding
Mud bubble at Wushanding
Gas bubbling to the surface at Wushanding mud volcano

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 short stroll into the woods to see how far they went.

A recent mud flow at Wushanding mud volcano field
Cracked and pitted mud at Wushanding

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, burbling 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.

A third gas seep at Wushanding
Another small mud volcano in the forest next to the main field
Another close look at the older cone at Wushanding

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, so I wonder whether this particular mud volcano was deliberately drained, perhaps for safety reasons. I was also suspicious of 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 tamed for tourists?

A closer look at the older cone at Wushanding
Wushanding mud volcano in greyscale

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 to scope out Cǎoshān Moon World (草山月世界) if you have the chance.

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