Deep down the back of Taiwan's Central Mountain Range on the western flank in Taichung County, far from the ocean on either side and among the highest mountains in east Asia, there was little else to see in the early light from Ya Kou (啞口) except carpets of clouds separating around the larger peaks as they rolled toward the horizon.
The same scene plays every morning from the vantage point of Ya Kou in Da Shuer Shan National Forest Recreation Area (
It would seem that the forested mountains of Taiwan can look after themselves. After all, the huge ridge that bisects Taiwan from north to south comprises 50 percent of the land mass of the island and a total of 75 percent of the country is forested peaks.
As for the Da Shuer Shan region, we can find "divine trees," the country's second highest mountain (3,884m) after which the conservation area is named, and Heavenly Lake (天池), a body of water in a depression thought to have been formed by a meteor impact and which draws its water from the fault on which the area lies. Being so high, the lake receives almost no inflow of water other than from the fault, so it is one of nature's minor miracles and pilgrims from all religions gather to pray and arrange flowers by the lakeside.
Just NT$200 will get you into the 4,000-hectare park, which is in Heping Township, 43km from Dongshi. Getting there takes one through pine splendor along the winding roads and well laid out walking trails, many of which start at the Anma Mountain Station (鞍馬山工作站). This is where most tourists stay, in the hotel or wooden lodges. Some people do camp, but the rangers discourage it.
The recreation area also has an information center where you can ask for a guide or get advice on trekking. If you are blessed by good weather then you can enjoy a walk on the wild side, along the primitive juniper forest trails above 2,000m, in the range of the Formosan black bear. Birdsong is guaranteed to cheer you on your way, as the Da Shuer Shan area is an internationally known bird-watching destination. The air is so clean and relatively thin it gives the impression of washing the lungs. The extra positive and negative ions generated by the forest are said to provide a health tonic. Add a starry night and it all sounds idyllic.
But, according to rangers and some forest management officials at Da Shuer Shan, this tranquil-looking location is susceptible to human-inflicted pressures. "The area is good for people, but people are not always good for the area," said Chad Lin (林志銓). As if to prove his case, he pointed to the logging exhibition in the museum, near the mountain station. The Da Shuer Shan conservation district was once one of the country's main lumberyards and still is for some people.
It is one of Lin's responsibilities to keep an eye on the Taiwan Hinoki giant cypress trees that the area is famed for. Last year a large grove of ancient cypresses was discovered in the northern district of the recreation area. So-called "mountain rats" -- illegal loggers -- hunt and chop these trees down. It is estimated that there previously were over 150,000 Taiwan Hinoki giant cypress trees between 1,000 and 3,000 years old at the beginning of the century and now they are listed and numbered in the hundreds.