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September 26, 2017

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Taitung's badlands and glorious mud

Take the coastal road north of Taitung (台東) City for just a kilometer or two, and it is carried aloft over the wide, silted estuary of the Beinan River, while the impressive southernmost peaks of the East Coast Mountain Range looming impressively above. Turn inland on national route 11 toward Beinan a kilometer or two later, and in a minute or two, a brown sign points to the `Liji Badlands', and one of Taitung's most fascinating yet rarely visited regions.

The minor road (route 45) follows the Beinan River upstream for a couple of kilometers toward an extraordinary landscape of eroded cliffs. After crossing the broad river, a parking place, several ornamental shelters and a raised wooden path give access to one of Southern Taiwan's best examples of `Badlands' landscape.

`Badlands' are areas of soft, barren earth cut by erosion into a maze of ravines, pinnacles, gullies and sharp-edged ridges, found in various parts of southern and (less commonly) central Taiwan, where they're usually known as `moon world' (月世界), rather than by the usual American name. On the opposite bank of the river, the much steeper riverbank cliffs have been eroded quite differently, into tall, sheer-sided pinnacles, hence their name, Little Huang Shan (小黃山) after - a famously beautiful mountain in China.

Return to route 11, turn left and turn left again in 1.5 kilometers onto route 197, a little used and extremely scenic route heading north toward the Hualien County border. The road keeps close to the ridge of the infant East Coast Mountain Range at first, then as the mountains become higher and more intractable, drops to their western flank, with regular views down into the valley of the Beinan River with its bizarrely eroded mud cliffs plainly visible at several places.

It's a pleasant, very quiet drive through a rolling, emerald green landscape that (badlands excepted) reminds more of northern England than Taiwan. Just after the settlement of Luanshan (鸞山) the tarmac surface suddenly gives out and, for fourteen slow but stunningly scenic kilometers, the road is nothing more than a gravel track.

The reason for this soon becomes apparent, as the road passes the sign marking the border of a national nature reserve, and lies through some remote and very unspoilt wooded mountain country. The poor quality of the road keeps casual visitors away, and remains relatively close to nature.

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