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May 27, 2017

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Shue Jian Forest Recreation Area: A victim of its own success

Although it's been open for less than a week, word has got around and we're far from the only ones enjoying the spectacular scenery as we return to the visitor center after our long walk. We've just taken a hike in Shue Jian Forest Recreation Area (雪見遊憩區), perched high in a remote corner of Miaoli County, and, fantastic as the scenery is, it's not been a completely positive experience. Shue Jian is one of the few parts of this vast, mountainous wilderness accessible to the general, non-trekking public. Unfortunately, perhaps, it's also set to be extremely popular.

It takes about 90 minutes of negotiating some seriously windy mountain roads to reach the entrance from the nearest main road at Dahu (大湖). If the scenery was already wonderful down below, that landscape pales beside the magnificence of the panorama further up. Even before reaching the roadside plaque announcing entry into Shui-Pa National Park, the grandstand view of Taiwan's high mountains is absolutely stunning.

And it was to goggle at this unsurpassed view of the central high mountain range, and especially the awesome 10-kilometer-long knife-edge ridge known as the "Holy Ridgeline" (聖稜線), that most visitors came to Shue Jian until it closed a couple of years ago in order to improve access roads and facilities inside the park.

The park finally reopened on Jan. 8 this year, and the very first weekend after this we found ourselves driving up the newly improved, but still bumpy track to the entrance, wondering just how difficult it must have been to get to this place before the authorities carried out their improvements.

As we approached the entrance at about 7:30 in the morning, the clouds were already beginning to roll over the seemingly impassable battlements of the mountain wall opposite, while a magnificent cloud sea blotted out the valleys far below. The darned white stuff already blanketed the two great mountain peaks (Dabachienshan and Snow Mountain) that bookend this awesome ridge, and we had to make do with picking out their forms in pictures from our book taken (in far clearer weather than today) of this very view.

About four kilometers along the approach road, the tarmac ends, and apart from a brief return to smooth bitumen as the road passes a large sign announcing the border of Shei-Pa National Park, it's a rough and slow-going six kilometers from here on. Finally, however, the redwood weather-boarded walls of the visitor center stand beside the road. Leaving the car here, we committed a major faux pas by bringing our dog Gem out for a walk, only to be told off by a stern park ranger, who informed us that animals—even well-behaved, adorable golden retrievers—were definitely not allowed inside, and we had to lock the poor animal back in the car.

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