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May 29, 2017

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The lost gold mines of Yangmingshan

In a remote spot deep in the northern slopes of Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園), bored into the steep, forest-covered slopes, is a black hole, half covered in a thick layer of ferns which thrive in this cool, often foggy environment. The hole marks the entrance to a horizontal mine shaft dug long ago by locals, but in this case they weren't searching for coal, which is the mineral that emerged from most of the many old mine shafts which dot the hills of Taipei County, but a far rarer substance.

From the mouth of the cave gushes an underground stream, its waters stained – appropriately – bright orange from minerals leeched from the rock. Lying far from any road, the mineshaft lies beside the route of the Ganweilun Old Trail (竿尾崙古道), one of the many old routes that crisscross the heights of Yangmingshan. Only unlike most routes, which were laid either to provide communication between settlements on the north coast and Taipei, or for locals to gather crops such as bamboo shoots, this particular trail was cut purely in the hope of finding gold.

Yangmingshan's very own 'gold fever' dates back to the middle of the Japanese occupation in the 1920s, and although short-lived and unsuccessful, remains one of the area's most intriguing, if little-known episodes. The mines in this part of Yangmingshan were cut in the 1920s, after some bright spark realized that since Taiwan's greatest known source of gold (around Keelung Mountain on the northeast coast) lay around an extinct volcano, Taiwan's other, much larger area of volcanic activity, Yangmingshan, could also be the repository of vast amounts of the stuff.

Prospective miners flocked to the foothills of northern Yangmingshan, from Jinshan to Sanjhih and started digging. Unfortunately, there's no record of any miners actually finding anything, and today little remains to remind us of that dizzy little period except for the name of a town on the northeast coast called Jinbaoli (金包里¸ literally 'gold packing village'). The place was later (and still more optimistically) renamed Jinshan (金山, 'gold mountain'), the name it still bears today.

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