About an hour outside of Taipei on a tiny peninsula in Taiwan’s northern coast sits a landscape that looks like it could belong on another planet. Here, the coastline is dotted with remarkable geological formations that jut out of the stony shoreline and resemble enormous mushrooms, candlesticks and honeycombs. But while the site has become one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist destination, these fragile formations face an uncertain future.
The coastal region of the Yehliu peninsula is mainly made up of sedimentary rocks. Over time, the constant drumming of the ocean against the shore, erosion from the wind and exposure to the atmosphere, not to mention the remains of crustaceans like sand dollars and sea urchins, has chiseled the land away into all sorts of shapes. The park's unique formations resemble giant sandals, rows of square boulders neatly poking out of the surf and stones covered in potholes. However, perhaps the park's most iconic objects are the mushroom-like pedestal rocks, or “hoodoo rocks,” that dot the landscape.
Hoodoo rocks are found all over the world, particularly in high, dry, rocky regions like the North American Badlands and the Colorado Plateau. These formations can stretch anywhere from four to five feet to hundreds of feet tall. They are often composed of soft sedimentary stone capped off with harder, less-eroded rock. But the rocks at Yehliu are a bit different from most. Not only are they some of the only hoodoos known to form in a seaside environment, but according to a 2001 study of the Yehliu formations published in the journal Western Pacific Earth Sciences, the hoodoos there are formed by the same type of rock through and through.
“We found that the head, the neck and the surrounding ground are all composed of the same type of rock,” the researchers concluded. “The only difference is the outer appearance that is more reddish color of the outer altered rock, dueto staining of iron oxides such as hematite and/or limonite on the rock.”
While the hard, honeycombed caps are more resistant to weathering, the scientists found that it’s more likely due to the top of the formations being chemically altered as seawater repeatedly collected and evaporated over centuries. Meanwhile, the stems wear away from the waves and weather, eventually causing the cap to tumble over on its side.
The alien-looking Yehliu landscape was first catapulted to fame after Taiwanese photographer Huang Tse-Hsiu published his series “Yehliu – Forsaken Paradise” in 1962. Following his photographs, the peninsula quickly became a favorite travel destination for Taiwanese and Chinese tourists, Giulia Pines reports for Atlas Obscura. Today, people from all over travel to the Yehliu Geopark to see all sorts of examples of delicate rock formations that are unlike anywhere else in the world. But these visitors are also quickening the erosion of the coastal region.
While more tourists visiting Yehliu means more money that will go toward protecting the landscape, it also hastens its wear and tear. Despite warnings by staff to keep off the rocks, the formations are tempting for people to touch and climb on—all of which speeds up their weathering. One popular formation known as “the Queen’s Head” has lost about five inches in the last eight years alone, leaving park authorities worried that a "beheading" could occur soon, as the BBC reports.
In order to protect the Queen’s Head and other popular formations, the park has built replicas and tested out special paint designed to slow down erosion. In some areas where the coastline is frequently wracked by storms, these replicas are the only remnants of famous formations.
Today, the Yehliu Geological Park offers visitors the chance to see a rare geological wonder, but as things stand now, it could very well be a fleeting glance.