Gold in them thar hills

Golden Falls is located in the hills above Jinguashi, a historic mining town and a proposed World Heritage Site.

The waterfall is striking, but you don’t want to drink the water. It is acidic and fortified with heavy metals, which may or may not be a byproduct of intensive mining in the area.

Gold was first discovered in northern Taiwan in 1892 by workers constructing a railroad from Taipei to Keelung. The result was thousands of prospectors panning for gold in the Keelung River. Then gold deposits were discovered in Jinguashi. Cue the gold rush; Jinguashi became a boom town.

Japan annexed Taiwan in 1895. Mining operations were expanded at Jinguashi. Copper deposits were discovered. Jinguashi eventually became one of the largest mines in Asia. The gold ran out in the 1970s. The mine officially closed in 1987.

According to the garbled English on the Gold Museum’s website, Golden Falls is man-made. After the mines closed, “clogged tunnels” blocked the flow of groundwater, redirecting it over a hillside (I hope I got that right).

The water tumbling over Golden Falls becomes Jinguashi Creek. The creek empties into a bay called the Yin and Yang Sea. The acidic, yellow water of the creek contrasts sharply with the cobalt blue of the Pacific, which can be seen in the photos above.

It is claimed that the unusual color of the water is the result of natural chemical processes caused by an unusually high concentration of pyrite (fool’s gold) in the area, not the result of pollution caused by decades of heavy mining. I’ve read this claim on websites touting Taiwanese tourism. What to make of it?

I’m inclined to be skeptical. I am not a chemist, or a geologist or a hydrologist or a mining engineer for that matter, but it seems at least possible that the environmental impact of decades of heavy mining may endure long after mining operations have ceased.

Either way, no one recommends splashing in the water emanating from Jinguashi. They are indisputably hazardous to one’s health.