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A Look Back at a Dried Up Sun Moon Lake

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

Taiwan faced its most severe drought in decades this year (2021) and one of the most obvious impacts was its effect on the island's water reservoirs and also its largest body of water- Sun Moon Lake. As a first-time visitor in March, I had never seen the "standard" version of the lake- the lake I came to know was far from the lakeshore piers and increasingly composed of arid lakebed instead of brimming water. Ferry transportation ceased and the receding water levels revealed a myriad of things long forgotten including Qing Dynasty ruins and small trinkets/rubbish that were carelessly tossed away. Moss and weeds flourished in the dry cracks of the lakebed. I am writing this article in mid June and daily downpours over the last few weeks have thankfully replenished a great amount of the lost water. Climate change is a real problem and we all need to work hard to minimize our impact on the environment by using less water, saving electricity, eating less animal products, relying less on individual motorized transportation, wasting less, recycling, etc. Despite the very unfortunate reality of the drought, the arid landscape was a different look at the lake and photographers flocked to the lake to capture and record this historical event. This article is an intimate look and retrospective of a Sun Moon Lake that most people have never seen and hopefully nobody will ever see again.

Without further ado, let's get into it!

The following two pictures were taken on my very first day at Sun Moon Lake (Ita Thao Pier):

As you can see, the boat dock was already mostly resting on cracked dry land. The steep ramp leading down to the dock was a reminder that things were not as they should be.

A desolate view of the lake in front of the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway Station:

Large muddy area on the way to Wenwu Temple. What a dramatic change in the surface area of the lake!

Here's a look at the "bathtub rings" beneath the trees that give a clear indication of the difference in water level before and after the drought.

Eventually I realized it was possible to walk around on the dried up lakebed beside Ita Thau pier. These people below were all walking in places that normally would result in getting very wet! This was my first little adventure on the lakebed. I do love a good walk at twilight, although it's not every day I take my walk in a lake.

The scenery on the lakebed created a hodgepodge of vibes varying from pretty to sad to apocalyptic. These large chunks of material were reminiscent of hay bales in a farmland vista.

I was in awe of all the old sunken and dried up boats that now dotted the landscape. They sure do make for a good picture. What else can sum up a drought quite as well as a boat on land? This old boat must have been out of commission for quite some time. I wonder how many years it had gone unseen in the depths of the lake?

Below is one of my favorite pictures I've taken in all 3 months I've stayed here. Beautiful, desolate, sad, evocative. A mixture of emotions as the sun sets. Some pictures are timeless and for whatever reason this pic just does it for me.

You can feel the dryness just permeating from the scene captured here:

I came back to this same area a few days later during the daytime to get a closer look at all the stuff that had washed up. I want to say thank you to all the volunteers who took advantage of the opportunity to clean up garbage that now littered the area. Thank you, you guys are the best!!!

Boats, boats and more boats:

It really is amazing to see how much water loss can result in a period of little rain. We sometimes forget that lakes are a dynamic part of a system and not a static body of water.

Endless photo opportunities.

Among the large amount of trash that washed up, there were several items that seemed to tell a story and had personalities of their own. Here's a rabbit doll that had seen better days and a bubble solution container that had maintained its cheerful demeanor:

I wonder what was once recorded and heard on this tape. I'm guessing it doesn't work now!

There's a nice rustic-style hotel with a lakeview restaurant on the first floor that you'll notice in this picture. Usually the water comes right up to the window and offers a magnificent dining location. I'm sure the owners weren't thrilled about this change of events. From lakeview dining to grassland dining!

The following pictures were all taken on a very memorable expedition to the other, unexplored side of the lakebed starting from Ita Thau Pier. Besides encountering countless photo opportunities, I also heard gunshots, encountered a sudden torrential downpour, and accidentally sunk pretty deep into some mud. It all started by crossing under the ramp that normally allows ferry riders a dry passage over the lake waters.

You'll notice that in some of the following pictures I experimented with some photo editing. These kinds of gloomy/ominous scenes are very interesting to play around with. I may or may not be smugly pleased with the results.

Docks without the water, with the Ita Thau community in the background:

Another day, another washed up boat- this time missing its hull:

Welcome to Sun Moon Lake 28 Days Later Version (in case you didn't get the reference, great zombie it! Sequel was alright too):

I really liked shooting this barrel with the boats in the background. Don't ask me how many pictures I took at this very spot. I'll never tell.

Photogenic apocalyptic boats:

Lots of interesting color contrasts that really come out with photo enhancement, I think I went a big overboard in the second picture but it does give a good idea of the vibe:

Classic black and white. Doom and gloom.

These weeds and grasses sure aren't complaining about their new home. Seems like no matter what, nature will find a way to thrive. A recently dried up lake is an ideal starting point for all sorts of plants.

Not sure what this object is, maybe somebody smarter than me can leave a comment and explain? Is it a radio? A part of a boat? Evidence of alien life?

One last look at dried up Sun Moon Lake:

This was the last time I explored the lake bed. As I mentioned, it downpoured that day and rain started to become a common theme to daily life at the lake. Death, taxes, and afternoon thunderstorms! As things should be.

Below is a segment of the Sun Moon Lake bike path. I am excited to ride around the lake again now that all of this grass has turned back into lake (at least I assume it has already. This part of the bike path is located near Shuishe. The overwhelming majority of the pictures in this article were taken in Ita Thau where Owl Hostel is located).

I can only imagine how beautiful it will be next time!

Puddles at the pier! What exactly is this water stuff that I've heard so much about?

After weeks of daily rain, the pier and docks are looking like a pier and docks again! Just as hard to believe as a lake disappearing, I couldn't believe how quickly the lake reappeared. During this period of time, the rising water levels were so obvious it could be measured on a daily basis. Imagine going down to the pier every day and seeing the lake get closer and closer, seeing the land you explored disappear out of sight, seeing the lake take on a whole new form. What a transformation!

In case you don't want to scroll back up to the pictures taken on my first day here, here's a very clear comparison of the difference that a bit of rain makes! The water level is even higher now than it is in the "after" picture.

A dried-up lake is a fascinating place to explore without a doubt. But there's no question that Sun Moon Lake is at its most beautiful and most attractive when there is water to be seen and enjoyed. After this long drought, we can now say: seen, enjoyed, and appreciated. Consider taking a trip to Sun Moon Lake in post-pandemic times and experience firsthand the beauty and serenity of this mountain lake. And be careful not to fall in- there's actually water now!

If you've made it this far, I appreciate and admire your patience. There were simply too many photos I wanted to share! Wishing everybody a safe and pleasant day.

Happy Trails!

Mr. Adventure

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