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Haleakala Afternoon

Haleakala is the 10,000-foot dormant volcano that dominates the southeastern half of Maui. There is a good road that starts at sea level and runs all the way to the summit. Much of the road is switchbacks — and it takes about an hour to make the journey.

Many tourists will get up at 4:00 in the morning to be at the summit for sunrise. That seems to be an impossible task for me — I have never been able to coax my body out of bed that early when I am on vacation. So, as a backup plan, I have often considered visiting the crater for sunset then staying to watch the stars come out. The challenge is that most days, the summit is enshrouded in clouds beginning mid-morning and continuing the rest of the day.

However, one day on this last trip, the summit was clear in the early afternoon. I stopped in town for a few provisions — water, zone bars, etc. — and took off for Haleakala Highway.

I had been carrying a heavy sweatshirt in my rental car, just for such an occasion. It is much cooler at the summit than you might think, especially at night. The park's website documents normal November highs around 63° F and lows around 45° F. Of course, the wind chill factor may make it feel even colder.

I arrived at the park entrance and purchased a Senior pass that gives me free entrance to all national parks. I guess I am now officially a Senior Citizen. Regardless, the ranger station here provides restrooms, a bookstore, rangers to answer questions and a planter with Ahinahina plants — AKA silversword plants. They are related to sunflowers and are endemic to Maui and the Big Island, growing only at the upper elevations.

The one above is a fine young specimen and the one at the left has finished its blooming cycle and has died — but you can get an idea of what it might have looked like when was in bloom. If you cannot imagine, then click here to see a sample image from Wikipedia.

A short drive farther and you arrive at the rim of the crater. The plain black asphalt of the parking lot does not prepare you for the sight you are about to encounter. It will take your breath away. Of course, you do not have much breath to give up since at 10,000 feet, there is a shortage of oxygen. Do walk around slowly.

On the left side of the crater is the collapsed rim — giving the crater the shape of a tea cup with a bite taken out of the side. Most mornings, between 9:00 and 10:00, the clouds will enter the crater from this opening, obscuring the crater for the rest of the day. Which reminds me to advise you, if you plan to visit Haleakala, do check the weather conditions there before setting out. The park's website even has a web cam to help. If it is cloudy/foggy when you check, do not even both to drive up there — it is likely that you will not be able to see a thing.

The floor of the crater is scattered with cinder cones. If you look closely, you may note a few thin lines which are actually hiking trails through the crater. There are even cabins within the crater which you can rent as you hike from the summit to the sea.

Glancing to the right, you might notice a distant mountain pushing up through the clouds. That is Mauna Kea on the Big Island, rising some 14,000 feet above sea level. It is above approximately 40% of Earth's atmosphere and 90% of the water vapor, allowing for exceptionally clear images of the night sky. Additionally, the peak is well above the inversion layer, which leads to approximately 300 clear nights per year. Also, at 20°N latitude, all of the northern sky and most of the southern sky is visible. All these factors make this is one of the best astronomical sites in the world.

A short drive further, takes you to the actual summit where we encounter additional fine specimens of Ahinahina.

Haleakala was named by the early Hawai`ians— its name means "house of the sun". Even though its summit is not as high as Mauna Kea, it is still high enough to serve as a location for astronomical observatories and experimental sites. I recall that the Air Force has a facility here from which they pointed lasers on orbital and sub-orbital objects to determine feasibility of using them for missile defense.

From this spot you can see both mountains on the Big Island — Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa — the latter just 120 feet shorter than the former. Mauna Loa is still active with its last eruption occurring in 1984.

The public viewing area at the summit is at a slightly different angle than at the lower location. Compare this photo to the one above — so much the same but subtly different.

A personal note: I lost a good friend this week — Tom Carlson — another victim of cancer. Tom and I go way back. We both worked at Control Data Corporation on the Star project and became good friends, partially because of our Minnesota backgrounds (he grew up there, I lived there for almost ten years, just out of college). He left CDC to join Hewlett-Packard and coaxed me into interviewing which resulting in my 26-year career at HP.

But our friendship was more than just work related. We both shared a love of Hawai`i. Tom always credited me with introducing him to Maui and the Napili area. His passion for that little spot of Heaven on Earth resulted in Tom, over time, purchasing several condos at Napili Shores. He even became active in the condo board (a thankless task), was elected president and oversaw the refurbishment of the condos, keeping them competitive in the hot Maui market. I helped Tom do a big, hairy financial analysis of the ownership cash flow of the entire condo property so that the owners could purchase the sandwich lease (don't ask what this is --- it takes an hour to explain it) so that the property could be owned free and clear.

Tom was very generous to allow me to stay in one of his condos on my annual trip to Maui. In fact, he jokingly told me that his unit H261 (where I always stayed) was really B. David's unit. When he was on Maui, he would usually call me to tell me how beautiful the weather was — and, if I were near a computer, I would bring up one of the Maui web cams and enjoy it vicariously as we chatted. We even talked about timing our visits so that we could enjoy it together in person — but sadly, we never managed to pull it off.

If you can, please contribute to the American Cancer Society — in memory of Tom or anyone in your life who has struggled with this terrible disease.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com