Hello Friends and Family,

Vacation on Maui, Part 2

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

I would like to share a special place on Maui — the 10,000-foot dormant volcano that dominates 75% of the island. Early Hawaiians named it "Haleakala" meaning "the House of the Sun". According to legend, the grandmother of the demigod Maui lived here, helped him capture the sun, and forced it to slow its journey across the sky to lengthen the day, providing more time to farm the land.

The crater and surrounding areas form Haleakala National Park — of which 24,719 acres (100.03 km2) are wilderness. Wikipedia says, "The temperature near the summit tends to vary between about 40 °F (5 °C) and 60 °F (16 °C) and, especially given the thin air and the possibility of dehydration at that elevation, the walking trails can be more challenging than one might expect. This is aggravated by the fact that trails lead downhill from parking areas into the crater. Because of this, hikers are faced with a difficult return ascent after potentially descending 2000 ft or more to the crater floor. Despite this, Haleakala is popular with tourists and locals alike, who often venture to its summit, or to the visitor center just below the summit, to view the sunrise. There is lodging in the form of a few simple cabins, though no food or gas is available in the park. To help with preservation efforts, Haleakala National Park started requiring a sunrise reservation to enter Haleakala National Park between the hours of 3:00 AM and 7:00 AM HST."

I confess that I have never been able to get up early enough to see the sunrise. However, one morning I drove into Wailuku and noticed that the summit was totally clear. I had my camera, tripod, and sweatshirt with me — so after purchasing some food and beverages, I headed to the Haleakala Highway. The route is punctuated with numerous switchbacks providing spectacular views that the driver can hardly enjoy because of the need to focus on driving. If you would like to revisit the photos from that visit, go to here and here.

The weather is very changeable at the summit of Haleakala. Many mornings are clear early, with clouds entering the crater mid-morning, then becoming cloudy at mid-day. I do not recommend the drive unless you know that the summit is clear. The park service now has a webcam at the summit so that you can view the conditions there live — click here.

In the mid-1980s, I joined a Sierra Club hike starting at the summit and going into the crater. One surprise was a huge bubble that had formed in the molten lava which cooled leaving a cavern open to the sky. We carefully looked over the edge and could see the skeletons of goats and other mountain animals that had fallen into the cavern and could not get out.

A second surprise was our hiking destination — a stand of trees on a carpet of grass. The trail and land on either side of the trail was mostly volcanic rocks which crunched beneath our feet. And since there was no shade on the trail, we were quite hot and exhausted when we arrived at our midpoint oasis.

This photo shows one of the trails that hikers can follow. I understand that this trail goes all the way to the ocean at Hana. I found a very informative webpage provided by the park service for anyone considering a hike into the crater — click here. It even includes an excellent 12-minute video that provides a nice preview of what such a hike entails — plus the does and don'ts.

Here we see a silversword plant found only on Haleakala, and on Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa both on the Big Island. Its Hawaiian name is 'ahinahina which means "very gray". Its scientific name is Argyroxiphium sandwicense.

As you might guess, silversword is an endangered specie due to its limited habitat and grazing by animals introduced by humans. And there are a few ignorant humans who will try to dig one up and take it home. Sorry folks — they will not live elsewhere — and the park service will make sure you spend your time on Maui in a jail.

Silversword is characterized by very dense rosettes of spiky leaves that radiate out from its base. These leaves are a silvery light green color and often appear almost metallic.

However, the plant's most striking feature is its towering blooms that can reach up to 6 feet in length. The bloom stalk of the silversword is a true sight to behold, often taller than its observer and adorned with a hundred or more purple flowers.

Yes, this is a goose, a Hawaiian goose known as a nene. It is endemic to the Hawaiian islands and now found in the wild parts of O’ahu, Maui, Kaua’i, Moloka’i, and Hawai’i. Hunting and introduced predators, such as small Indian mongooses, pigs, and feral cats, reduced the population to 30 birds by 1952. The species breeds well in captivity and has been successfully re-introduced. In 2004, it was estimated that there were 800 birds in the wild, as well as 1,000 in wildfowl collections and zoos.

At the summit stands the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory, also known as Science City. Comprised of 18 acres near the summit, “Science City” is made up of several facilities, including Pan-STARRS, Faulkes Telescope North, the TLRS-4 Laser Ranging System, the Zodiacal Light Observatory, the Maui Space Surveillance Complex, and the Mees Solar Observatory.

Science City’s many accomplishments include the detection of 19 near-Earth asteroids—the highest number of asteroids monitored in a single night—and the tracking of Venus. Most recently, Maui’s loftiest peak saw the unveiling of what’s been called the biggest digital map of the cosmos—an assemblage of data that showcases three billion stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects.

Typically, sometime during the late morning or in the afternoon, clouds will begin to drift in and fill the basin. At that point, visibility is severely limited. Time to go home to your hotel or condo, I guess.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

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