Daily Archives: April 23, 2007

Haleakala

Posted by on April 23, 2007

On Sunday, I got up early, dropped my rental car off at the airport and took a flight from Hilo to Maui. The time I spent in security took longer than the actual flight.

When I arrived in Maui, I had happen what I dreaded. My debit card was declined. This happened the last time I was in Hawaii on four separate occasions. It seems that if you have any gas purchases that are too close together, its raises a flag with the fraud prevention unit at the bank and they shut your card down. (It turns out that when a credit card is stolen, one of the common things to do is to fill up a car with gas along with the friends of all the the thieves.) In principal its a good thing to be looking out for you, but it really sucks if you’re on the road when this happens. My gas purchases were over 12 hours apart and it still made the flag go up. If I didn’t have a cell phone available to call up and resolve the situation, I would have been totally screwed.

By the time I got that resolved and got my rental car, it was about 9:30am and I couldn’t check into my hostel until 5pm. I figured it was as good a time as any to go visit Haleakala National Park, which takes up most of the eastern half of the island. Not including historical sites, there are two proper national parks in Hawaii: Haleakala and Volcanoes. Volcanoes is by far the better known of the two as it is the one with volcanoes actively erupting. I had no idea what to expect at Haleakala as I’ve read very little about it.

The summit of Haleakala is about 10,000 feet above sea level. Like Mauna Kea, you have to drive the entire 10,000 feet so there is a huge elevation change in a short period of time. The time from 0 to 10,000 feet is probably faster on Haleakala. The first thing you notice as you drive up the mountain is waves of people on bikes going down the mountain. Turns out its a popular activity to take a van to the top of the mountain and then coast down the 20 miles or so to the bottom. Everyone had full body windbreakers on and motorcycle helmets. It seemed like it would be pretty fun.

View from the top of Haleakala

View from the top of Haleakala

Unlike Volcanoes which is mostly just bare lava rock (at least around Kilauea), Haleakala has lots of vegetation. They also have more real backpacking and hiking options than Volcanoes does. Haleakala is also home to many plants and animals which are native to Hawaii and are only found there. One of the indigenous species to Haleakala is the silversword plant. Its only found at elevation, only on Haleakala, and it only blooms once in its life, every 15 to 50 years.

Silversword on Haleakala

Silversword on Haleakala

The Haleakala crater is really big and very pretty. The red from the oxidized rock its very breathtaking. The day I was there had lots of clouds so I couldn’t see the entire crater.

Inside Haleakala Crater

Inside Haleakala Crater

BTW, I think that’s the best photo I’ve taken so far…

Sunset with the Gods

Posted by on April 23, 2007

The ancient Hawaiians thought that the snow capped peak of Mauna Kea was the home of the gods. Today is just the home of the largest astronomical telescopes on Earth. I spent my last day on the Big Island on top of Mauna Kea and got to watch the sun set. It was pretty amazing.

You can’t just go up Mauna Kea willy nilly. For starters, you are going a vertical distance of about 14,000 feet. There are very few places on Earth where you can make this sort of vertical climb that quickly. Even in places that are at a higher elevation, you usually are starting at a higher base elevation, so the difference in elevation wouldn’t be as great. I ended up staying at the visitors center at 9,000 feet for about ninety minutes to acclimate. I really have never had any issues with elevation (granted, I haven’t been above higher than 14,000 feet before) and probably didn’t need to stay that long.

I one of the reasons I rented a Jeep Wrangler was specifically to go up Mauna Kea. They require you to have a four wheel drive to go up Mauna Kea (I’m sure you could make it up without a 4×4 so long as there was no snow). They also make everyone watch a one our video at the visitors center just to acclimate everyone. The video was a big thing about how the scientists are trying to be sensitive to native Hawaiians.

Everyone at the visitors center went up in a caravan and it was pretty slow going. I’m not sure you could really go faster than about 20 mph or would want to.

When we arrived at the top, the first stop was the Keck Telescopes. There are two Keck Telescopes, Keck 1 & 2. We got to go inside of Keck 1.

Inside the Keck 1 Telescope, Mauna Kea

Inside the Keck 1 Telescope, Mauna Kea

The Kecks are the largest telescopes in the world. The primary mirrors have a diameter of 10 meters and have a unique hexagonal design. In addition to each mirror being the largest in the world, they can work together to form an interfermeter, or one big telescope.

The other telescope we got to go inside of was the University of Hawaii 88 inch telescope.

88 inch telescope on Mauna Kea

88 inch telescope on Mauna Kea

The UH 88 is one of the oldest telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea. It has been surpassed by the other telescopes on the summit, but it still does a lot of valuable work on finding Kuiper Belt objects and other objects in the solar system. It is scheduled to be torn down and replaced with the Pan-STARRS telescopes which will do constant surveys of the night sky to check for asteroids.

After the showing the insides of the telescopes, we had the rest of the time to sit and wait for the sunset. The neat thing about Mauna Kea is that it’s so high up in elevation that the clouds are almost always below the summit. As it gets dark, the clouds usually go down several thousand feet giving great views at sunset.

From the summit of Mauna Kea, you can see Haleakala, which is on Maui about 96 miles away.

Haleakala as viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Haleakala as viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

You also get a good view of Mauna Loa.

Mauna Loa viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Mauna Loa viewed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii

One of the neatest things you can see at sunset is the shadow of Mauna Kea on the clouds behind the mountain.

Shadow of Mauna Kea on the Clouds, Hawaii

Shadow of Mauna Kea on the Clouds, Hawaii

The views of the sunset itself of course, were just amazing.

Telescopes in the sunset

Telescopes in the sunset

Sun setting over the clouds

Sun setting over the clouds

I felt like I was going to get frostbite on my fingertips the last hour or so I was I up at the summit. I left soon after sunset and made the dark drive down the mountain in low gear.

They had a star party at the visitor center, but I passed as I had an early flight the next morning and it was an hour drive back to Hilo.

If you are ever on the Big Island, make the trip to the summit of Mauna Kea. Its probably the the #1 thing you can do on the island and most people never bother to do it. If you go on Saturday and drive yourself, it doesn’t cost anything more than the gas to get you to the summit.