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Haleakala

Started: 2019-01-01 14:17:43

Submitted: 2019-01-01 17:42:22

Visibility: World-readable

17 November 2018: In which the intrepid narrator drives to Haleakala National Park at the top of Maui and enjoys the Hawaiian fog and rain

On my last day on Maui, at the end of my employer-funded trip, I ended up with a red-eye flight leaving at 21:20, so I had an entire day to play tourist before leaving the island.

I checked out of my hotel in Kihei, and considered dropping by Kihei Caffe for breakfast, but it appeared that everyone else in south Maui had the same idea -- the line was out the door and halfway down the block, so I decided to skip second breakfast and head straight for the national park at the top of the island.

The eastern summit of Maui is the highest point on the island, just over 10,000 feet. It's part of Haleakala National Park (which I'm pretty sure I heard people pronouncing "Ha-le-a-ka-la"). I drove from south Maui across the saddle connecting the island's two summits, through grassy fields that were formerly sugarcane plantations, then began to climb a series of roads winding up the side of the mountain, getting smaller and steeper as I climbed. It started raining while I was driving through the low-elevation grasslands, and as I climbed I drove into the clouds, hugging the jungle like fog, obstructing my view of what I presumed must be stunning mountain scenery.

As I climbed, the jungle gave way to lush grass clinging to the side of the volcano, and then to small scraggly shrubs fighting for life in the porous volcanic soil.

I entered the national park and continued my drive to the summit, stopping at the visitor's center perched at the edge of the crater, complete with a topographic model illustrating the volcanic summit, displays interpreting the ecology at the top of the dormant volcano -- and a small gift shop. I bought a map of the summit, plus a "Nene Crossing" magnet for Sasa to complement the "Nene Crossing" postcard I got at the park entrance, since she was so taken by the indigenous geese on our trip to the Big Island this spring.

From the visitor's center, at the edge of the parking lot, I should have had an amazing view into the crater, but the fog was heavy enough that I could catch only an occasional glimpse of the wind-swept scenery beyond the rim as the fog blew away before settling again.

Hikers descend the Sliding Sands Trail
Hikers descend the Sliding Sands Trail

I grabbed my backpack and followed the Sliding Sands Trail down into the crater. This crater was formed by the slow erosion of the shield volcano; from the inside of the crater, I could see different colors of volcanic rocks in varying sizes, formed in progressive waves of eruptions and then eroded away to show the underlying geological structure.

Fog shrouds Haleakalā
Fog shrouds Haleakalā

The trail clung to the loose rock on the side of the ridge, descending inexorably for miles ahead of me; eventually, the valley emptied into the Pacific Ocean on the south-eastern side of the island, far from the island's population centers.

Silversword growing next to the Sliding Sands Trail
Silversword growing next to the Sliding Sands Trail

The loose volcanic rock under the ominous fog gave the feeling of a surreal moonscape, encouraged by the total lack of vegetation except for patches of native silversword, a pioneer plant on the harsh volcanic desert that devotes its entire life to one single bloom before dying. (According to the visitor's center, the top of the crater gets 35 inches of rain per year, but it's effectively a desert because the rain immediately drains away in the porous volcanic rock.)

Silversword growing on lava rock
Silversword growing on lava rock

The silversword looked like an alien plant in the harsh landscape, almost glowing with its fuzzy silver leaves, growing singly and in clumps on the hillside above and below the trail.

Silversword blooming
Silversword blooming

The trail lacked a compelling destination (at least, at any distance I was willing to hike), so I turned around when I had walked three miles into the crater, where the trail crested a small ridge that portended a view of the scenery ahead but I could barely make out the rocks below through the fog that was turning into rain as I watched.

Sliding Sands Trail descends into fog
Sliding Sands Trail descends into fog

I turned around and hiked back up the trail to the visitor's center, retracing my steps for three miles up the trail, through the light rain falling out of the fog. I had neglected to bring a rain jacket; my fleece soaked through but it was still (relatively) warm (at least, compared to the Pacific Northwest).

Hikers climb in the fog on the Sliding Sands Trail
Hikers climb in the fog on the Sliding Sands Trail

As I approached the summit, the rain subsided, and the fog lifted enough for me to see the trail winding along the hillside; then the fog descended again and my visibility decreased to a hundred meters in any direction.

When I returned to my rental car, in the parking lot that served the visitor's center and the trailhead, my rental car refused to start. It relied on a new-fangled wireless key fob with a proximity sensor that tried to figure out if the correct key was physically inside the vehicle, and the key had been flaky all week, but I could usually get it to work by gently waving the key fob vaguely around inside the car. I consulted the owner's manual, which somewhat-unhelpfully suggested that one ought to replace the key fob once a year, or when the dashboard blinkenlight indicated that the key fob battery was running down; but did not provide any advice as to how one might recover from a low-battery key fob in the field -- especially when one was at the top of a mountain, in the rain and fog, miles away from the nearest cell coverage. I briefly considered hitching a ride down the mountain and then calling the rental car company and telling them that they would have to recover the car on their own because they gave me a car that broke down on me. Eventually I discovered that, if I held the key fob in the air above the front passenger seat it would get just enough radio signal to start the engine.

I drove a half-mile up the road to the last parking lot at the top of the mountain, which was completely obscured by fog; I could barely see the shelter ten meters above the parking lot through the fog. I was afraid to turn off my car because I didn't know if I could turn it back on again, so I stared wistfully at the shelter at the top of Haleakala for a moment, rationalized that there wasn't anything I could see through the fog anyway, and began the descent down the mountain towards Kahului.

I drove through the bottom of the cloud half-way down the mountain, where the road dropped into jungle, and by the time I reached Kahului the skies were partly cloudy. I stopped for a middle-of-the-afternoon meal at a Thai restaurant; I had snacks while hiking down and back up out of the crater, but I wanted to eat a real meal, even though it was an objectively-weird time to eat a meal (and the restaurant was completely empty when I arrived). I went across the street to Starbucks to wait for a reasonable time to go to the airport for my 21:20 flight. While sitting drinking my chai and reviewing my notes from the trip a tiny, two-inch-long lizard jumped out of nowhere to cling to the hem of my shirt, then jumped away.

Small lizard on Jaeger's shirt
Small lizard on Jaeger's shirt

I finally discovered that my rental car key fob would work better if I left it in my right front pocket when sitting in the driver's seat -- which made sense, if the antennas in the car were optimized to expect the transponder in the key fob to be in my pocket while driving. This made driving around Kahului easier, but I could only wish that I'd discovered that helpful detail earlier in the trip.

I dropped my rental car off at the airport (making sure to mention that the key fob was flaky in hopes that no one else would have the same experience I did) and did some last-minute shopping at the airport, picking up locally-produced chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and pineapple pieces as gifts. I boarded my red-eye flight, operating a 757-200 to Seattle, and managed to sleep for most of the five-hour flight, at least until we made landfall over Cannon Beach, Oregon and I watched out the window as the lights of Longview and Olympia and Tacoma slid by my window before landing in Seattle.

I have a few more pictures of Haleakala at Photos on 2018-11-17.

IIS on NT is like a screen door on a submarine made of Swiss cheese.
- Jaeger