As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks, we offer this accounting of a way to capture special moments. This one is Haleakala National Park on Maui.
It started innocently enough. My co-worker and I knew we had a limited time to use our overnight cruise stop in Maui. Neither of us had been there before, and we had several months to consider options. Normally as cruise ship staff, we might get a maximum four hour block of time in a port, but we knew this one would be 28 hours! When you work on a cruise ship, someone has been there before. We were told we should see sunrise at the top of the volcano at Haleakala National Park on Maui. We decided to rent a car and drive so we’d have a break from any crowds and the freedom to get some errands done.
It was still dark as we began the drive around the level southern end of the island. We drove through the city before rush hour and headed up the mountain. I’m not a great driver. I HATE driving in the dark. And it was as dark as the inside of a cat. As my completion certificate proudly explains, it’s a “37-mile drive from sea level to the summit – one of the greatest elevation gains in the shortest distance in the world!” I earned that certificate.
As you switchback over and over again on what seems like a 30 degree slope the moon keeps getting larger and larger in your front window, and the sheer drop on your right gets darker and darker. My friend occasionally gasps and tries to keep calmly chatting. On the curves I find myself wandering well over the center line. I managed to rationalize my line jumping by knowing if anyone was crazy enough to be coming DOWN at 4 AM I would at least see the headlights before they hit me. False hopes can be very comforting.
Then around another bend and the moon is BELOW us. Gasp. We are above the moon. It’s stunning AND frightening. I’m completely on the inside lane of the highway now. Four cars in front, at least four cars behind and I’m coloring outside the lines. Suddenly, the phrase “white knuckles on the steering wheel” has new meaning.
By the time we arrived at the visitors center parking lot near the summit the temperature had dropped from a balmy 75 to 42. We’d been warned. It still shocked us. I handed my friend the keys and said, “I don’t know how we’re getting down but I’m not driving.” We just looked at each other.
A quick walk from the car showed us five groups of bike riders and perhaps as many as fifty additional tourists. Then we realized we could go further up to the summit with the car. There was a short, well-lit drive to the new parking lot where we followed the flashlight trail of glow-in-the-dark elephant trunks swinging back and forth up to a glass observatory. Then wind. COLD wind.
Ever the obsessive photographer, I staked out a decent spot and prayed the crowd would fill in behind me, and we’d get some warmth. It was about 5:30 when we arrived and sunrise was scheduled for 6:15. My partner wandered back and forth between me and the inside where he could get warm. We were both bundled as much as possible but I’d have been grateful for gloves and a proper coat. My long sleeve tee, polar fleece and turtleneck fluffy sweater with a huge scarf over the top wasn’t really enough. At least I had socks!
In the pitch black with the moon sinking fast, it was challenging to know which direction the sun would rise. Shortly after our arrival a sliver of orange faintly outlined the ragged peaks across from the viewing platform. Then light began filling in the far perspective. . .first the orange.. . .then deep magenta. . .a little bluish glow. . .some red creeping in. All of this with the black silhouette of the peaks in front. Slowly the small crowd watched a cloud head our direction. It was rising from below us and completely engulfed the platform. I couldn’t see my own hand. Wet. And cold. Then it was suddenly gone leaving a damp mist on my hair and sweater. It was quiet. The early morning, the cold, and the entire awesomeness of the event just left everyone speechless or talking in whispers .
Volcanic craters are jagged and otherworldly. Once the sun was truly up and showing all the angles and a large portion of the crater bowl before us, we could see the breathtaking sheer height of 10,000 feet in the distance below. The ocean on both sides of the island was visible. So was Molokini – the small crescent shaped island and volcanic remnant on the west side of Maui. The clouds danced in and out creating shadows and the sun altered the color scheme every second.
We had read this mountain is one of the most magnetic places in the world with so much iron ore in the lava. Both of us felt a strange internal tug. Rationality aside, we chose to consider the entire experience spiritual and were awed by the immensity of the morning. We decided to consciously experience everything and the trip did infuse our final week of work with a calm joyfulness. Perspective is an amazing gift.
We journeyed back to the visitor’s center for a different view and to see the bike riders set off on their rickety non-geared, foot-braked, banana seated amusement machines. Not me! There was obviously a requirement to ride around the level parking lot to prove you could ride. Some wouldn’t have qualified if I’d been judging but off they set in groups of 10 – 12 with a van driving slowly behind. Did I say not me?
We flipped a coin to see who would drive down, and I lost. As it turns out, it was much less traumatic – perhaps the life lesson is it’s always scarier to confront what you can’t see? As we came around a bend halfway down we were blessed with a rainbow pointing toward the valley below.
We spent an hour over a carb-laden breakfast of pancakes and eggs just giggling at the entire adventure. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime park experiences that can literally steal your breath away and will stay with us forever. I’m addicted to them. How about you?