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... to Crater (Haleakalā NP)

Updated: Feb 26

Wednesday, 15 February 2023, Haleakalā

We arrived back in the middle of the island, still reveling in the perfect weather Mother Nature had graced us with for our morning on the Hana coast. Back in Paia at 1:30, we targeted lunch. The town was packed! and finding a parking spot took some effort. On foot, several cafés beckoned, and we chose Lima, a new Peruvian restaurant recommended by Remy yesterday. I've had ceviche before, but never with Peruvian sauces - delectable! We had a table by the window, so we people watched as we ate. I pointed out to Sue the sign posted on the wall behind her: "Bad decisions make better stories." How true!

At 2:30, we started up the volcano. As we entered the park, the vegetation grew sparser, and the views more far flung. Looking down on Kahului and the airport,

we could see the coastline curving around the northern half of the island - a view as if from a plane. Other pullouts gave us a view of the Lahaina coast.

The higher we went, the further above the layer of clouds we found ourselves. (Though a cloud ceiling still spread above us.) So strange to take short walks at the pullouts and see such aerial views...

By the time we reached Haleakalā's rim (at 9740' elevation), the temperature had dropped below 50°. Luckily, I had brought my long pants and a jacket, and Sue had several layers to try to fend off the cold. Nearby, we could see the ‘āhinahina (silversword) plants for which the park was famous - a plant growing only here

and on the Big Island volcanoes. Then we walked a few yards to look into the crater.Astounding!

An interpretive sign explained that unlike places like Crater Lake or Mt. St. Helens, this mount had never blown off its top. The original mountain loomed barely higher that the part that remained; all the missing mass resulted from the forces of erosion.

With temperatures still falling, Sue retreated to the car to keep warm while waiting for sunset, still nearly two hours distant. I chose to stretch the legs a bit - get in my best exercise of the trip! - on the Keonehe‘ehe‘e (Shifting Sands) trail.

If I'd planned a full day here, I would have tried taking it the entire 11 miles (2500' elevation loss) to the crater floor, where Sue could've picked me up, but (given the time) opted to hike a mile before turning back. Several hikers shared the trail with me - including a couple wearing shorts and flip-flops.

The trail dropped steadily into the trail, making for a steep return.

As I went lower and lower, the terrain kept changing, as the clouds kept moving through the gaps. Finally I turned back, but still passed people going down.

Taking my time on the climb up, I got back to car at 5:30. The getting out of the breeze helped me warm up quickly as we waited for the 6:29 sunset. A steady stream of cars appeared at crater rim, surprising Sue who'd figured we'd be nearly alone waiting in the cold. After a few minutes, I got out again to scope out the best location for the sunset.

I noticed a park ranger closing the gate heading to the summit (and the Observatory) another 300' higher. I wandered over to ask her why. "I just checked it out, and there are about 30 more cars up there than parking spots. Everyone else will have to stop here. Besides, this is a better spot to view the sunset - unless you prefer seeing the sun sink behind the Observatory rather than into the horizon."

I asked whether she thought we'd get good colors tonight. "You never know. Sometimes the colors will pop, other times it fizzles. Just have to wait and see." She'd been with the park service for two years, she told me, always at this park.

As the clock passed 6:00, the colors slowly developed, starting with yellows fading into orange. People lined the sides of the road, angling for position,

setting up tripods or shooting selfies. At quarter past, the sun dropped below the upper cloud ceiling, adding more red to the colors.

I could feel the anticipation in the crowd, waiting for the climax, even as the temperature dropped to 40°.

Before we hit 6:29, I wandered back to the crater rim, seeing how the fading light transformed the colorful soil inside.

Then it was back to looking west, catching the full palette of the setting sun. Wow!

What a phenomenal day, coast to crater. The sun's glow faded quickly as we descended the mountain, but we still soaked in the glory of the day. It wasn't until we had almost gotten back to our room that our backs finally started making a fuss. We credit the German engineering of the comfortable BMW seats. Great, now I'll have to go car shopping when we get home...

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