Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park

Driving up to the summit of Haleakala National Park, we rose over 10,000 feet from sea level. Our little rental car strained up the summit road, but bicyclists passed us coming down – quickly losing altitude in a controversial tourist activity. Apparently there are lots of accidents as unskilled riders rush down the side of the downgrade. We passed through fields of horses and cows. Many would not think of Hawaii as cow country, but it is. Much of Maui is covered in farmland, which made for an idyllic setting as we wound our way up the many switchbacks.

Or first stop was the Park Headquarters Visitor Center as 7000 feet above sea level. Though warm and sunny at the beach, it was breezy and cool at the visitor center. We got our first up close glimpse of a silversword plant. They only grow at Haleakala, in fact, 90% of the plant species at Haleakala are indigenous only to Hawaii. They can grow taller than me, live to 50 years, and survive in harsh weather conditions with little precipitation.

Haleakala National Park

From there, we drove straight up to the Haleakala Visitor Center near the top of the volcano. Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian, and I cannot think of a more apt name for this location. Though the volcano has not erupted since probably the 17th century, it is still considered active. The Visitor Center sits directly over the rim of the large crater, and we could see many smaller cones within it as we looked down into the expanse of the volcano – which forms 75% of Maui. The landscape is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is red, porous sand that whistles when the wind blows through it. Since the wind blows all the time, there is a low, persistent humming in places. The sandy hills and desolate landscape have often been compared to the surface of Mars. The colors are bright and we could see pretty far in the crisp, clear air. It is a stunning view, though my chilled ears could only handle the wind for so long before they began to ache! There is backpacking throughout the park, and we would love to return to hike down through the volcano crater. I read somewhere (I think National Geographic) that it is one of the quietest places on earth, since the wind abates in the crater.

Haleakala National Park

We continued up to the summit of the peak, and spent a little time reading the information in the hut at the top of the volcano, while watching some tourists ignore the signs about the protected plants and trample all over the delicate roots of a silversword, all to get a good photo. We’re all about good photos, but not at the expense of plant life. Reminded me of all the tourists who manage to get themselves hurt trying to take up close photos of bears and buffalo in National Parks. Besides that, we had a fantastic time exploring Haleakala, and would love to return sometime to look out from the summit, through the clouds, down to the ocean over 10,000 feet below.

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