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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Maui Day II: the Glory of Haleakala...

...or What Goes Down Must Come Up - at least if you park at the visitor center trailhead...

Our day started early with a drive up Haleakala. You go up, and up, and up, and zig-zag still upward, and realize that you still have more "up". The plants change from dry tropical to rangeland with scattered pine to chaparral, and finally you get to stone with bits of grass and shrubs here and there. And the world gets further and further away, until you get above the cloud deck.

We finally reached the summit, which truly looks like the Roof of the World. From there, you can see most of Maui, and you can see the Big Island volcanoes as well. Lanai and a bit of Molokai are also clear.

After visiting the summit, we went to the "Crater" overview. The "Crater" is apparently not a volcanic caldera, although it is full of multicolored cinder cones and general volcanic coolness. There are at least a half-dozen big cinder cones in the Crater, and probably many more. If you are a geology nut, you can't possibly go anywhere near Maui without spending a day at the Crater.

We hiked down into the Crater, to the first cinder cone, named Ka Lu'u o ka' O'o. (No clue how to pronounce it - we called it "kay-lew".) After a fairly quick descent, oohing and aahing all the way - and trying to not pay attention to the return trip at 10,000 feet, we had lunch on Kay-lew's rim. Afterwards, I learned that Kay-lew is one of the newest volcanic formations on Maui, being only 900 years old...

The top area of the Crater has virtually no vegetation, and have the blasted look of hard-core vulcanism. Red, yellow, pink, orange, and black rock is everywhere, in streaks and stripes, with stones ranging in size from sand to car-sized boulders. Further down the Crater from the Shifting Sands Trail that we were walking on, you can see the greens that are on the Hana and eastern side of the mountain. The crater floor goes from a volcanic desert to lush tropical uplands in the space of a dozen miles.

In the area of the Crater where we were, the main plant was the Silversword. It was appropriate for such an otherworldly place: the plant looks like something that you'd find on another planet. It's silver, spiky - imagine a great big silver sea urchin - with only a faint greenish twinge, and its flowering stalk looks like some sort of alien pod-thingy that is beautiful in an unearthly way.

Kay-lew is against the western rim of the Crater, and has a nearby field of black sand with scattered boulders. I noticed that one of them had a clearly defined trail running out to it, and wondered if that boulder "walked" in a fashion similar to the Death Valley Sliding Stones. The trail on the sand looked quite similar to the sliding stones in the picture.

OK - now that we're in the Crater, we've had our fun and now have to pay for it by coming out. We had dropped about 1400 feet from the visitor center parking lot, and were at about 9000 feet - and weren't acclimated. We started walking, and had to stop every 30 or 40 feet to catch our breath. But step by step, we made our way back up the trail and out to the visitor center.

But there was one last surprise. In the visitor center parking lot, a Nene and her babies were running about. After a few pix of these guys, we cleaned up and went back down, and down, and down, back to Kihei.

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