Dr. Fizzy is having a medical humor writing contest. Since this will require judges, she wanted someone witty, intelligent, clever, objective, and talented to assist her. Anyway, that person wasn't available, so she settled for me.
More information is available here. As a judge, I pledge that I will not be swayed by monetary bribery (a case of Diet Coke, however, can't hurt your cause).
And now, back to the vacation.
Today we drove up Haleakala.
For those of you who don't know, this is the center volcanic crater on Maui, dormant for a few hundred years. It involves a stunning drive taking you from sea level to > 10,000 feet over a few hours.
I should mention a thought about height here. Mount Everest, at 29,000 feet, gets all the press as the world's tallest mountain... when measuring height above sea level. BUT if you use the definition of distance from a mountain's base to it's summit... Everest is pissy at 17,100 feet. By that standard the tallest mountains on Earth are in Hawaii. Mauna Kea, for example, dwarfs the Himalayan molehill at 33,500 feet (nearly twice it's size), as do Mauna Loa and Haleakala. For that matter, so does Mount McKinley, in Alaska, and Chimborazo, in Ecuador. The last is actually farther from the Earth's center than any other mountain on Earth due to the planet's equatorial bulge. And, if you want to get real picky, Mount Rheasilvia is the tallest mountain known, at 80,000 feet high. But it's on the asteroid Vesta, 156 million miles away, so don't start packing your climbing gear.
Keep your #2 pencils handy, we'll have a quiz on that later.
Anyway, this is a remarkable place. I've been to Maui many times, but always make the drive to the Haleakala summit. There are plants and animals here seen nowhere else on Earth, and limited to just a few acres at the top. A wingless species of moth. The Rock Pelea plant, known only from a few isolated patches on the slopes. And, my favorite, the Silversword.
This endangered plant is a distant cousin of the daisy and lives only on this mountain. It's silver, which is pretty cool for a plant. It only flowers once every 40-50 years, then dies. But the neat thing is that's why it's silver. At this altitude, it's too cold for its flowers to bloom, so the plant's curved leaves actually act as a parabolic mirror to focus light on the developing buds, to keep them warm. This is not your ordinary daisy.
They used to have bike rides from the top. Tourists would be taken up to the top in the wee hours, watch the sunrise from an incredible viewpoint, then ride downhill back to sea level on mountain bikes. This resulted in the narrow roads being congested with packs of people in rain ponchos and helmets, being followed by a slow-moving equipment truck rolling down steep switchbacks with it's hazard lights blinking and brakes smoking.
Obviously, this wasn't a good combination, but it took until 2010 that enough serious accidents had occurred for the park to realize this should stop. So now they can only start riding down from considerably lower on the mountain, before it gets too narrow. I personally disagree with this. I think anyone who wants to ride a bike from the summit to sea level should be allowed to... provided they were also able to ride the same bike from sea level to the summit on the same day (no, Mr. Armstrong, steroids aren't allowed). Granted, this would likely overwhelm Maui's meager medical facilities.
During the drive up you encounter this sign. It's been there as long as I can remember traveling to Hawaii, and, in my opinion, may be the best road sign in America. Possibly the world.
You see, at this point the road curves around to the right. Just to the left side of the road is a clearly-seen sheer drop of several thousand feet, and no guard rail. This generally dissuades people from, say, driving over it intentionally.
But, to be safe, they put up a "No Left Turns" sign to make the point. Perhaps, at the bottom of the cliff, they have a traffic cop writing tickets for those who just disobeyed and went over.
|"Didn't you see the sign up there, sir? Sir?"|
When you finally get to the top, the view is truly amazing. On a clear day you can actually see mountains on the other islands. On a cloudy day you can see... well... clouds. Because you're above them, looking down. But they move quickly, so between them you'll still get a pretty spectacular view of the unearthly landscape.
It can be very windy up here. Craig (like any good Boy Scout), was prepared with a brush, comb, and gel.
Pro tip: stop to use the bathroom at the first ranger station you come to, NOT the one at the summit. Why? Because there isn't one. Due to difficulty getting water to the summit, there isn't a public one at the top. And peeing on a silversword is frowned up.
At one ranger station they have a truly remarkable, rare, endangered finding. A species that was once plentiful, but now vanishing rapidly. It will likely be completely extinct in my lifetime, so I took a picture to show my grandkids someday:
|"Dad says they used quarters to make it work. He's so FOS."|
For all I know, this is the last one left on Earth. Which means that, if you're Clark Kent, you have to get from Metropolis to Haleakala just to change clothes.
Then you get to drive back down, and hope you don't ruin your rental car's brakes or mow down a terrified guy from Milwaukee on an out-of-control bicycle who never wanted to do this but his wife made him.
|"I ran him over on Haleakala. It's a local tradition to keep the head."|
You'll be hungry, so I recommend the Costco for lunch in nearby Kahului. Then you can stock up on more beer and Diet Coke, since, like me, you need one or (more likely) both to deal with 3 teenagers.