Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hawaiian vacation, day 4

Before we start today's adventures, I have an announcement. 

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.


Mark In Mayenne said...

We did the bike ride from the top. Was great, after the sunrise.

Moose said...

You can't fool me. That's not a plant. That's a tribble.

Officer Cynical said...

"Equatorial bulge". A likely story.....

Anonymous said...

is the phone actually working? did you try?

The Condign Gentleman said...

"But the GPS says to turn left."

Kassy said...

That drive up Haleakala was quite fun at 4am. Car dinged that I was low on gas halfway up. As you know, there is no gas station.
Driving down I coasted as much as possible. Fortunately that was possible 80% of the time.
Put 14.2 gallons into a 14 gallon tank at the bottom.

Anonymous said...

I'm experiencing "Equatorial bulge" after too much chocolate cake.

Hildy said...

You should never have agreed to be Fizzy's judge and entered her contest instead. You're a very funny man.

Anonymous said...

The view of the waves on the beach below is pretty incredible also.

Fizzy said...

Yeah, but he would have won so easily that it wouldn't have been fair to everyone else :-)

Sara said...

We just got back from a week in Glacier National Park, there is one more of those rare, endangered species there and it does work, I had to use it to set up a shuttle service post hike for us as there is no cell service in the park. However it will be going the way of its relatives shortly, at which point the only place that will have a working phone in the park is the private ranger station line that is not available for public use. Nothing wrong with this plan.

Anonymous said...

There are tons of phone boots in Ottawa. They even take credit/debit cards.

Anonymous said...

There's a phone booth in Cary NC, just off I-40. It's right in between a BP station and a Hampton Inn. As a bonus, there's a mannequin inside dressed as Superman.

Marc Cabot said...

I hope you did not encounter the only dangerous native Hawaiian animal, the Mad Maui Mountain Cow.

Yes, they raise cows on the slopes of that thing, and they (perhaps because of the thin air) are CRAZY. They do not just amble along the road, they GAMBOL along it, looking for all the world like eight-hundred-pound puppies, kicking up their heels at the joy of being alive. Also, they care not a fig for darkness, and will gambol along said road whenever it strikes their fancy.

I have seen this with my OWN EYES.

We went up for sunset, as opposed to sunrise. I recommend this: that way, you are doing the drive DOWN in the dark, which is comforting, because on the way down, there is nothing between you and oblivion but a thin yellow stripe. It's much better when you can't see the thousand-foot drop immediately to your right. (Most of the road has no guard rails. In fact, Hawaiians think guard rails are counter-evolutionary: you rarely see them in the islands.)

Also, you mention the cyclists, but they aren't a patch on the young man we saw wheeling down the road... on a skateboard.

Yes, a skateboard. And not a modern big old skateboard you could use to move a refrigerator, a classic 70's one that was basically a large gas pedal with wheels.

It was terrifyingly impressive.

DRG said...

Actually, the (bicycle) ride up Haleakala is an amazing experience. And you really feel like you've earned that descent! It is still allowed - for non - commercial riders.

Anonymous said...

A real phone booth? At first I thought it was a Tardis! LOL

Anonymous said...

I like the Tardis comment! By the way, WHO said that?

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