Thin Hair, Thin Air

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That’s no moon…

The trip to the Haleakala crater was the second of our guided tours from the Shaka Guide app. This was supposedly a 2.5 hour tour, so we didn’t worry too much about getting up early. In the morning we had breakfast, packed our things, and got ready. We made sure to grab all the cameras, and also some warm clothes. We were talking with some of the other people at the condo, and they had done the early morning drive to the crater to watch the sunrise. They didn’t plan on it being cold, and were caught in 40 degree weather at the top. That cut into the fun a bit.

We made sure to not make that mistake, and headed out of Lahaina. There was a bit of traffic in the morning, but it wasn’t too bad. it slowed down a few miles out of Lahaina, and we could smell why. This is where the latest brush fire caught, we could smell it before we saw it. it was still going in a few places. Not  good start for the fire season here.

We started the tour on the Haleakala Highway, and our friend the guide fired up right away. The plan for the tour was to go straight up the volcano, then hit several sights on the way back down. This meant climbing to 10, 000 feet. In the car. According to the tour, the Haleakala Highway is one of the shortest, highest drives in the world. I’m not sure what that is in actual statistics, but it sure sounds cool.

We first took a provisioning stop in Pukalani. The name means “Hole in the Clouds” or “Hole in Heaven” or Head like a Hole”, something like that. Probably should have written that down. This was the last down before we headed up into the crater. We got some Spam Misubi, dried fruit, water, and made sure we were gassed up. I had been eating lots of hard boiled eggs, so gas wasn’t an issue. We kept the top down.

We got a nice history tour of the road on the way up. Originally a horse path, it was built into an actual road by the CCC in the 30’s. This was done largely by hand, with young boys carrying baskets of rocks on donkeys all the way up. Which would make it the last highway in Hawaii finished on schedule. We stopped at the Park HQ for a restroom break and to enjoy the view. The valley was disappearing fast below us. We were already into some of the cloud layer. But the thicker clouds were still above us.  We continued climbing, passing suicidal cyclists. Some trying to kill themselves by speeding down the road, others taking a longer way to kill themselves by biking up the volcano. I figure that  cyanide is faster and easier for your family to clean up.

After countless switchbacks, we hit the Park gate. Since we were already at the Seven Pools earlier in the week, our receipt was still good, and we didn’t have to pay again. (not too shabby) Just past the gate was the visitor center, and first viewpoint. Right as we arrived, the guide warned that we had to watch out for Altitude Sickness. We just drove from Sea Level to 10,000 feet. There wasn’t as much oxygen here, and we had to watch out for getting dizzy or weak if we hiked around the area. Thanks for the safety tip Egon. We parked at the back of the lot, and walked over to the crater rim.

It was truly like nothing I have ever seen.

The crater can fit the island of Manhattan inside. It is large enough that you lose the sense of scale across. It dips below, and down the side of the island. Peaks of cinder cones rise up from the crater floor in areas, with colors of Red Iron, Yellow Sulphur, and Black Lava mixed on God’s own finger-painting. Huge clouds were drifting into the crater, dwarfed in scale by the crater itself. We climbed up a small viewpoint trail to get a better vantage. About halfway up I felt the altitude start to hit me. I slowed down, and was having trouble catching my breath. I took a slower pace, and breathed deeper, and things started returning to normal.

The view from the vista was even better, you could look all the way down the interior of the crater until it disappeared into the clouds. I tried a few photographs, and eventually used some panoramic images to try to capture the sense of scale. It was really hard to get it right. I’m not sure you actually can.

We walked back to the car, and drove just a bit further up to the summit viewpoint. This was across from the Star observatories in the crater. These are here because we are one-third of the way up the earth’s atmosphere. and that’s simply less air to look through. I noticed it was less air to breathe as well. Walking the stairs up to the viewpoint was getting to me.  I kept moving slower and resting more, and it was working, but I could really feel the impact. There was also a garden of Silver Swords up here. The Silver Sword is a little cactus-like plant that blooms once with a stalk of flowers, then dies and turns silver. Seriously, it looks like someone spray painted it. It only grows on the summit, and is totally bizarre.

We got into the car after a bit, and I was happy to head down to things like Beer and Oxygen.

On the way back down, we hit a couple of additional overlooks. The first one was Kalahaku Overlook. This was on the crater rim, and within  a bird sanctuary. It gave a closer look at some of the cinder cones, although we didn’t see any of the birds. I could feel the air getting a little better, but it was still slow going for me. I’m sure you get used to it, but it was amazing how the thin air wears you out so fast. From there we drove down to Lelewi Outlook.  This was at the lower crater rim, right at the cloud line. It was a short hike in to get to the outlook, and the moist air helped. You could watch and see clouds form along the cliff face as moist air collided and condensed, then they would fall away into the clouds below, and drift off. We could really use some of these clouds in the fires by Lahaina right about now.

We skipped the rest of the hikes, it was just a bit too tiring to be enjoyable, and headed down the volcano. There were a lot of switchbacks on the highway, but nothing like the Road to Hana. it was a pleasant drive down, with the guide giving us some music and stories of Maui, the “Hawaiian Superman.” We had heard the stories before at dinner, but these were fun to hear as we looked over the views of the valley approaching beneath us. When  we were out of the switchbacks, we were thinking of taking a detour off the planned rout, and visiting two things we saw on the actual paper tourist map. There was a Lavender Farm, and the Maui Winery on Route 37. These were out of the way a bit, but we had lots of tie, so the sounded like a fun side trip.

Sure enough, as we approached the turn, the guide fired up and told us about the detour. Apparently it was a pretty common option. There was also a goat cheese farm along that route, but we were ok to pass up goat cheese. The Lavender and Wine was more interesting. The guide reminded us to shut it off for the side trip, and that if we returned the same way, our next stop would be Makawao, an old Maui ranching town. That sounded pretty good for the return. We turned south and shut off the tour.

Route 37 in theory heads over to Hana, around the south end of the island. The minor problem with that is the section of unpaved road right at the south end that voids your rental contract, and probably your car suspension as well. I imagine that it will be paved one day, if they can enough boys with baskets of rocks. But the section we were driving on was very nice, and we followed our map up to the Lavender Farm. We took a break here, walking along the gardens, and having some coffee and snacks in the shade. Having some real air helped a lot, I think that was a better recharge than snacks or coffee. This was a nice recharge, and we kept heading south to the winery. There are apparently two wineries in Hawaii, one of which is on Maui.

As Highway 37 curved south, the landscape became rolling hills with a beautiful view of the water below. We could see Molokini out there, and even see Kahoolawe, which is a mostly dead small island to the south. The plants around the road grew up like hedgerows, and we could see old stone walls following the road and heading off up the hills. It looked a lot line rural England, more than Hawaii. The road twisted along the countryside, and finally we ended up at the winery.

The winery was a little house, surrounded by wooden carved statues as we walked up. When we looked, the statues weren’t carved and set there, but were actual trees that had been cut down to about 9 feet high, then carved in place. It was pretty amazing. A cat greeted us out front, so Sasha made sure the cat had sufficient attention, and we went in to try the wine. The Maui Winery is noted for their Pineapple wine, which was OK, but tasted like Fanta Pineapple soda with an alcoholic bite. Great for the kids. Their regular wines we pretty good, they had some nice Rose wines, the whites were a bit sweet, but they had a very good blended red that was young, but well balanced in flavor.  We chatted with the folks behind the counter about wines for a bit, and ended up taking  a bottle of that blend. Deep red wines are really too much in the heat out here, but this was really a good match, and we though we could enjoy it later in the week.

We headed back up the main road, and caught the tour where we left it. Makawao was part of the original cattle ranching areas setup after a gift of a few cows to the kind were let loose and were forbidden to be hunted. The pretty much took over the place, and the royal family invited cowboys from Mexico to teach locals and setup a ranching system to help get these damn cows under control. The Mexicans explained to the natives that they were Española, but that can’t be pronounced in Hawaiian, as there is no S. So the word for Hawaiian Cowboy became Paniolo. Neat.

The town today has a bit of a western/cowboy look to it, some from the original buildings, other newer buildings keeping the style. Most of the places were little galleries and shops, but the big places were the family bakery that has been run by the same family for four generations (closed when we were there), and the Makawao Steak House. We checked out the shops for a bit, ignoring the cats and chickens roaming the street. It was typical artsy crafty stuff. Nothing we were really excited about, but the steak house was sounding better every minute. We walked over and checked out the menu. The Prices were good, but the place was empty. We were a little early for dinner, but we didn’t want to drive any longer, and this was our last stop in the tour, so we thought we’d try it out.

The place looked like a local steak house from the mid 70’s. It had a Restaurant side and a Lounge side. Apparently the original place kept the bar as a fully different business, but the current place merges both sides as a restaurant. The lounge side has very kitschy leather chairs on rollers, so we couldn’t turn that down. We took our time, getting some fried oysters to start, and a few drinks. I’m really liking the Maui Brewing Toasted Coconut Porter, we get it at home as well, I should probably stock up. Shortly after our first drink, the crowds started to show up. The place went from just us, and a guy sitting at the bar, to nearly full in about 30 minutes. I guess we arrived at the right time. I ended up ordering the T-bone steak, Yulia got the Fresh Fish Catch, and Sasha tried a roasted eggplant dish. The T-bone was enormous and cooked perfectly. I ended up sharing it with both of the girls and was still full by the end. I had a side of grilled mushrooms and baked beans, which went perfectly with the steak.

I could see why this place filled up, this was an amazing value for food. Everything was perfectly done and big portions. After a long day of just snacks it really hit the spot. The sun was starting to go down when we left Makawao. It was a quick drive back to the highway to the west side, and as we turned the corner to the main highway into Lahaina, we caught the sunset.

So we literally rode off into the sunset. I love it when a plan comes together.