House of the Sun – the Mars-scape of Haleakala
Early in the morning we started the journey. It’s only 27 miles to the top, but the road, completed in 1935, is narrow and full of switchbacks. And bicyclists. And buses. And cars and trucks… all straining against the thinning oxygen.
Haleakala is huge volcano, 10,023 feet above sea-level – if you measured from the ocean floor, you’d need to add about another 16,000 to that. According to Hawaiian tradition, Maui, the demigod, not the island, was concerned at his mothers complaints that the days were too short for people to do the work needed to survive, and were always racing against the daylight. Taking pity on the world, Maui, imprisoned the sun within Haleakala, to make the day longer.
U.S. Geological Survey currently classifies Haleakala as “Normal” on it’s Volcanic Alert Level, meaning the mountain does have some volcanic activity – deep, deep, deep below – but is non-eruptive. Although, it is believed that the mountain has erupted within the last 500 years, all appears quiet – and extremely cold, remember, it is over a mile-in-the-sky. Still, the mountain is home to a sparse, but beautiful ecosystem of endemic species.
The Haleakala Observatory is an impossible-to-miss feature of the visit.
The actual craters are on the flanks of the mountain and built up the summit, perhaps as high as 15,000 feet, between them, which then eroded into a valley that we call the ‘crater’ of Haleakala. There are volcanic vents in the valley, but eruptions have come from the north, and more recently – geologically speaking – south sides of the mountain.
Above you can see some of the vents in the valley facing the southern gap, or Kaupo.
Haleakala is barren, but there are signs of life if you look closely. It is a stark, cold, unforgiving, but hauntingly beautiful place.