Posted by: kerryl29 | March 9, 2020

Hawaii Day 12: Haleakala Crater

A popular thing to do on Maui is to head up to the Haleakala Crater rim for sunrise.  It’s so popular now, in fact, that the National Park Service (NPS) requires a reservation to carry out the act.  The fee is nominal (something like $1.50 per car), so it’s not a case of gouging.  Apparently sunrise at the rim was so high in demand that the parking lots up there were overflowing every morning and, in an attempt to keep things from becoming a total circus, NPS established this system.  You have to sign up in advance to obtain a reservation and if you don’t do so  something like six weeks in advance, you can forget it.  A small number of slots are held over until the day before, but you have sign up on-line at a specific hour of the morning a day in advance.

I didn’t find out about all of this (“You need a reservation to see the sunrise in a national park?”) until about three weeks before I was planning to leave for Hawaii so literally every day that I was to be on Maui was sold out before I had a chance to do anything about it.  That would limit me to either taking a crack at the day-before lottery or just forgetting it entirely.  I chose the latter.

I have to say, I’m truly amazed that the tourist crowd is so besotted with the idea of viewing sunrise from the rim that they’d overflow the lots.  Sunrise time at Haleakala doesn’t change much throughout the year (a product of the latitude and the fact that daylight savings time isn’t observed in Hawaii–it’s entirely unnecessary, given how little the number of daylight hours changes throughout the year).  Sunrise ranges from 5:30, on the early side, to shortly before 7 AM, on the late side, depending on the specific date with the former being on and around the summer solstice and the latter being on and around the winter solstice.  (When I was there, it was around 6:15.)  But what does that mean practically?  Most tourists stay in either south Maui or West Maui, and it’s a solid two hour drive to get up to the rim, depending on where you’re coming from and how aggressively you drive…particularly after reaching the winding park road that makes up the final segment of the trip.  You’d want to be there…oh, I’d say at least 30 minutes before sunrise, even if you’re not a photographer (most people attending aren’t) and just want to view the spectacle.  Assuming you can be ready to be out the door 30 minutes after you get up…well, you see where I’m going with this.  Assuming a 6:15 sunrise, Joe Tourist is going to have to arise somewhere in the neighborhood of 2:45 AM to make it up to the rim on time.  What self-respecting tourist is going to do that?

What’s more, there’s no guarantee that you’re even going to see the sunrise.  Haleakala Crater–the rim is approximately 10,000 feet above sea level–is frequently swathed in clouds.  And it’s cold up there!  This is Hawaii, so there’s a kind of tourist ignorance at work, but at the warmest times of the day the temperature at the rim rarely exceeds 60 F.  It is frequently below freezing at daybreak, and is often windy.  Legends abound involving tourists shivering in flip flops and shorts, waiting for the (damn) sun to rise (already!) so they can get back in their vehicles and turn the heat on full blast.

And yet, despite all of that, there are more people who want (or think they want) to observe the sunrise from the rim than can be accommodated.

I had made up my mind that this–my fourth full day on Maui–was to be the day I was going to spend time at the Crater.  Knowing that I couldn’t get into the park (without a sunrise reservation) until 7 AM or thereabouts, I timed my departure that morning with the thought that I’d find some spots along the park road to photograph sunrise.  There were plenty of clouds when I departed Kihei that morning and there were still quite a few when ambient light rose, as I neared the turnoff to Haleakala in Maui’s Upcountry.  Still, I found a few opportunities to stop along the way.

West Maui at Sunrise from the Park Road, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

2 West Maui at Sunrise from the Park Road, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Rainbow from the Park Road, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

West Maui Morning from the Park Road, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

West Maui Morning from the Park Road, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

The partly to mostly cloudy skies gave way to more or less entirely socked in fog/clouds as I reached the visitors center, at around 7000 feet above sea level.  As I climbed beyond that, and approached the first of several crater overlooks, the fog loomed everywhere.  It was chilly and windy, with occasional drizzle.  I didn’t stop at any of the overlooks–there didn’t appear to be much point under the circumstances–and followed the road all the way up to the second park visitors center, which is located just a half mile’s drive below the rim, where the road ends.  The visitors center was open and I went in and spoke with the ranger on duty for a few minutes, mostly asking about the weather and the likelihood that it might clear up.  He shrugged.  “We never know,” he said.  “It’s completely unpredictable.”  I asked him if there had been a sunrise for the throngs that had driven up that morning.  “Nope,’ he said.  “Not so much as a glimmer.”  That explained the sour faces I’d seen from the occupants of the countless cars that had been exiting the park as I’d driven in.

What to do?  It was still early in the morning and I’d planned to spend pretty much the entire day up at the crater.  The current weather was miserable, but it might get better.  As long as I was up here, I thought, I might as well hang around and see what might happen.

I drove back down the park road a few miles and stopped at the lot for one of the overlooks–Kalahaku Overlook, to be specific.  There was one other car in the entire fog-strewn lot when I pulled in, and just as I was getting out of my car, two young women were returning to there’s.  I didn’t even have to ask them how things appeared from the overlook, which was about a quarter of a mile down a trail which, with foreboding, was all but obscured in the swirling fog.  “You can’t see anything!” one of them blurted to me.  The other just nodded, then added “It’s so disappointing.”  I thanked them for the scouting report and they then drove off, leaving me in the otherwise deserted lot.  I figured I’d check out the overlook anyway and, even though I figured it was a waste of time, I brought my gear with me.  The trail was so short I figured why not?

In a few minutes I was at the overlook.  It was extremely windy, but there was a large plexiglass shield which formed a kind of shelter, like a bus stop along a city street.  That was nice because it got me out of the wind, but it was clear that the two women had reported things accurately: absolutely nothing of the crater was visible.  I put my things on a bench and waited.  I had dressed appropriately for the weather; the air temperature was in the mid 40s F at this point.  It was a solid 40 degrees colder than I’d experienced just about everywhere I’d been in Hawaii up to that point.

The wind kept blowing fog all over the place but I still couldn’t see anything.  And then, after about 15 minutes, a rocky promontory briefly came into view.  I stood there and watched as the clouds and fog began to lift, just a bit….then a bit more.  I set up my tripod and pulled out my camera in anticipation.  And, like magic, parts of the crater began to be revealed.

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

I found the combination of the mysterious clouds, the occasional piercing of sunshine, and the lunar like surface inside the crater fascinating.  The tapestry was ever-changing with the capriciousness of the fog and wind.

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook Black & White, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook Black & White, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater from the Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

After a solid 20-30 minutes, the window of sight began to close and within two more minutes it was effectively gone.  I felt convinced that it would open again, eventually, but I didn’t know exactly when and, rather than hang around, I decided to return to the rim and do some hiking on a trail that I’d identified during my research on the Crater:  the Keone’ehe’e (or Sliding Sands) Trail, which starts near the upper visitors center and descends deep into the crater.  It networks with many other trails down in the crater and you can take it more or less as far as you like, but it’s worth noting two things:  first, the trail descends relentlessly, which means that you’re going to have to ascend relentlessly to return to the trailhead; and second, you’re starting a hike at 10,000 feet elevation.  It’s pretty thin air at that altitude, so you have to be prepared to deal with that fact; coupled with the steepness of the trail, you can get pretty gassed on the way back if you’re not ready to deal with it.  I’ve done some significant hiking at an even higher altitude before, most recently when I was in Colorado a few years ago and hiked the Bear Creek Trail above 11,000 feet (round trip distance of that hike was roughly nine miles).

It was cloudy/foggy when I started the hike but I hoped that, as had been the case at the Kalahaku Overlook, that would change.  And it did.  Clouds/fog rolled in and out and back in and back out throughout the entirety of what ended up being approximately a six-mile round trip hike.

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

The inside of the crater is a truly remarkable landscape; I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  The constantly shifting fog really added to the dynamic nature of the scenery, speckled as it is with silverswords.

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

In addition to the clouds changing the direct feel of the landscape by revealing or obscuring certain features, they also cast a remarkable set of shadows on the colorful, but batten, crater floor when enough of a gap existed to let the sunshine through.

Crater Cloud Shadows Black & White, Keone’ehe’e_Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e_Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail Black & White, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Keone’ehe’e Trail Black & White, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

I ended up hiking roughly three miles into the crater, which meant I had to hike three miles out.  That return hike was a bit of a slog.  Some of the crater images you see above were taken on the way back, which helped break up the monotony a bit, but I was fairly tired when I got back to the trailhead in the middle of the afternoon.  I moved the half mile up to the rim overlook for a parting shot.

Haleakala Crater from the Rim, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Things were clouding up substantially–again–at this point.  The cloud cover might well lift again…but it might not and I didn’t much feel like sticking around to find out.  I had enough time to drive back down to sea level and take in sunset–assuming there was one–from the beach right next to the hotel where I was staying.  And that worked out brilliantly, as luck would have it.

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach stretches for a couple of miles in South Maui, and where I was staying was at the northern edge of it.  To the south runs nearly two miles of uninterrupted sand, but just steps to the north–literally, no more than about 200 feet–from my beach access was this splendid rocky area, filled with spits of sand and tidepools.  Now dressed in shorts and a t-shirt in the 80-degree (F) weather, I wandered out to this area with my gear and watched the western sky as it was gradually enveloped in a dreamy Hawaiian sunset, dropping the curtain on another long day of photography.

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii

Keawakapu Beach at Sunset, Maui, Hawaii


Responses

  1. Looks like you had a far more productive early morning than anything you might have been able to shoot among the crowd at the rim. And the photos of the sunset on the rocky beach are very, very nice.

    • Thanks!

      Given that there was no sunrise at the rim, I’m inclined to agree with you. 🙂

  2. Dang, these are incredible photos. Makes me REALLY want to finally visit Hawaii!

    • Thanks very much!

      I hope you get that chance.

  3. Wonderful landscapes.

    • Thanks very much!

      • Thanks!

        No, although I do sell a few prints and license the odd image, I’m not anything close to a full-time professional.

  4. That was a really great image. Great job. Are you, professional photographer?

  5. Beautiful pictures of Hawaii, the ones from the cretor are very dramatic.

    • Thanks very much!

  6. This is a great shot. I also like to see the sunrise. But I have no opportunity to saw the sunrise in Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii.

    • Thanks very much!

  7. […] That dome in the background is Haleakala.  They surely had a sunrise up there this morning. […]

  8. These are soooo good! I loove the one with the rainbow 🤩✨ mind checking out my posts? 🙂

    • Thanks!

      I’ll try to have a look at your blog.


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