Friday, May 31, 2019



Next up on our tour of Famous Maui Places is Haleakala National Park, where I had the singular experience of driving from sea level to the top of an enormous 10,000 foot shield volcano and then hiking down into the mountain's wild, eroded crater. The deal with the hike is that it's downhill into the crater, then uphill to get back out, with less oxygen thanks to the altitude, and no familiar landmarks to help judge distance, plus it's always about 30° F colder at the top than at sea level. The usual advice is to budget twice as much time on the way out as on the way in, so I did that, and chose a point to turn around based on that. It turned out that it took me the same amount of time on the way up, I think because I kept stopping to take photos on the way down, so time & distance budgeting was not the exact science I'd been led to believe. Also the altitude didn't seem to bother me at all; the thing that was a problem was the sun. You'll see warnings about this, explaining that you need extra protection due to both the high altitude and low latitude. I thought I had taken extra precautions, but my SPF 30, coral reef friendly sunblock was no match for the sun here, and I got burned a.) through my sunblock everywhere I had sunblock on, and b.) right through my hair, where I didn't think I needed sunblock. I probably ought to have worn a hat, honestly. Which is not something that usually occurs to me, since I've never found a hat that looks good on me, and some years ago I concluded I just don't have a hat head. I couldn't tell you what a hat head is, but I'm quite certain I don't possess one. Still, an ugly hat is better than sunburn. An ugly brimless hat preferably, since it's also really windy at the top. I'll remember next time, and there's going to be a next time, because this time was amazing. Highly recommended, except for the sun part.

There's more to the trail than endless volcanic ash and cinders, despite what most of the photos would lead you to believe. I saw a bunch of the iconic silversword plants on the way, along with a couple of baby nene (an indigenous goose, the official state bird) that I didn't get any good photos of. Nene are often described as flightless, but that isn't strictly true. They're still physically capable of fligh; it's just that they usually sort of neglect to fly, whether out of laziness or sheer stupidity, even when that means getting hit by a car or eaten by a mongoose. Some years ago I narrowly avoided running over a whole group of them at the other national park on the Big Island; I remember they just stood there in the middle road, staring blankly at me, I suppose trying to puzzle out what sort of fellow nene or edible plant my car was. I don't want to sound like I'm blaming them for being critically endangered, and I'm sure they were doing fine before people showed up on their islands; it's just that -- like pandas -- they don't really give off a vibe of vigorously struggling for survival.

Speaking of cars, it's too bad I don't have any photos of my rental car in this photoset. I used to roll my eyes about tourists of a certain age and gender who came to Hawaii and insisted on renting a Mustang or Corvette to zoom around on whatever tiny island they were visiting. It turns out that's not quite how it works. I though I had reserved a nice, practical, reliable Toyota sedan, but the agency took one look at me and I was issued a shiny new silver Mustang instead, no extra charge (beyond the additional gas it drank, obvs.) They even apologized that they were out of convertibles. I quickly realized the whole island was packed with late-model Mustangs and similar midlife crisis cars, most of which (I assume) are rentals. So now I wonder if Ford hands out Mustangs to Hawaii rental agencies at or below cost and writes it off as a promotional expense. I dunno. Not that it was the world's most practical island car, exactly. It's fast in a straight line, but there are only a couple of stretches of flat, straight, mainland-style divided highway on Maui, and they cross the narrow central part of the island and are only a few miles long. On narrow, windy roads I kept thinking a car that wasn't quite as long or wide would be nice. It reminded me a lot of the old 1980 Mercury Capri (a rebadged Mustang) that I once owned. More rumbly and more gadgets, but still with blind spots you could hide an oil tanker in, I suppose because the classic Mustang look and feel requires it. It all felt a little silly, to be honest. Overall I don't think Hawaii has been well served by importing mainland car culture, eating up valuable land with sprawling car-centric suburbs and short (but weirdly congested) freeways. On the other hand, the islands were also not well served by the previous model, in which you built juuust enough infrastructure to meet the needs of colonial-era pineapple and sugar barons, and then stopped, which is why rural roads around the state have so many narrow one-lane bridges even today.

I don't really want to wrap this up yammering about cars, so let me also recommend the park's gift shop at the ranger station, just beyond the main entrance to the park. I mostly stopped to sit in my car for a while as an altitude sickness precaution, but the shop had stuffed animals of various endangered species native to Maui, enabling me to play Cool Uncle again when I got home. I say again because I did this when I went to the Everglades last August, which reminds me that I never got around to posting those photos. I'll probably get around to doing that sooner or later; I swore up and down that I was going to focus on posting new stuff, and while I've been doing that, I haven't been doing it anywhere close to often enough to keep up, such that I now have a backlog of new photos to work my way through. On the bright side, my current software project wrapped up earlier today, so just maybe I'll have a bit more free time in the upcoming few months, and just maybe I'll devote some of it to Ye Olde Humble Blog, versus all the other things I wish I had more free time to do, like reading actual books, or more travel... although that leads to more photos, and me falling even further behind on them. Oh, well. I do the best I can with the time and attention I can spare, that's all I can really guarantee. For blog posts, or anything else, really.