Hawai`i (Roads) - Haleakala Crater/HI 378

Haleakala Crater and Haleakala Highway (HI 378)

HI 377 NB with dysfunctional shields at the western beginning of HI 378; it seems that the black outline of the shield shape stretches outside the rest of the background, but still doesn't fill the sign.

HI 378 climbs another 6,500 feet in the next 21 miles, averaging nearly a 6% grade all the way. In contrast, Interstate highways are generally limited to 5% except in rare circumstance, and almost any grade is less than 20 miles long.

The road climbs up to a mile above the rest of Maui, with great views of the south coast and central plains if only we weren't climbing through and ultimately above the clouds! In the third photo, a silversword bush (bottom center) greets travelers at the entrance to Haleakala National Park, where HI 378 officially ends (but this page is just getting started). It is an appropriate plant to include in this photo, because it only grows above 5000 feet on the islands of Maui and Hawai`i (the Big Island), and they are most easily seen here because it's the only road that high open to general tourist traffic and their rental cars. This part of the plant looks like a lovely bush, but in fact its entire existence is growing a stalk of flowers over roughly a dozen years before sticking that stalk up three times the height of the rest of the plant - and then instantly dying. The success of the species is predicated on that brief moment when the seeds can disperse from the flowers.

Another rare species found only in a few places in Hawai`i is the nene. Brought close to extinction by the introduction of non-native species, it is making a comeback only in protected areas like the upper slopes of Haleakala - otherwise pests such as feral cats and mongooses (not mongeese) would eradicate the nene. It's a pretty goose, but still a goose in the end.

Uncluttered by clouds, the sky above 5000 feet is a deeper, clearer blue than anywhere else in the United States save Alaska. As the air thins, the number of plants drops considerably, leaving the road to climb through rocky, desolate lava fields that seem to belong on another planet. In the background of the last photo, already above 9000 feet, is the observatory past the top of the mountain. The view upward from here isn't as great as on the Big Island - the world's largest observatory is on Mauna Kea.

The best views of Haleakala Crater are from the second visitor center just shy of the volcano summit. These views were taken both from the ledge outside the visitor center and from White Hill, the second-tallest point on the crater rim. Photos start looking north at Haleakala Highway from White Hill with the visitor center in the foreground, then panning eastward around the Martian emptiness of the crater (but hey, there's a trail), and finishing with another view from White Hill showing the summit building at Red Hill (10,023 feet high) and the observatory behind it.

The view from 10,000 feet is subtly different from anything below it, in that you can't look up at anything other than sky. You can walk a few summit trails and look back west at the island you've conquered.

A unique chance to see the entire life cycle of the silversword, or `ahinahina. The baby is the small green plant at right, maturing into the adults in front of it and to its left. After several years, it flowers like the tall plant at left - now you can see just how tall the flower stalk gets. After that, the stalk keels over like behind the center living plant, and eventually the entire plant dies (background) and withers away to nothing (right foreground).

Challenging the clouds creeping in from further down the mountain, which will soon obscure the entire crater in a daily weather cycle, I get three Red Hill photos of the crater from the visitor center around to the south rim.

Descending the mountain westward while a rain cloud ascends right past us, and then getting the view I missed on the way up - the north and south shores of Maui simultaneously, framing the central plains and Mauna Kahalawai.

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