Sunday, June 14, 2009

House of the Sun

A lot of people get up at the crack of dark to make the commute up 10,000 feet (the steepest roadway in the world for its horizontal distance) to the top of Haleakala volcano, so that they can behold sunrise—huddled inside a Plexiglass viewing octogon and freezing their tushies off. This is okay, as long as you bring outwear. But one problem is the early start time doesn't let you check the weather, and thick clouds often sweep the top, making this "House of the Sun" more like the House of Sand and Fog.

So, to see the sun next to the earth's curvature, try a late afternoon run, when you can take in one of the many awesome hiking trails that interconnect the 19-square-mile, 3,000-foot deep crater (technically a valley, say the scientists). Whenever you come, Haleakala National Park is a must-do on Maui—a monument that stands tall alongside any of the parks in the American Southwest.

The Sliding Sands Trail is perhaps the top choice for adventure hikers, as it drops down over pink-yellow sand and among a series of pu'us (volcanic cones), connecting with other routes that lead to the three, for-rent rustic cabins inside the big mountain. Just make sure you don't get suckered down too far, since it can be a trudge coming out at this elevation. The the stone visitors center at White Hill, almost to the top, is also on the A-list. Then head up the road to the viewing area at Red Hill Summit (Pu'u'ulaula) and watch the sunset. You can always play the vid in reverse and say it was sunrise.

Hot tip: The Skyline Trail, part of state parks and not the national park, is not shown on the park map and not signed on the main road. Virtually no body goes there. It goes down the west rift of the volcano, making you feel airborne, and also has an ocean view, which you don't get scampering Haleakala's interior trails. See page 156 of Maui Trailblazer.