One of the things we told our friends about was about Haleakala Crater. It is a volcano with a rim that rises above 10,000 feet, and we had been told that we should get up about 3 a.m. and drive to the top of the mountain up the very windy road in order to see the sunrise. We did so, even though we were totally exhausted, with hopes of seeing some beautiful sights. We were definitely not disappointed.
First off, though, we went prepared. It is a very strange thing to pack winter clothes when you are preparing for a trip to tropical Hawaii. Nevertheless, we had read how cold it gets up there, so with some of our excess space in our luggage (ha!), we packed in our heavy winter coats with hats, gloves, and scarves.
We were very happy to have them! Some of the people who also went to see the sunrise arrived wearing shorts and T-shirts, and clearly hadn't done their homework. When the sun came up, they snapped their pictures and fled back to the warmth of the lower altitudes. We were amused by that.
The road to the top of the crater is a windy road with more switch-backs than we were willing to count. At that time of the morning, I was tired, but excited enough to keep awake for the drive. Truth be told, I absolutely loved it -- I'm one of those kinds of guys that really enjoys driving, and driving windy roads greatly amuses me. (Hawaii as a whole kept me grinning goofily through much of our driving time ...)
When we got to the top, we were impressed by how many people were there. There was a large parking lot a little lower than the peak where tourists could park, and one higher where those who worked at the observatory could park. Choosing our parking space, we got out and set up our tripod for the pictures. My wife instantly went into recording mode and started snapping pictures about every 30 seconds.
The view, though, was certainly worth it. We were amazed as we watched the sun rise above the clouds. Yes, we were high enough that we were actually above the clouds and the sun rose above them! From where we were, you couldn't really take in the magnitude of the crater below us because of its massive size. Nevertheless, the winds blew from the east and pushed clouds over the tops of the opposing crater rim.
We loved how the sun lit up the edges of the clouds, like golden lace on a down pillowcase. It was spectacular.
As the sun continued to rise, my wife snapped picture after picture. I can't really include them all, but you can see that the colors were splendid. The crater was dark below us, contrasting sharply with the light shining across the "floor" of the cloud-deck.
As the sun continued to rise, we were able to discern more details in the crater beneath us, and the clouds began to thin somewhat as it slowly "burned off".
Behind us, the crater was so large that it cast a magnificent triangular crater across the ocean to the west. I took this picture a little too late, but you can get an idea of its size.
Later, we went on a little hike down into the crater. We were suffering preliminary effects from altitude sickness by this time, though, and dehydration, so didn't spend a lot of time there. We did get some great pictures, though, such as:
Here's the east peak, surrounded by clouds:
Here's a series of cinder cones inside the crater itself:
You could even see the snow-topped peaks of the Big Island off in the distance:
We truly felt like we were on top of the world.
Of all our experiences in Hawaii, we think that the trip we took to Haleakala Crater was probably the most memorable. Just thinking about that experience makes my wife and I want to go back to Hawaii and enjoy the islands again. We want to do more hiking and more exploring. The trails into the crater were tantalizing to us, and if we had been better prepared we certainly would have taken advantage of that.
It was truly an extraordinary time. As pompous as it may sound, we felt like we were closer to our Savior up there, in a place that was special and holy. We have a better understanding of why it was in ancient times that the Lord came to the tops of the mountains when he spoke to His prophets. There was a peaceful feeling, an isolation from the burdens of the world, and a focus that didn't have anywhere else on our trip. It truly was a wondrous experience, and we are grateful for it.