A Starry Night In The House Of The Sun

Halwakala Cabin

As a seasonal Maui resident, I’m at home with the massive, dormant volcano that dominates my kitchen’s view.  I time my beach hikes to start before our tropical sun rises above its 10,024 ft., shield-like, summit.  From dawn to sunset, Haleakala (“the house of the sun”) presents an ever-changing spectacle of clouds, squalls, and plumes of drifting Big Island fog.  Haleakala National Park’s three wilderness cabins are ideal for viewing Hawaii’s heavens. 

Recently my friend Rich Brunner and I hiked down into the crater.  We hadn’t gone far from the 7990 ft. Halemau’u Trailhead before we met a mule-mounted wrangler.  On that narrow ridge, he and his pack string were outlined against a vibrant rainbow.

Our trail was a characteristically well-designed Civilian Conservation Corps marvel.  Many times elsewhere I’d admired the work of the young men whose labor benefitted our country during the Great Depression.  Here their rock retaining walls and switchbacks have endured for eight decades.

Rain surged up from Ko’olau Gap.  Visibility constricted to peekaboo views of basalt crags and scattered cinder cones.

Haleakala boasts more endangered species than any other American national Park.  Otherworldly scenery abounds in the 7-mile wide, 2,600 ft. deep crater.  Luckily we reached the dun-colored, desert floor in time to see a pair of graceful birds swoop toward a black, barely-visible moraine.  Maui’s famous nene geese had become extinct here, but the species was reintroduced to Haleakala by Boy Scouts who’d carried in goslings.

Our route climbed the moraine past lava tubes and native shrubland to 6940 ft. Hōlua Cabin.  We lighted a compressed log fire in the old wood stove and changed into warm, dry clothes.  My simple, candlelight dinner pleased me more than any meal I’d ever eaten in the nearby, coastal resorts.

At 10 PM, the clouds lifted from Haleakala’s great amphitheater.  When we stepped out into the cold, night air, the Milky Way’s disk arched from rim to rim.  We gaped at the overhead spectacle.  Each time I raised my 10 power binoculars, I discovered that every smidgin of sky glowed with stars and galaxies.

Earth’s sublimely beautiful night sky is a complex dance of matter, gravity, and deep time.  It holds answers to profound questions about where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  That’s why I strongly support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Hawaii’s nearby Big Island.  

That night, I, a comically puny hiker, stood on Haleakala’s stage and shouted a question to the unhearing stars.  “Which celestial object,” I said, “will be the next to receive humanity’s boot tracks?” At the Hōlua Cabin, it was easy to imagine that our greatest period of exploration is still ahead of us …

Note: all this can be yours for $75/night if you plan well in advance to reserve a cabin.  (If you wish to sleep in your tent, you may do so at Hōlua Cabin’s and Palikū Cabin’s nearby campgrounds).

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