National Parks: Mount Haleakala in Maui

I'm gearing up for my big summer trip at the end of this month [cue the over eager planning and packing!] This year, my mom and I are going to tick off not one but two national parks from our bucket list and we're entirely too excited! I've been making preparations on my laptop, clearing up space for the massive number of photos I'm bound to take while out west. Yesterday I was sifting through travel photos and realized Mount Haleakala was the last national park I'd been to. It's been nearly three years since my visit, but Haleakala is a place I come back to every few years and it will always hold a special spot in my heart [as does all of Hawaii!].

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Trying to properly describe a view like this is challenging at best.  Yes, mountains, clouds, sky, sun. All beautiful things in nature. Standard. But there's a feeling that comes along with this view. It's something that can only be experienced first hand. It's a rarified air, a solitude. Yet once experienced, the senses take me right back. I look through these photos and the feeling returns immediately; I breathe in that crystalline air. I feel at peace. I am back at Haleakala.

It's rare that such unspoiled, almost magical beauty is easily accessible. Haleakala isn't SO bad, but it does involve a bit of a drive. By the looks of things, I was skeptical we would get any views. On that particular day, the mountain was completely disguised in clouds [yes, there's a 10,000+ elevation beyond that mass of gray]. 

I didn't have high hopes we would see much, until about 30 minutes of driving through the clouds [yes, through them!] when I saw a hint of blue.

Not long after, the sky rose beyond the clouds and we made it to the national park grounds! We took a break at the first rest stop, and I was instantly entranced by what lay before me.

The mid elevation of Haleakala made me feel like I was in the Scottish Highlands [granted, I've never actually been to Scotland, but I imagine it looks a bit like this].  I've been more than a little obsessed with Outlander as of late [the show that heroically filled my Game of Thrones void!], so everything is coming up Scotland for me right now!

The air was significantly cooler at this elevation [I think we were somewhere around 9,000 at this point]. For miles all I could see was verdant green terrain. On a completely clear day, you can see all of Maui in the distance. The clouds did part every now and then to give us a glimpse of the land below [you can just barely see the Pacific at the top of this photo].

We got an up close look at the rare Silversword plant. These are only found on Mt. Haleakala, so they feel really quite special when you come across one. This one wasn't in bloom yet, though my mom got a shot of one in full bloom as we drove back down- I'll need to find that photo!]. When they do bloom, they only stay that way for a day and immediately begin to die, hence their rarity. 

After a bit more driving, we finally made it to the visitors center [at about 9700 feet], just below the summit. I'd never been here at this time of day. We only ever went for the sunrise, but now I know sunset is absolutely worth the drive.

We opted to walk to the top of a trail just near the visitor's center.  It's a short hike and gives you a fantastic vantage point of the whole crater. 

The colors were so vibrant and the terrain is unlike anything else I've ever seen [it's what I imagine Mars would look like!].  You can actually go hiking down there and even stay overnight! [definitely holds a solid spot on my bucket list!]

We stood in awe for a time, soaking in all the clean air and unspoiled beauty surrounding us. We stood there, watching as the shade from the rapidly descending sun covered the crater.

In the photo below, you can just make out the Haleakala Observatory [on the left], which isn't accessible to the public. I can only imagine the views of the stars from there, sigh. We had to head down before the sun fully set, since the road back has a fair few tricky switchbacks, making the drive down especially 'adventurous' when it's dark. I never feel sad leaving all the beautiful places in Maui, since I find comfort in knowing I'll always make my way back here. I know without a doubt Haleakala and I will meet again.