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The Top of Maui: Mt. Haleakala

Every time I catch up with friends I haven't seen in a while, the first question they ask is, 'so how was Hawaii?!' It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the everyday of work and life here in Atlanta. I so quickly forget that not long ago I was looking out above the clouds at the top of Mount Haleakala.

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 the rarified air, the solitude. 

Before making it to this indescribable spot, we did have quite a drive [what's with Maui and all the epic driving?!]. I was very skeptical we would get any decent views.  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 clouds [yes, through them!] when I saw a hint of blue.

Not long after that, 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 already entranced by the views. This part of Haleakala felt like I was in the Scottish Highlands [granted, I've never actually been to Scotland, but I imagine it looks a bit like this]. 

The air was significantly cooler at this elevation [I think we were somewhere around 9,000 at this point], and everything was so verdant.

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 just a bit more 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 pretty short hike, but it 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! [next time?]

We stood there in awe for a while, soaking in all the clean air and beauty surrounding us.

Before the shade from the rapidly descending sun covered the crater, we took more photos of us at the top.

I don't look all that impressed in this photo, but I promise I'm loving every minute! How could I not be impressed with this massive shield volcano? Imagine if it wasn't dormant? Now THAT would be amazing!

In this light, my hair and skin blend in with the terrain [did I mention I turn orange when I'm in Hawaii? It's true].

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.

We had to head down before the sun fully set, since the road back is filled with endless switchbacks, making the drive down especially tricky 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.