Monday, February 13, 2012

Stargazing on Tuesday

A week ago yesterday, we arrived home from our trip to Hawaii. I'm sad that Tuesday's adventures were almost two weeks ago! The third full day of our vacation started as a relaxing one.

My mom and dad got up early for yoga, and Ross and I took a sunrise walk and watched surfers. The surf was coming in and LOTS of people were intent on taking advantage of it.

Unfortunately, that also meant that the novices among us were not allowed in the water. No equipment rental, lessons, or snorkeling allowed. I spent part of the morning pouting about this. It was aggravating being so close to the water but not being in it! To be fair, we could wade in the shallow water, but it was just cool enough that you had to really be moving to stay warm once you got wet.

All morning I kept thinking: how cool would it be to be a surfer? Your only job would be to find employment that will allow you to make enough money to support this hobby which, I imagine, is much cheaper than some other hobbies such as skiing or SCUBA diving once you own the board (and, of course, if you already live in Hawaii). Wouldn't it be wonderful to organize your life so that when the weather is perfect, you could drop everything and spend all day doing something that you love?! And I think it's so cool that every wave is different. Unlike running on a trail, surfers literally have a different experience every time they go out-- not just slightly different scenery.

Realistically, I know this would be an anxiety-provoking lifestyle for me... living hand-to-mouth year-round. And what if *gasp* you had to work on the one day the waves really came in? So yeah. Maybe not the life for me, but nice to think about nonetheless. It's always fun to see passion in action.

Tuesday morning left me with a desire to find an outdoor passion that allows me to interact with and find joy in nature. I really enjoyed just being active and outdoors this vacation.

Iced Kona coffee with mom and dad. A good way to start the day!
After these (not so profound) musings, I settled for some pool time in the sunshine. I swam a few laps and enjoyed the long lap lane. Much more fun than turning around every 25 meters. Once my dad was out of his meeting, we all met up and piled into the car. After a quick pit-stop for a picnic dinner and some green juice for me, we headed out. Destination? The tallest mountain in the world.

To be fair, Mauna Kea makes this claim by measuring from the sea floor. When measured from its true base, this dormant volcano is 33,500 feet tall, although it only rises 13,796 feet above sea level. In comparison, Mount Everest certainly has the highest elevation at 29,035 feet above sea level.

 There are 13 climate zones in the world and 11 of them can be found in Hawaii... many of them as you wind your way up this mountain. These include tropical rainforest (which we started to see when we went up to about 1,000 feet to see the coffee plantation on Sunday), dessert, and finally permafrost at the peak of Mauna Kea.

prairie-- doesn't look like 'Hawaii'

We didn't venture to the true peak-- that required a 4-wheel drive and time to acclimate. Instead, we drove to the visitor's station at 9,000 feet. We watched the outside temperature drop steadily as we drove up in elevation, and the landscapes did vary radically and quickly.

pine forest
approaching the lowest clouds
sunshine above the cloud line

cattle grazing over a mile above sea level

When we reached the visitor's center, we walked around for a minute and then quickly decided to hike up the biggest hill nearby to watch the sunset. For a few minutes, we had the hill to ourselves. And what a view!

Ross and Dad on the way up

The view from the top of the 'hill' on the mountain

Other people eventually had the same idea, though, so once it got crowded we sat down to eat. Food always tastes better when you've worked for it! It also arguably tastes better in fresh air because this deli counter meal of curried broccoli salad, mandarin orange and beet salad, taro chips, and tuna musubi was so good.

Then we settled in to watch the sun set above the cloudline.

There are no words, but "this is where heaven and earth collide."

Ross liked this picture the best!
Dad and Mom bundled up
With the last remaining bit of twilight, we hiked back down to the visitor's center to look at the stars.

Apparently 9,000 feet is just about the perfect location for viewing stars with the naked eye. You're above the cloud line and the atmosphere thins just enough that the stars are clear (apparently atmosphere is what makes them 'twinkle' when we usually look at them). Yet the atmosphere isn't so thin that our retinal cells are starved for oxygen. Pretty cool! To boot, the Big Island actually has some pretty strict lighting laws in place per the Mauna Kea astronomers. The observatory couldn't get really good funding unless the island complied. Looking at the stars without light pollution is a very rare experience.

telescope picture taken much earlier in the evening
There was a volunteer astronomer there with a big telescope set up allowing us to see a few things up close. Once it got darker, he pointed out a number of stars and constellations with a fantastically strong laser pointer. We saw stars whose circumference is bigger than the entire orbit of many planets in our solar system and others who may have burnt out years ago and we wouldn't know because their light takes so long to travel to earth.

We did get lost on the way home (poor lighting does have its downside, but poor road signage doesn't help). But it was worth it. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

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