Probably the most unique experience we had in Hawai’i was the chance to go to the top of Mauna Kea (which is *actually* the tallest mountain in the world) and look at some stars. I had not known this, but many others do, that Hawai’i, and Mauna Kea specifically, is one of the most ideal places for land-based astronomy on Earth. It’s high above the clouds, there is little light pollution or moisture, and it’s place near the equator gives it the advantage of being able to see roughly 90% of the entire sky. We started this tour by getting picked up in a mini bus hours and hours before sunset, taking a bumpy 2-hour drive straight up to the center of the island, all the while getting geology facts told to us by our ample guide. Haleakalā SilverswordEventually we reached the visitor center about 9,200 feet above sea level for a dinner break. I later found out that this is also to acclimate ourselves to the thinning oxygen. Then, we went even higher, up a bumpy, precarious dirt road. Still not quite at the summit of Mauna Kea, we stop off to look at a couple observatories. This is the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory.W.M. Keck Observatories, I & II. The tiny people make me think of Jawas. In fact, the whole area felt very Star Wars. Still a bunch more to see!Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (Cloud City)It was all so surreal, to be so high up, in the cold, in Hawaii of all places, feeling like you were on Mars (or Tatooine). Actually, the ground at the top of the mountain is a near exact match for the basalt found on Mars. The iron in it has rusted.Once we got to the top, we were just free to walk around and wait for the sun to set. The best word to describe it all at once would probably be “majestic.” I can still feel how cold and thin the air was (I got, like, pretty woozy).I don’t have anything after this part, as I didn’t have a tripod on this trip (that would’ve been dangerous anyway. Too much trying to focus in the dark, not enough just chilling out and enjoying the moment.) After the sunset though, we went back down to the visitor center, stood on a dark hill, and checked out some far, far away star clusters with sweet telescopes. And having access to most of the sky is pretty cool; we got to see constellations we’d never seen before. Like Scorpio, which is just massive and what gives it the right to be that big anyway?
If you ever go to The Big Island, above all else, this is a must. There’s only one or two other places in the world you can do this stuff.