On top of the world — Mauna Kea

keatrilevelWe had always dreamed of standing on Mauna Kea under a clear sky with the piercing stars and the Milky Way wheeling above us.  Alas the cloud cover on the night we visited didn’t allow all that, but we did get to see a stunning telescope view of the Orion Nebula as well as an excellent view of both Jupiter and Mars.  But we had to wait for gaps in the clouds.

It is a steep drive up to the visitor’s center at 9,000 feet and our underpowered Mazda rental car could barely make it.  To go onto the summit requires a 4 wheel drive.  Since there are no accessible telescopes at the summit, it is not worth the effort unless it is a very clear night.  There are good size telescopes and an excellent staff of volunteers to assist in the area around the center.


We had been told to get to the Visitor’s Center by 6 since that is when they play the film.  I had imagined a film that showcased the science, the telescopic views of the huge scopes on top of the hill; instead it was a truly tedious whiny film about controversies surrounding putting science on the sacred mountain.  They do play the film several times, so don’t worry about making the start if you want to see it.

I left the film and climbed a cinder cone across the rode in order to watch the sunset.  It is a bit of a huff and puff at this altitude for the old lady, but definitely worth it.  Here we are reaching the summit of the cinder cone.


We were perched above most of the cloud cover here and the views were simply stunning.  As I looked across to Mauna Loa it felt like we were in a Japanese water color.kealoa1

This is a view to the west, Mauna Loa is to the right of these shots.keaheart

This view in the same area looked like piles of cotton candy.  keacottoncandy

As the sun began to set, the changing colors provided a constant show.  Here is a view of Maui to the north of the Big Island.keamaui

And the clouds back towards Mauna Loa.kealoa

Finally the sun sinks into the clouds and the sea.keatrilevel

keabilevelOnce the sun has sent, the sky is even more dramatic.  keaelephantskeasunset
Once it was dark, the staff and volunteers broke out the telescopes and we had a chance for some wonderful views during breaks in the cover.  It wasn’t possible to take pictures through the telescopes.  This is a handheld snapshot of Mars taken with a tiny point and shoot camera.  The clear air did allow for a fair shot.keamarsIt is best to save Mauna Kea for a clear day and that is hard to predict as the way to the mountain is usually shrouded deep in fog.  The highway is  a bit scary for that reason but is at least very well signed with lane and border reflectors.  But even on a less than optimal day, the views were wonderful.


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