Mauna Kea and the Observatories

Saturday, our last day in Hawaii. We had already driven every other road except the Saddle Road that goes over the pass between the two huge volcanoes. Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain if you measure from the base, on the floor of the Pacific. Mauna Loa is almost as tall. The road is written up as a “dangerous four-wheel-drive road, marginally paved, check with your rental car contract, etc.” We decided to just check it out. We really wanted to go up to the observatories. I had read that the road was better from Hilo, the town on the other side of the island from us, but very bad on our side, but after the road to Green Sands, what is bad?

Warning signs to Summit Road - Curiosity Trek - Hawaii

Warning signs to Summit Road

The Summit Road edge, gravel & paved - Curiosity Trek - Hawaii

The Summit Road edge, gravel & paved

Obviously whoever described this road had never been in field service. The road was just fine. It was better maintained than most old state roads. It was very narrow and in some areas very old and rough with lots of one-lane bridges.

I could definitely feel the altitude in my sinuses and eyeballs. Especially when we got on the road to the observatory. We pulled over for a while to see if I was going to feel better. There is a small museum about halfway up the road to the top of Mauna Kea. From there it is a dirt road, hanging on the edge of the peak as you criss-cross up. It was perfectly smooth and well maintained. I would not hesitate to drive it if it were a drive way, so we went despite all of the warning signs at the bottom.

The Summit Road edge, with guard rail - Curiosity Trek - Hawaii

The Summit Road edge, with guard rail

The last bit was paved and had a guard rail. It was really steep and REALLY high. The clouds were way below us.

At the top it was COLD and windy. I wrapped the beach towels from the back seat around my ears. You could see the whole island down to the sea, You could also see clearly that every hill and mountain had a caldera on top. You look down on an island of volcanoes.

One of the observatories, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, I think. - Curiosity Trek - Hawaii

One of the observatories, NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, I think.

The observatories are really huge. When you see them from the bottom of the mountain they look so small. There are a lot of observatories there, because it is so high that the visibility is better, above the air. You can see the Keck Observatory, Gemini Observatory, Subaru Telescope, Clerk Maxwell Telescope, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, Submillimeter Array and probably more.

We drove back down the road, as the sun was going down and went back to Macaroni Grill. We walked around some of the shops and things, but it looked a lot like the stuff you can buy at the Swap Shop in Ft. Lauderdale. Then we went back to the resort and packed.

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