Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii

Joe in front of Gemini North observatoryMauna Kea visible from Hilo HarbourMound of volcanic rockRest stop near the summit with the road grade visibleThe Kecks peaking over the ridgePeople on the Summit of Mauna Kea with the trail in the foreground
Gemini North dome against a dark blue skyCanada-France-Hawaii observatoryGemini North observatoryA panorama looking north from near the peak of Mauna Kea with the observatories on the ridge to the leftLooking back from CFHT at all the observatories (L-R): Gemini North, UK IR, CalTech Submillimeter, James Clerk Maxwell, Subaru, the Kecks, and the NASA IRCinder cones north of CFHT
Mauna Kea, a set on Flickr.
Feb 23, 2014 – Sunday – Hilo, the Big Island of Hawaii

The Statendam arrives early and docks at the pier in the harbour. I have some breakfast, and gather up my cold weather gear for my big trip up to the summit of Mauna Kea. I disembark, find the shuttle to Harper’s Car & Truck Rental, and I’m off in my 4x4 Ford Ranger truck, taking the Puainko Street Extension out of town, which becomes the H200/H2000 Saddle Road. I’m glad I brought along my vehicle GPS, which guides me through several complicated twists and turns until I get out of the city. The drive along the highway is easy, since it is a paved 3-lane road all the way to the Mauna Kea Access Road turn, although I am climbing in elevation as I go.

The drive to the Visitors Information Station is also uneventful, with a good 2 lane paved road all the way through ranch country. I stay at the VIS for 45 minutes in order to acclimatize myself, and then put the vehicle into 4-wheel drive and start up the gravel road to the summit. The road surface is wash-board, so having 4WD is great to keep my traction. A few miles before the summit, the road returns to paved surface, so I guess dust control is a big factor with these expensive observatories. There is snow on top, and the air is clear and cold. I pull on my winter coat, which I have been dragging around with me on this trip just for today’s adventure. It is wonderful to finally see all these observatories in person, especially the ones Canada is involved with. The Canada-France-Hawaii observatory has a prime location on the end of the north ridge, and is a beautiful, brilliant white structure. The Gemini North observatory is next to CFHT, and is a silver structure with bulging air vents all around the lower part of the dome.

I drive around to see all the observatories up close, but unfortunately I can’t stay for the VIS’ tours inside some of the facilities. I have to return to my cruise ship, so reluctantly drive back down the mountain after shooting lots of photos. The sky is a deep blue and crystal clear, and the observatories are stark white or silver, so I use the High Dynamic Range feature of my Canon 6D dSLR. This allows me to capture the scenes much more successfully.

Reluctantly, I start my drive down the mountain, with my vehicle in low range 4WD in order to conserve the brakes. The return trip to sea level goes without at hitch; I return the vehicle to the rental company, and I’m back on board a couple of hours before departure time.

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