In Hawaii, they call it the House of the Sun, or more traditionally Haleakala. Originally it referred to only the the top crater of a shield volcano that formed about 75% of the fair isle of Maui. But now the entire volcanic mountain is known as Haleakala and is protected as part of a National Park. But the House of the Sun still refers to the top crater, because this is where the sun debuts each and everyday on its way to enlightening Maui and the Pacific ocean with perfect, golden, warming beams of tropical rays.
We woke up at 2:30 a.m. on the second day of our vacation to drive to the summit in time for sunrise. Yes, that is correct, on our vacation we woke up about the time the bars are closing. But we needed to be there for an experience Mark Twain described as "the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed." It is beautiful, as we were up above the cloudline in what felt like an entirely different island, floating in a sea of cumulus. When the sun rose and illuminated the sky, we could even scan across the fluffy clouds and see The Big Island of Hawaii off in the distance. The crater itself looked like Mars, dry and rocky and barren except for brown rocks and dirt, and the occasional weathered plants.
The temperature near the summit tends to vary between about 40°F and 60°F, complimented with crazy, bone chilling winds. Sam and I were warned in advance, and in combination with our backpacking and mountain hiking experience, we came prepared with polar fleece and wind pants and gloves and hats (I even wore my Hot Chillies thermal tights, which are totally liberating and inspired epic grocery store dancing. Just ask Lauren about the euphoria of dance the tights induced). John and Lauren were not so well prepared, which led to a lot of group hugging at the summit. Good thing we all like each other, because at one point Sam and I were so compelled to try and keep them warm that we made a John and Lauren sandwich to protect them from the chill.
It was beautiful, and an experience not to be missed, but I am disappointed to report that I was not filled with a spiritual enlightenment, or even much of a feeling of profound natural communion, that Mark Twain suggested I might. It could have been that I was tired and cold, or more likely it was probably that I was with about 250 other tired and cold tourists, all snapping photos like mad to capture the sunrise, and I just couldn't reach a state of enlightenment in the crowd. Perhaps in the old days, when the view was solitary and the journey was more arduous and demanding than a 75 minute drive in the dark, the reward felt more profound. But even if I missed the enlightenment, I did take away a meaningful memory of a beautiful sunrise.
We entered the National Park free in honor of Earth Day, which was an extra treat. Also, we ate second breakfast afterward at about 8:00 a.m. Weird how when you eat first breakfast at 2:30 you are totally ready for another one at the time of real breakfast? I felt a little bit like a hobbit. A hobbit in really nice thermal tights. And the stark yet very natural beautify of the Haleakala crater could well have been the setting for a great Tolkien adventure. Except that the adventure was mine, and luckily I do not have hairy feet like a hobbit.