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With 4205 m, Mauna Kea is not only the highest point in Hawaii, but also the highest volcano in the world if measured from the bottom of the ocean floor that lies 5000 m deep. It is a dormant volcano, with its last eruption estimated to have occurred a few thousand years ago and the next one expected sometime in the future. As with most volcanoes, it is a boring mountain, a large and rather featureless pile of lava and cinder (volcanic ash), covered with lush vegetation at lower elevation but barren towards the top. It does receive variable amounts of snow in the winter, and skiing on Mauna Kea in not unheard of.
A steep but well maintained gravel road leads all the way to the top, enabling easy access to the numerous astronomic observatories located there. Among them, world's largest optical telescope. The views from the top can be breathtaking and a visit is worth the time. Unfortunately, most car rental companies specifically forbid driving on gravel. This doesn't mean that you are not allowed to go, but that if you run into any sort of trouble you will have to pay out of your own pocket. At the beginning of the gravel road, which branches out of Saddle Road, a ranger station advises strongly against driving up with anything else than a four wheel drive. When I stopped there, a family was waiting for help inside the station, unharmed but visibly shook up. Their 4WD had tumbled down the slope for 100 ft and was pretty messed up. If you don't know how to drive, it's not the best spot to learn.
The image was taken from the Mauna Loa observatory, at an elevation of 3400 m. This is connected with Saddle Road by a poor quality, unmarked single-lane paved road 17 miles long. An eerie drive through old, desolate lava fields which are visible in the foreground. Magnificent views of Mauna Kea reward those who are able to find this road. At sunset, the clouds climb over the pass between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and both peaks transform into islands in an ocean of foam.

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Additional Photos by Roland Roesler (Roly) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 546 W: 9 N: 436] (2024)
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