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Haleakala Nights

As the sun dropped lower in the sky, I prepared for the brief sunset period. If you live latitudes north of Hawai`i, as most of us do, you may not know that sunsets complete more quickly as you move toward the equator — at least until you get between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. So I ran around frantically to make sure I did not miss anything. I spotted this Silversword plant that was a bit past its peak but it does give you an idea of what a flowering Silversword looks like.

Then I looked up, toward the direction of West Maui. The land mass in the middle of this photo is the spot where the Pali Highway edges the coast on its route to Lahaina. By this time, more clouds had started to drift into the valley between Haleakala and Mauna Kahalawai. As I mentioned last week, the former means "House of the Sun". The latter is "House of Water" — but also was called Hale Mahina or "House of the Moon". We will let the academics worry about naming — I was floored by the view. You literally feel like you are seeing this from an airplane — except you can look around 360° — try doing that in your 747.

Here were a few brave souls also prepared to catch the sunset. Of course, all of us stupidly were dressed in shorts — when long johns should have been the order of the day. Yes, it was getting cold. And windy.

Finally the sun kissed the horizon. From my vantage point it was setting right behind Science City. How can words describe this treat? You must experience it in person.

As the sun continued to set, the distant sky burst into color. I envied those lucky folks working at Science City — they get to see this every night. They probably have heavy clothing too.

And then a surprise. Although the sunset at sea level was already in the books, it continued for us. It reminded me of the experience pilots must encounter when they fly west around the time of sunset as they chase the terminator (the theoretical line separating night from day). And the sky got brighter. I was freezing and actually wishing for it to get darker because I wanted to see the stars.

Eventually, the terminator was a thin bright line on the horizon — and I looked down from Haleakala at the twin towns of Kahului (where the airport is) and Wailuku (the county seat).

I returned to the edge of the crater and set up my tripod for a time exposure. I had to guess the length of the exposure and tried two minutes. Not enough. Five minutes? Priceless!

Note that the stars form streaks as the Earth rotates on its axis (proof that it was really a nighttime photo and not just a daylight shot that I darkened in Photoshop). In the middle of the photo just beyond the rim of the crater, you might notice two short, mostly horizontal light streaks. When I first noticed those in Photoshop, I wondered if they might be aircraft. However, upon further consideration, the streaks would have been longer for aircraft, so I am guessing they were caused by ships.

After two time exposures, I was frozen — so I gathered my gear and returned to the rental car. I am sure glad that the heater worked. Isn't it funny that I would be in Hawai`i and worrying about the heater working in a rental car.

After I returned home, I read a book on night exposures (I know, I should have read it before my trip) and learned of one fairly significant problem with modern digital SLRs. That is that with a long exposure, the sensor heats up and generates noise in the image. So not only do you have to worry about focus, aperture (to control the depth of field) and duration of the exposure — but you also have to worry about introduced noise. When I later zoomed in on this image after reading the book — yep, there was lots of noise. So then I began investigating third-party plug-ins that reduce the noise much more effectively than does Photoshop by itself — and bought one which I used for this image. Last week, Adobe announced the next version of Photoshop. Guess what functionality has just been upgraded in Photoshop? Did everyone guess "noise reduction"? You all get an A for being so astute. Fortunately, the plug-in was only $50 — so I guess I should just consider that tuition in the school of "Buy the feature quickly before Adobe gives it away as part of the standard package". But then who knew?

Once my fingers were unfrozen, I began the drive back down the switchbacks of Haleakala Highway. It is now well marked with what seemed like millions of reflectors so I could easily see the edges of the road. And since I was almost the last one to depart, I did not have to worry about other traffic either slowing me down or trying to speed me up — I could go at my own pace.

My journey to the petroglyphs then to Haleakala was a true natural high. So I decided to reward my success with dinner at Hali`imaile General Store. The restaurant occupies what used to be a real general store in the plantation town of Hali`imaile near the base of Haleakala. I had never dined there but had heard good things about it for years. My experience was delightful — the restaurant deserves every accolade it has received. They even offer a cookbook with a photo of the establishment on the cover — click here. I confess that I was too tired by this time to take my own nighttime photo. Besides there were too many cars in the way. (Good excuse.)

What a day!

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com