Of the three volcanic summits which concern us, Haleakala is nearest the principal port of Honolulu, though not always the first visited. Its slopes nearly fill the southern half of the island of Maui.
The popular translation of the name Haleakala is “The House of the Sun”; literally the word means “The House Built by the Sun.” The volcano is a monster of more than ten thousand feet, which bears upon its summit a crater of a size and beauty that make it one of the world’s show-places. This crater is seven and a half miles long by two and a third miles wide. Only three known craters exceed HaIeakala’s in size. Aso San, the monster crater of Japan, largest by far in the world, is fourteen miles long by ten wide and contains many farms. Lago di Bolseno, in Italy, next in size, measures eight and a half by seven and a half miles; and Monte Albano, also in Italy, eight by seven miles.
Exchanging your automobile for a saddle-horse at the volcano’s foot, you spend the afternoon in the ascent. Wonderful indeed, looking back, is the growing arc of plantation and sea, islands growing upon the horizon, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa lifting distant snow-tipped peaks. You spend the night in a rest-house on the rim of the crater, but not until you have seen the spectacle of sunset; and in the gray of the morning you are summoned to the supreme spectacle of sunrise. Thousands have crossed seas for Haleakala’s sunrise.
That first view of the crater from the rim is one never to be forgotten. Its floor lies two thousand feet below, an enormous rainless, rolling plain from which rise thirteen volcanic cones, clean-cut, as regular in form as carven things. Several of these are seven hundred feet in height. “It must have been awe-inspiring,” writes Castle, “when its cones were spouting fire, and rivers of scarlet molten lava crawled along the floor.”
The stillness of this spot emphasizes its emotional effect. A word spoken ordinarily loud is like a shout. You can hear the footsteps of the goats far down upon the crater floor. Upon this floor grow plants known nowhere else; they are famous under the name of Silver Swordsyucca-like growths three or four feet high whose drooping filaments of bloom gleam like polished silver stilettos.
When Mark Twain saw the crater, “vagrant white clouds came drifting along, high over the sea and valley; then they came in couples and groups; then in imposing squadrons; gradually joining their forces, they banked themselves solidly together a thousand feet under us and totally shut out land and ocean; not a vestige of anything was left in view, but just a little of the rim of the crater circling away from the pinnacle whereon we sat, for a ghostly procession of wanderers from the filmy hosts without had drifted through a chasm in the crater wall and filed round and round, and gathered and sunk and blended together till the abyss was stored to the brim with a fleecy fog. Thus banked, motion ceased, and silence reigned. Clear to the horizon, league on league, the snowy folds, with shallow creases between, and with here and there stately piles of vapory architecture lifting themselves aloft out of the common plainsome near at hand, some in the middle distances, and others relieving the monotony of the remote solitudes. There was little conversation, for the impressive scene overawed speech. I felt like the Last Man, neglected of the judgment, and left pinnacled in mid-heaven, a forgotten relic of a vanished world.”
The extraordinary perfection of this desert crater is probably due to two causes. Vents which tapped it far down the volcano’s flanks prevented its filling with molten lava; absence of rain has preserved its walls intact and saved its pristine beauty from the defacement of erosion.
Haleakala has its legend, and this jack London has sifted to its elements and given us in “The Cruise of the Snark.” I quote:
“It is told that long ago, one Maui, the son of Hina, lived on what is now known as West Maui. His mother, Hina, employed her time in the making of kapas. She must have made them at night, for her days were occupied in trying to dry the kapas. Each morning, and all morning, she toiled at spreading them out in the sun. But no sooner were they out than she began taking them in in order to have them all under shelter for the night. For know that the days were shorter then than now. Maui watched his mother’s futile toil and felt sorry for her. He decided to do somethingoh, no, not to help her hang out and take in the kapas. He was too clever for that. His idea was to make the sun go slower. Perhaps he was the first Hawaiian astronomer. At any rate, he took a series of observations of the sun from various parts of the island. His conclusion was that the sun’s path was directly across Haleakala. Unlike Joshua, he stood in no need of divine assistance. He gathered a huge quantity of cocoanuts, from the fibre of which he braided a stout cord, and in one end of which he made a noose, even as the cowboys of Haleakala do to this day.
“Next he climbed into the House of the Sun. When the sun came tearing along the path, bent on completing its journey in the shortest time possible, the valiant youth threw his lariat around one of the sun’s largest and strongest beams. He made the sun slow down some; also, he broke the beam short off. And he kept on roping and breaking off beams till the sun said it was willing to listen to reason. Maui set forth his terms of peace, which the sun accepted, agreeing to go more slowly thereafter. Wherefore Hina had ample time in which to dry her kapas, and the days are longer than they used to be, which last is quite in accord with the teachings of modern astronomy.”