An unexpected treat (and a good lesson)

Sunrise, ‘Ohe’o Gulch, Maui

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The drive to Hana is an adventure of crowded, winding, narrow roads. The drive to the Seven Sacred Pools of ‘Ohe’o Gulch, Maui, about twelve miles beyond Hana, is even more unnerving—the road narrows further and the crowds are replaced by miles of empty road interrupted infrequently and abruptly by careening locals in vehicles just slightly too large for the blacktop.

On my latest Maui visit I rose in the Hana darkness and headed to the Seven Sacred Pools for sunrise. Doing this drive in the pre-dawn dark only adds to the tension, but I arrived unscathed to find the parking lot empty. Perfect! Following my headlamp along the quarter-mile trail, I continued mulling compositions I’d been plotting since my last visit (when light and crowds didn’t permit anything particularly creative). So imagine my surprise to find a padlocked gate blocking the stairs down to the pools. Hmmm. After a few minutes of reconnaissance, I decided they really, really didn’t want me down there and set out in search of other opportunities.

‘Ohe’o Gulch empties into the Pacific, draining rain that falls on the slopes of Haleakala high above. In addition to the main trail along the gulch are a number of smaller, less defined trails that trend out toward the surf. I followed one of these and soon found myself making my own path along broken lava toward the waves. The sky had brightened just enough to render my headlamp unnecessary, but footing was treacherous and I had to step carefully—a fall likely wouldn’t have resulted in death or even severe injury, but the rocks would have sliced me pretty good, not to mention what it would have done to my camera, so my focus was more on the ground at my feet than the larger scene.

When I made it out to where the surf met the rocks (I can’t call it a beach), I was quite pleased to find several reflective pools nestled in the lava, guarded by a prominent lava outcrop. The rising sun had already started to color the sky, so I set up quickly, finding various compositions that balanced the largest pool with the rising sun and outcrop. Working the scene, I was treated to a sunrise palette of magenta, red, and gold punctuated by an explosion of crepuscular rays as the sun crested the horizon. I couldn’t help thinking that I’d probably have missed it all had I concentrated on the shots I’d planned for that morning—a gentle reminder not to get so locked into my agenda that I lose sight of the larger world around me.

On the drive out of the parking lot I encountered the park ranger opening the entrance station. I asked her about the locked gate at the pools and she explained the flash flood risk forces them to restrict access when the weather forecast calls for heavy rain on Haleakala.

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