On the Roof of Maui
Mary Evanson, founder of Friends of Haleakala, watches over the amazing Skyline Trail’s wealth of archaeological and natural riches.
She shows me a remarkable c-shaped arrangement of pohaku (rocks), including one that looks like the back of a lean-to. She tells me the theory that this shelter could have been built not just by any native Hawaiian trekking across Haleakala, but some of King Kamehameha’s troops on their advance across Maui.
She picks up a remarkably smooth, round basalt rock with an indentation a thumb can fit in. “This is a beach stone,” she says. A native Hawaiian would find it on the shore, polish it, and take it along on an expedition, to throw or sling at potential food or at an enemy. The stone’s presence confirms this site’s use as a habitation.
How did she know it was there? “Oh,” Mary Evanson says cheer-fully, “I found it here before and I hid it.” It’s a teaching tool for opening visitors' eyes to the
archeological and geological secrets of Maui’s Skyline Trail, which winds down from the crest of Haleakala to the forests of Polipoli Park.
The trail is only one of the treasures that come under Mary Evanson’s watchful eye. Now 81 years old, a lifelong Hawai‘i resident and environmental activist, Evanson founded the Friends of Haleakala several years ago; its purpose, as stated in the organization’s mission statement, is “to preserve Haleakala’s unique ecosystems, scenic character and associated native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual resources” and “leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
The park has an extraordinary spectrum of climates, from thick native rain forests on the East Maui/Waikamoi/Kipahulu side to arid stretches of the southwest rift zone, where the Skyline Trail is situated. Within the rift zone’s tawny, seemingly barren landscape are, in Evanson’s words, “scenic beauty, awesome geological features, volcanic craters and hills of many colors, magnificent and untouched.”
The trail begins at the FAA transmission towers that are part of the nonmilitary (and therefore accessible) portion of Haleakala’s 18-acre Science City. Before us stretches a desolate expanse of lava studded by grey and straw-needled alpine tussocks and speckles of silver, green, and brown little bracken ferns fighting to survive.
But I soon learn that desolation is in the eye of the beholder. As I look more closely, subtle colors emerge from the stones, reflecting different states of oxidation and erosion. In a huge pit crater I can see red and brown gradations, layers of rocks that are a record, in Evanson’s words, of “how Maui came to be.”
Evanson takes me to the site of one of her organization’s principal struggles. At the Kaleopapa overlook there’s a rust-and-brown lava field that points towards a little red bluff of a pu‘u; mist drifts across the hill’s face to merge into a sea of clouds that rises up to the edge of the ground like a frozen wave. Here, amid this rarefied, silent beauty, the Hawaiian Television Broadcasters’ Association had wanted to bring earthmovers and cranes to construct four 199-foot broadcast towers. Evanson and the Friends of Haleakala “took the position that there would be no manmade development, from the FAA radio facility at Science City down to and including the pu‘u of Kanahau,” the peak at the 8,000-foot mark above Polipoli; the Friends are currently working with the association to find another site.
Nearby, Evanson points out a cairn of rocks, and a shelter that might have been used as an ancient star observation or habitation site. Some say there was a trail from Hana that came up the ridge over Ko‘olau Gap and Kaupo that went through the crater down the rift zone to ‘Ulupalakua; tantalizingly enough, ‘Ulupalakua means “breadfruit ripening on the backs of men,” suggesting the ‘ulu might have been brought there over the mountain.
We take a rest near a game management area that shows evidence of rutting; goats have been successfully controlled, but wild pigs and deer remain a problem. Behind an overhang of crenelated rocks, we have a snack and look down at Kula past pine hills and through rainbow-flecked mist, and far into the distance at Kaho‘olawe and Lana‘i floating like faint blue-and-green watercolors staining the clouds. This view alone seems reason enough to fight for the mountain.
“We need places like this to come to,” Evanson tells me. “This is reality.”
From this point the trail goes to Kanahau and continues around the peak to an open flat “ballpark area” of thicker vegetation, mostly native pukiawe shrubs and yellow-flowering mamane trees, before reaching the eucalyptus and pine forests of Polipoli. It seems an appropriate place to turn back. On our return, the clouds finally lift to reveal a view that’s one of the most staggering I’ve ever seen: the Big Island’s mirroring peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa tower over a white ridge of clouds that seems to form a parallel mountain range above the ocean, where a tiny speck of a barge wends it way between the coasts of Kona and Maui.
Just before we arrive at Science City, Evanson parks her van in a way that blocks out the transmission towers. All I see is rolling lava fields, spiraling rock formations, and heaps of clouds. All I hear is the wind. Then the van moves forward again—and once again Science City’s transmission towers collide with the landscape that myths declare was carved by the goddess Pele. The endangered dark-rumped petrel, or ‘ua‘u, nests where television wants to extend its reach. Walking, biking, or hiking the Skyline Trail, with its mighty vistas, tenacious current of life, and archaeological secrets, one hopes that Mary Evanson’s and the Friends of Haleakala’s wish will be heeded, and this region’s spiritual mystery and peace will be preserved for generations to come.