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Papa Gary and Grandma Laqueta visit Kona Earth

18 October 2011


As usual, whenever my father comes for a visit, part of the cost of admission is writing a blog post about his visit.  Don't worry, that's only the cost of admission for my father, everyone else gets to visit for free.

Mauna Kea This trip we wanted to do something different, so after slaving all day helping Gary spray for Coffee Berry Borer beetles, we loaded up into two cars and headed to Mauna Kea.   For those of you that have never been, it is only a two hour drive from Kona Earth but tops out at 13,796 feet above sea level, more than 33,000 feet above its base on the ocean floor.  That means that even on a warm summer Hawaiian day, the temperature is often below 40°F and can have winds in excess of 60 miles an hour.  Because it is the highest point for thousands of miles in any direction the air is unusually clean and undisturbed.  That makes it a perfect location for some of the world’s largest telescopes.   For live web cam shots from the top of Mauna Kea go to: http://www.jach.hawaii.edu/jac-bin/irtvid

Sun On the drive up we stopped at the Visitors Center.  The State Park Rangers recommend you stay there for about an hour to acclimate at 9,000 feet altitude.  Most visitors then drive to the top to view the incredible sunsets, and return to the Visitors Center where the State Park Rangers and experienced volunteers conduct a star show with many telescopes open for viewing.

The road to the summit is gravel and climbs more than 4,000 feet in only 8 miles.  Near the observatories the road becomes paved again to limit the dust kicked up by car tires.  These observatories are a big deal!  Much of the most important astronomical research has been accomplished here. Scientist from all over the world come to Mauna Kea for the exceptional viewing conditions and many international consortiums have built large observatories here. The entire Island of Hawaii uses low reflective lighting to help keep the night skies clear.

Windy We arrived early probably because “Farmer Gary” loves to be close to all of the technology.  Valerie had packed lots of warm clothes left over from their life in New Hampshire.  Emily knew how cold it could be and bundled up.  But, she couldn’t open the car door.  The wind was blowing too hard!  With some help we all got out and walked around, mostly staying in the lee of the large buildings.

The view is spectacular.  From that altitude you can see almost 50 miles out to sea.  The mountain top is all black and red lava.  There is not a blade of grass or any visible life.  The observatory buildings look like something out of a Sci-Fi movie.  Signs warn visitors to stay Keck back from the large opening panels and “watch for falling ice”.  As sunset approached, a fleet of small tour busses arrived with hundreds of visitors.  Most of the tourists were from Japan and took great pride in the huge, futuristic looking “Subaru” 8.2-meter optical-infrared telescope.  I would like to think that America could generate that type of national pride when we begin to build a 30 meter telescope next year. It is hard to imagine a telescope that big.  As the sky turned bright orange, the wind howled and huge metal panels began cranking open to begin the process of equalizing temperatures and bringing the telescopes on line for the evenings work.

We headed back down to the star show and were very thankful that Valerie had thought to bring some hot chocolate packets…the Rangers set out a large thermos of hot water.  The sky was crystal clear and the moon was still down so the stars were fantastic.  Farmer Gary behaved himself and didn’t correct the amateur star guides (much).  We were all rewarded with the huge bright flash of an iridium flare.  1½ hours back down the greatly improved “Saddle Road” and we were back at the warm comfortable confines of Kona Earth Coffee Farm!


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