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                          Haleakala - 'House of the Sun'

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Haleakala Sunrise.

The Birth of Haleakala
Sunrise picture taken Feb 25, 2001
Click to Enlarge

The pacific plate, one of twelve huge, floating pieces of the earth's crust, is always moving. In fact, it is now known (partly due to research conducted on Haleakala) that the pacific plate is moving northwestward at about four inches per year.

Most of the time, volcanoes are found on the edges of the plate where all the action is, but sometimes there is what is known as a "hot spot" in the earth's mantle or lower layer lying beneath the plate. The mantle is hot enough in these locations to melt through the earth's crust in places, and it does just that, creating a chain of volcanoes as the plate slowly moves along. Haleakala is just one of many such volcanoes.  

Some islands in the Hawaiian chain are older (Kaua'i and O'ahu, to name a few) and a couple are younger (Hawai`i, which is still forming since it continues to reside over a "hot spot", along with Loihi Sea Mount, an actively forming undersea island-to-be about thirty miles southeast of Hawai`i), but there is no doubt that the island of Maui has many siblings. One-hundred-and-thirty-one (131) islands make up the Hawaiian archipelago, spanning a distance of over fifteen hundred miles; from Hawai`i; the most southeasterly island, to Midway Island and Kure Atoll, located at the far northwestern reaches of the chain.

The volcano that formed East Maui emerged from the sea approximately one million years ago. What is now known as the West Maui mountains was already a large shield volcano by that time. It had stopped erupting for the most part and had passed on it's "hot spot" to the newly forming Haleakala. Frequent eruptions continued for another half-million years, resulting in a mountain that rose much higher than today's elevation of 10,023 feet. It is said that Haleakala would have looked much as Mauna Loa on the Big Island looks today....a gently sloping shield volcano of about 13,000 feet or so in elevation. For thousands of years, erosion of all, wind, and some even suggest glHTIal...cut valleys and gorges into the malleable land mass.

Two of the largest were the Ke'anae and Kaupo valleys, located on opposite sides of the volcano. Slowly but surely these amphitheatre-headed valleys carved their way towards the summit, finally merging to create a large basin, and effectively removed several thousand feet of elevation in their joining.

As time passed, occasional eruptions spilled lava into the basin, leaving behind vents, or "cinder cones", through which the lava passed, helping to create the multi-hued "crater" that visitors marvel at today.

The geological history of the craters formation was disagreed upon for quite some time, but the final verdict reminds us that Haleakala "Crater" is not a crater in the true sense of the word. A real crater would have been formed by either explosion (like Mt. St. Helen's) or collapse, and while it is possible that some of the basin was formed due to collapse (sinking into the earth's crust over time due to the immense weight of the mountain), no one can be sure since it is evident that so much of it was formed by erosion. Regardless of the percentages, Haleakala's "mountaintop depression" is truly a beautiful sight and one that will remain in any visitor's memory for a long time.

The sheer size of Haleakala is awe-inspiring. While 10,023 feet rises above the warm sub-tropical seas, an amazing 28,000 feet lies below the ocean's depths. Haleakala's diameter above sea level is 33 miles, but no one knows the exact diameter of the base on the ocean floor. These two measurements are why you will hear claims of Haleakala being one of the biggest mountains in the world; it's just that, like most of us, the vast majority of The House of the Sun's strength lies hidden.

Today, Haleakala is considered an "active" volcano, according to sources at Hawai`i Volcanoes Observatory. Remember though, "active" is a relative term. Most people think of a currently erupting volcano when they hear the term "active", but to volcanologists this isn't necessarily so. The last eruption was in the late 1700's....about two hundred years ago. Geologically, this is like yesterday's news, but Haleakala has been quiet for quite some time, "humanly" speaking.