A Darker View

Friday night the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved rules restricting access to Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea Observing

My 18″ telescope Deep violet set up under the stars at the MKVIS.

There have been some revisions to the rules as originally proposed. Most notably the closure hours begin at 10pm in place of 8pm, this would allow the VIS to operate the normal evening public program.

I have yet to locate a copy of the final approved rules, it is only a few minutes ago that the decision was approved. I expect they will appear on the DLNR website eventually (Tonight? Monday?). They are effective immediately, I would expect there to be a legal requirement to post them.

It is safe to say that there will be no overnight observing at or near the Mauna Kea VIS. You will need to find a site elsewhere or at least one mile from the access road.

These rules are effective for 120 days, after which we will see what happens. In that time they may be allowed to lapse. It also allows the DLNR time to approve similar, permanent rules through the regular process in place of these emergency rules.

120 days and counting… I make that November 8th, 2015.

Update: Found them!

(a) The area referred to in this rule as the “restricted area” is defined as any lands in the public hunting area that includes the Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road and one mile on either side of the Mauna Kea Observatory Access road.

(b) As used in this rule, the term “transiting” means operating, or being a passenger in, a motor vehicle traveling at a reasonable and prudent speed and having regard to the actual and potential hazards and conditions then existing.

(c) No person shall at any time possess or control in the restricted area any of the following items: sleeping bag, tent, camping stove, or propane burner.

(d) No person shall enter or remain in the restricted area during the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., unless the person is transiting through the restricted area on the Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road or is lawfully within or entering or exiting an existing observatory or a facility operated by the University of Hawaii.

To celebrate the arrival of the new Horizons Probe at Pluto next week the W. M. Keck Observatory is holding a special lecture.

Tantalizing signs of geology on Pluto are revealed in this image from New Horizons taken on July 9, 2015 from 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) away.  Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Tantalizing signs of geology on Pluto are revealed in this image from New Horizons taken on July 9, 2015 from 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) away. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

NASA Spacecraft New Horizons Pluto Flyby:
Special Talk by NASA Scientist Eliot Young

Just hours before their observing run at Keck Observatory will start, NASA scientists Eliot Young and his team will give a talk in the Hualalai Conference room at Keck Observatory’s headquarters in Waimea. Join us at 7:00p to learn about the science of Pluto, the Kuiper belt, dwarf planets and more.

At 1:49am the next morning, the NASA New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to make its closest approach to Pluto, and Young’s team will be collecting close-up data on the dwarf planet and other distant solar system objects for the first time ever.

Young is the principal scientist from the Southwest Research Institute, one of the partners involved in the building of the New Horizons craft.

Ancient ahu dot the summit slopes of Mauna Kea. These stone shrines or altars are primarily found on the southern plateau near the adze quarry. There are dozens of sites scattered across the slopes, usually atop prominent rock outcroppings. The most typical structure is a stone pile or platform with a large upright stone at the center. A few sites have multiple uprights. The uprights are clearly carefully chosen, usually a long narrow pohaku.


An ancient ahu (shrine) atop Mauna Kea with Mauna Loa in the background

These ancient ahu are usually modest constructions, none exhibiting the fine stonework visible in the heiau and other religious sites across the islands. The harsh weather of Mauna Kea has taken its toll, often the stones are scattered, the upright has fallen.

There is one modern ahu that has been around for a while, sometimes. At the very summit of the mountain an ahu can usually be found. Apparently there is some disagreement about the presence of this ahu. I have seen the stones scattered, I have seen the ahu reappear. When I first began working on Mauna Kea the summit this ahu had a lele, a simple wooden platform built over the ahu.

The current attention focused on Mauna Kea has seen a resurgence in the building of ahu as an act of protest. At least five have been built that I am aware of. Two at the TMT site, two in the middle of the gravel portion of the summit road, one alongside the summit road about halfway up the switchbacks.

These are typically much more substantial structures than the ancient sites. Actually quite well built, sometimes with local rock, at least one is built with rounded stream boulders brought from far below the summit. Unlike the ancient sites these new ahu are fairly standardized, a rock platform around 10-20 square feet in size with a single large upright at the center.

Ahu in the Road

An ahu built in the downhill lane of the Mauna Kea summit access road

What is the status of these sites? What about an ahu built in the middle of a road?

I think it is pretty clear that an ahu erected with ill intent is not sacred. The entire question of sacred or not sacred is a question of intent. Setting an ahu in the middle of the road is simply not pono. Whatever motive the builder may have, creation of such a structure it is still a malicious act, a serious risk to any who use the road. The builders knew this as they stacked the stones. An ahu like this should be removed, preferably by those who erected it.

The two ahu have been removed from the summit road. A third still exists, the one built on a level area beside one of the switchbacks above Hale Pohaku, not in the road. As far as I am aware the two built on the TMT site still exist, both in the roadway. Whether they are dismantled or allowed to remain is still an open question.

Shooting Time lapse

The Canon G12 set up to shoot time lapse video of clouds over Mauna Loa

As we are all aware, the TMT protests are having direct consequences for everyone who goes to the mountain. Regular mountain users and tourists alike are dealing these consequences. The summit road closed to the public for a second week, the MKVIS also closed, even before these closures the protests had curtailed many activities.

Mauna Kea Observing

My 18″ telescope Deep violet set up under the stars at the MKVIS.

It looks to get worse.

An agenda item that will appear before this week’s DLNR board meeting contains significant rule changes regarding use of the lands surrounding the Mauna Kea access road. For the local amateur astronomy community this looks to be very serious, a complete closure of a place we have all come to value very highly.

Go the the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station on the weekends nearest new Moon and you will find telescopes. While the MKVIS telescopes get put away at 10pm there are ‘scopes that are operating late into the night, often still there when dawn colors the sky. These telescopes belong to local amateur astronomers who bring them here to enjoy perfect Mauna Kea skies.

Continue reading An End to Observing at the MKVIS?…

There has been a tangible shift in mood on the mountain. I sense this change in all I talk to. The sentiment toward the TMT protesters has turned from one of tolerance to active hostility. They crossed a line, and I think everyone knows it, including the protesters.

Ahu in the Road

An ahu built in the downhill lane of the Mauna Kea summit access road

From everyone’s comments it was the blocking and damage to the summit road that was the critical moment. There has always been a certain sympathy for the protesters among the mountain crews. We may disagree, but at least we understand the source of that disagreement. We are Americans, with an understanding of the right to protest, of respect for those who stand up for their beliefs.

That has changed.

Everyone who works on the mountain understands that the road is an absolutely vital link. It is the only means by which to evacuate the summit in an emergency, the only route by which help can come in the case of trouble. Contrary to many glib Facebook assertions our local fire department helicopters can not operate safely at high elevation. I have seen comments by protesters that downplay the danger, they simply do not understand the seriousness of their actions.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media has been parroting this “public safety concern” language. Of course, they are trying to deceive the public into thinking the Mauna Kea Protectors and the pohaku present the safety hazard. They are lying. – Will Falk

“Pohaku” is of course the Hawaiian word for stone. In his writing Will waxes poetic about the effort and the beauty of placing the rocks on the road, then calls the safety concerns “lying”. His casual disregard for safety is distressing, and typical of those who simply disrespect the mountain, her beauty and her risks.

Continue reading A Change in Mood on the Mountain…

Today the Earth is furthest from the Sun, a point called apehelion. We will be about 152,096,000km (94,508,000miles) from the Sun. Compare this to the 147,099,000km (91,403,000miles) we were at perihelion on January 3rd, a difference of about 4,996,000km (3,104,000miles) occurring throughout one orbit.

It may seem odd that we are actually at the furthest for the middle of northern summer, you just have to remember that proximity to the Sun is not the cause of the seasons. The seasons are caused by the axial tilt of the Earth, creating short and long days throughout the year, with a resulting change in the angle and intensity of the sunlight.

2014 Solstices and Equinoxes
Perihelion Jan 4 05:59UT Jan 3 19:59HST
Vernal Equinox Mar 20 16:57UT Mar 20 06:57HST
Summer Solstice Jun 21 10:52UT Jun 21 00:52HST
Apehelion Jul 6 02:59UT Jul 5 16:59HST
Autumnal Equinox Sep 23 02:30UT Sep 22 16:30HST
Winter Solstice Dec 21 23:03UT Dec 21 13:03HST
Source: NASA Sky Calendar


Growing up in the west I have seen quite a few rodeos. I have always preferred small town rodeos.

Parker Ranch Rodeo

Riders compete in the 2015 Parker Ranch 4th of July Rodeo

I have seen the big rodeos, living in Tucson we attended the Tucson Rodeo several times. Six days of professional level events, riders competing for a chance at the national championships. No question, the competitors were very, very good.

The big rodeos do feature very high levels of performance, the top riders making it look easy. It isn’t of course, but professional level sports just seem contrived to me. Be it bull riding, pro football, or any professional sport, something is lost when it becomes a profession.

Small town rodeos are entirely different. Here cowboys, or paniolos in Hawaii, demonstrate the same skills they use day to day on the ranch. The event may be practiced, but the skills of great horsemanship, roping and riding are real. The scores tell another story, wildly different from rider to rider. These are not polished professionals, these are real cowboys.

Horse Racing

A rider and horse lean into the curve at the 2015 Parker Ranch 4th of July Rodeo and Horse Races

The island rodeos are perfect examples of this, small town rodeos that showcase local ranching skills and traditions.

It has been a few years since we last attended the Parker Ranch 4th of July Rodeo and Horse Races. The last couple years we seem to have found ourselves elsewhere come early July. Last year we were in Alaska when the 4th appeared on the calendar. Not so this year, a couple tickets and an early alarm for a Saturday saw us headed to Waimea.

Good timing all around, a beautiful day with perfect weather for a rodeo. Deb and I moved about, looking for good photo opportunities. Down at the end of the spectator area for the horse races. From there we could shoot the riders coming around the curve of the track. A little elevation was needed to shoot over the rails of the fencing. Unfortunately a barrier now keeps spectators away from the arena fence, this was not there years ago. No shooting through the rail. Maybe a press pass next year?

I have no idea who won or lost, it was just not important to me. Simply watching the skills on display was the good part. Each throw of the rope, the steer going down, the horse neatly backing and keeping tension in a rope without a rider giving directions. Simply impressive to watch.

A drone flying through a major firework display? Yes!


A display of fireworks lights the sky