This little meadow is is only a couple acres. Along one side is a spring where crisp water seeps from the ground and marks the beginning of a creek. Along the top the last few hundred feet of the paved road ends at a junction of rougher roads that lead further into the forest.
At the very center of the meadow a large snag stands alone, broken off twenty five feet above the ground, a tangle of limbs on all sides. This old snag is a dark sentinel in the night, almost unreal and a bit eerie in the gloom, it seems to move when you are not looking.
The clearing is surrounded by seventy foot high trees. Pine, fir, and larch are all represented in the dense forest that covers much of the ridgeline. This limits the view, blocking objects low on any horizon. The tall trees also provide a stage above which the stars rise and set, sometimes blinking brightly as they pass behind branches.
There are simply no lights, no substantial civilization for fifty miles in any direction. There are no distant domes of light visible on the horizon to remind one of Edison’s terrible invention. There is just the darkness and the stars above.
Beaches? Tropical gardens? The volcano? Yeah, BTDT, not what I came to Hawaiʻi for. Visiting Mauna Kea is at the top of the list for some folks who visit our island, a priority I can fully understand. Even better? Bring a camera to this spectacular mountain. After six years of working on Mauna Kea I still carry a camera and find new shots. Some of the most fascinating photographic opportunities occur after the Sun has set. For those who pursue shots in the dark, long exposure photography, the summit provides a setting that is worth the effort to shoot.
The summit is open after dark, but not unconditionally, I need to stress some explanations concerning that. Officially the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan limits public recreational use to ½hour before dawn and ½hour after dark. This has not been strictly enforced any time in my experience on the mountain. There is no gate in use, you will see people drive up the summit road in the middle of the night.
So what are the real rules for summit access after dark?
I got pleasant surprise walking past the newspaper box on my way to lunch. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser published one of my photos across the top of the front page!
I do not usually buy a copy of the Star- Advertiser, I made an exception today. Debbie Goodwin is working with the folks at the newspaper to get publicity for Keck Week. In the process sent them one of the photos I had provided her.
This is not actually one photo, but a panorama assembled from several shots. It was a nice night, if very cold, the first light of dawn just visible on the eastern horizon. Overhead the laser competed with the light of a bright moon. We were doing tests of the newly commissioned Keck 1 laser when I had a chance to get up on the roof and take some photos. Over the radio I begged Heather to lower the bottom shutter on Keck 1 so I could see the telescope inside the dome. I then took about 15 thirty second shots spanning the full view from our roof.
As cold as it was to shoot, it was also a pain to assemble, I worked on this one for hours to get it right. Only about 180° is shown on the newspaper, the original is a full 360°. The result was worth the effort, for your viewing pleasure I have re-posted the full version below. Click on the image to get a larger version…