Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Maui Vacation

We had the most amazing vacation last week in Maui, which is now officially one of our favorite places in the world! Our first day there, we visited Ka'anapali Beach to do some snorkeling. We swam a couple of yards from the beach and there was a huge sea turtle swimming just below us! It was so cool, and definitely a fun start to our trip. There's a lot of beautiful coral around Maui, so the snorkeling is great without paying for a tour (although there are areas you can snorkel farther away from the island, too).

We love taking road trips, so a good part of several days were spent driving around different sections of the island and seeing the sights. We took a drive around the west side and visited the Dragon's Teeth lava formations and saw the Nakalele Blowhole shoot water about 20 feet in the air. We drove along the Road to Hana on the east side of Maui that is famous for its waterfalls, lush landscape, and carsickness-inducing twists and turns. Dan got really good at driving curvy roads without making me sick when we lived near the Colorado mountains, plus we got out of the car to explore along the way. We did see lots of waterfalls, although they weren't very full since it's been a dry summer there. We had a blast in Wai'anapanapa Park, walking on a black sand beach, exploring lava tubes, and swimming in a springwater-fed cave! The road to Hana officially ends at the Seven Sacred Pools, which is a natural playground of multi-level waterfalls and deep swimming pools. So much fun! Most people go back the way they came on the Road to Hana, but Dan learned that you can continue driving on the road and see the southeast side of Maui on the way back. The road was unpaved and rough for several miles that way, but we got to see a very different side of Maui than most people do.

Another memorable experience was waking up before dawn (not exactly my idea of a good time!) to drive to the peak of Haleakala Crater and watch the sunrise. You drive from sea level to over 10,000 feet in 1.5 hours, and it's really cold and windy up there! We had packed our ski coats just for this, and we were so glad we had them! There were crazy people up there wearing shorts and trying to stay warm wrapped in their beach towels. The top of the crater overlooks clouds and mountain peaks, and seeing the sunrise from the top of the world is something we'll never forget. Afterwards, we hiked into Haleakala Crater, which is surprisingly vast and colorful inside. Then of course we went back to our condo and slept the afternoon away.

Since we were so close to the other islands, we took a day trip to Oahu and rented a car there. We visited the USS Arizona Memorial, which stands over the final resting place of the ship and her 1,177 crewmen who died during the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7 1941. It was very impactful and well worth the trip just for that experience. We also hiked to the top of Diamond Head, the famous peak that overlooks Waikiki beach. It was in the 90s that day, and there was absolutely no breeze on the way to the top, so you felt like you were hiking in a stone oven. The view from the top was great, but tainted by the swarm of gnats that were there to enjoy the view, too. Dan unfortunately walked right into them and a sweaty bald head = a watery grave for gnats. It was disgusting, and Dan was done with Diamond Head after that. The sign at the bottom of the trail said to be prepared to hike for 1.5 to 2 hours roundtrip, but we checked it off our list in 50 minutes flat. Moving right along...

The rest of our day in Oahu was spent driving and enjoying the scenery of the south, east, and north coasts of the island. It was beautiful, but much more populated than the other islands we've visited. That translated into traffic jams along the way, especially during rush hour. (Rush hour in Hawaii?? What is this madness??) Before we went back to the airport that night, we had time for a 45-minute stroll through the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is a beautifully landscaped park that highlights the cultures, art, and traditions from individual Polynesian islands, like Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii.

We were both glad that we got to spend the day in Oahu and see some of its famous sights, but for the record, I hated Honolulu and would be happy to skip it next time. It is the equivalent of driving through Los Angeles on a tropical island, which pretty much ruined the tropical island part for me.

Anyway, happily back in Maui, we enjoyed a luau, a magic/comedy show, some more snorkeling, and relaxation before it was time to head home. It was one of the best vacations we've had, and we'd both enjoy revisiting Maui soon. (That's HUGE if you know how much we usually prefer to explore uncharted territory!)

Here are some of our favorite pictures!

The sunsets were gorgeous every night

These "Dragon's Teeth" lava rocks were formed by the sea spray

Nakalele Blowhole

Kahakuloa Village on the remote west side of Maui. That tiny green shack in the bottom left corner was advertising "the best banana bread on the planet," and we just had to try it!

One of the spectacular views on the Road to Hana

One of the many waterfalls on the Road to Hana

We swam in a springwater-fed cave in Waianapanapa State Park

Dan exploring a lava tube

The Seven Sacred Pools at the end of the Road to Hana

Dan is jumping off the cliff (he's to the left of the girl in pink shorts - you may have to click on the photo to enlarge it). He jumped twice and loved it, and I jumped once and HATED it!

o'dark-thirty in the morning at the peak of Haleakala Crater

At around 5:30 a.m., the sky began to turn beautiful colors

It was an amazing experience waiting for the sun to rise above the clouds and mountains

In our ski coats and still freezing!

The wind blew the clouds through the crater really quickly. This is me hiking inside a cloud in the crater. 10 minutes later, it was gone.

Inside Haleakala Crater

During our day trip to Oahu, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial

"Dedicated to the eternal memory of our gallant shipmates in the USS Arizona who gave their lives in action 7 December 1941. May God make his face to shine upon them and grant them peace."

The names of those who lost their lives on the USS Arizona

A lighthouse below Diamond Head

The view of Waikiki and Honolulu from Diamond Head

Back on Maui - we finally had a good day to see I'oa Needle. This valley is often filled with clouds and rain, hence the lushness.

Hula dancers at a luau

A fire dancer at a luau

Another romantic sunset on the beach before heading back home!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Giant Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

We had the most fun 4th of July weekend in Giant Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks! The sequoias are incredibly majestic and have grown for thousands of years. It was very humbling to walk among them. We also saw a black bear!! I was so excited - it was my first wild bear sighting! Unfortunately, it ran away almost as soon as we saw it, so we have no photo evidence. Kings Canyon had spectacular views and waterfalls, and when you drove deep into the canyon, there were gorgeous meadows surrounded by rock formations that reminded us of Yosemite National Park. It was a great reminder of how small we are and what an amazing world God has created!

On the road to Giant Sequoia National Park with Moro Rock in the background

General Sherman Tree - the world's largest living organism

The beautiful Congress Trail

Dan the tree-hugger! haha!

A small waterfall on Congress Trail

The root system of a fallen sequoia

Dan taking in the view on our hike up Moro Rock

The view from Moro Rock

We made it to the top!

Crescent Meadow

Driving through Tunnel Log

Dan looks like he's being eaten by a tree monster!

Debby showing off her hometown pride in front of the Tennessee Tree

Dan is standing inside a hollowed-out sequoia log! It was gigantic!

Grizzly Falls

Roaring River Falls

Debby walking through Zumwalt Meadow

Photo op at Zumwalt Meadow

Kings River

A view over Kings Canyon and Hume Lake