Invisible Cows, Dragon’s Nostrils and Other Oddities

Reflections on hiking in Hawaii

As I might have mentioned before, my older daughter is in the Navy.  This has involved a series of rotations at some interesting places which has given my wife and I pretty good excuses to go visit.  And, god bless her, so far, our daughter has tolerated, even encouraged, such behavior.  So it was when she learned that she would be spending 5 weeks in Honolulu.  She suggested that she, her sister and myself could take advantage of this and advance our high pointing agenda by bagging Mauna Kea on the Big Island.  I readily agreed, not giving it much more thought than it was an excuse to travel to Hawaii, which I had never visited.

Thus, due entirely to dumb luck, I discovered that Hawaii is actually a pretty great place for hiking and, rather surprising, and completely unrelated to anything to do with hiking, its grocery stores are vastly entertaining.  It probably provides some deep and significant insight into my psyche that these two things are merged in my mind as the most salient aspects of my visit to Hawaii.

As with many other state high points, Mauna Kea can be done the right or the wrong way.  The wrong way being “climbing” into your car and driving to the top.  I have witnessed this on a number of other occasions.  For myself, I have never been tempted to do this since it seems “unsporting” even if there might be a snack bar at the top, as is the case with Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  Insisting on hiking, instead of driving, presents some challenges – like being forced to rub shoulders with folks having their photo op at the summit marker who have just survived a grueling drive in their sedan.  Being small minded, I tend to be affronted by such behavior.  As an aside, I have found my affrontation, so to speak, to have increased with age.  Translation – I am well on my way to becoming an intolerant old fart.

But, I digress.  My daughters and I drove to the Mauna Kea visitor center which lies 6 miles and 4600 vertical feet below the summit.  This seemed sufficiently sporting for bagging a high point.  I confess that the hike began inauspiciously when I ran afoul of the visitor center’s janitorial staff by jumping the “bathrooms closed for cleaning” sign.  But, I was desperate.  I almost got away with it, but instinctively I flushed the toilet thus alerting the janitorial staff who were rather affronted by my transgression.  I pled ignorance, quickly retreated to my mortified daughters, and we hastily began our hike up Mauna Kea.  The Humu’lua trail, as it is called, is well marked and definitely a straightforward hike.  The views were spectacular, not in a Rockies or Pacific Northwest Cascades kind of way but underscoring the fact that the island is basically a couple of really huge volcanoes that over time have spewed out a huge amount of lava (a really huge amount of lava).

Enough of that, now for the oddities.  At the visitor’s center a sign warned us of “invisible cows”.  This peaked my interest, for a variety of reasons, including 1) the fact that I currently reside in Wisconsin, justifiably proud of its own considerable cow population and 2) because of my previously mentioned fondness for the “Collective Cow Consciousness” (see a previous blog if you need to waste additional time).  My initial reaction to the sign was “What?”  And they seemed rather proud of their invisible cows – offering invisible cow bumper stickers in the souvenir shop.  In one sense this was in line with other high point opportunities, such as being able to purchase a “I wrecked my car’s transmission driving up and down Mt. Washington” bumper stickers in New Hampshire.

As it turns out the warning was to let visitors know that, shockingly, dark colored cows are often difficult to see when it is dark.  I pondered this for about a half second before wondering how this had ever become a thing.  To make an analogy, despite a lot of deer road kill in Wisconsin, I have so far not run across any “invisible deer” bumper stickers despite the fact that deer are: a) (mostly) dark in color and b) definitely hard to see at night.

Despite all of this, we successfully made it to the summit marker, with Mauna Kea’s numerous observatories all around us.  The sign marking the summit observed that the “true” summit was another 100 vertical feet or so beyond it but noted that native Hawaiians consider the actual summit to be a rather sacred place and asked that people respect their culture and traditions and not walk beyond the sign.  We were fine with this.  We settled down near an observatory building for a lunch break.  It was at that point that the fun began.  Several car loads of “climbers” arrived.  They then proceeded to symbolically give all native Hawaiians the middle finger and “climbed” to the true summit.  I was dumb struck by this behavior.  If this had been Mt. Kailash in Tibet, these yahoos might have been shot for their behavior but instead, regrettably, they went unchallenged.  I simply complained to my daughters and we then retreated back down the mountain.

Back on Oahu, I discovered that there are a whole series of really great day hikes on the island and they have some really terrific names.  With limited time, I confined myself, to the bemusement of my daughters, to picking out hikes purely on the basis of their names.  Thus, I came to hike the “Dragon’s Nostrils”.  Having seen the name of the hike in an Oahu guidebook, I was determined to do the hike, regardless of whether it was truly worthwhile.  As it turns out, the hike is great on all counts.  It provides a wonderful view of the southeast coast of Oahu, it is lightly traveled, and the Nostrils are indeed impressive – 2 blow holes on a lava bench about a 400 ft scramble down from the main Maapuu Lighthouse Trail.  My younger daughter got closer than I to the Nostrils and can thus claim that she was showered in Dragon snot (something I think that George R. R. Martin should work somewhere into the plot of Game of Thrones).

Hawaii of course is more than a series of hiking trails.  People come here and want to sample Hawaiian cuisine.  Each area of our country has its own favorite junk food cuisine.  For example, Philadelphia has its cheese steaks.  Hawaii? Spam, Spam, Spam.  The local Homolulu supermarket carried Original spam, Bacon Spam, Garlic Spam, Teriyaki Spam, Turkey Spam, Spam with Cheese, Chorizo Spam, Portuguese Sausage Spam, and for the health conscious, reduced sodium Spam. I am ashamed to admit that I tried none of these delicacies.

I didn’t know quite what to make of this but somehow for me, Hawaii is now an amalgam of invisible cows, Dragon snot and Spam.  When I get this all sorted out, I’ll let you know.




2 thoughts on “Invisible Cows, Dragon’s Nostrils and Other Oddities

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