Monday, November 5, 2012

Mauna Kea: highest mountain in the world

Our first Big Island adventure involved going to Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the world at 13,800 feet above sea level, to visit the Keck Observatory.
We had to acclimate for an hour at 9,000 feet and I walked among the proliferation of mullein on the volcano. I love mullein and it was used by the Cherokee for smoking, among other things. Also tried some deep yoga breathing because I was already feeling dizzy.
The place was eat up with Army soldiers training on the volcano to be deployed to Afghanistan since the region is mountainous there and oxygen low. The poor guys had to run and hike up to the top. One guy said the half mile marker on the volcano is a whole lot different than the half mile mark he’s used to at sea level!
We crammed into our guide’s Explorer for the 8 mile rutted road drive up to the observatory and when we got there, I think all of us kind of went, ”Uh oh” because you felt pretty loopy when you got out there. And it was chilly up there on the top of the world!
I filled out waivers for us and it was a hard to concentrate so when I asked why the astronomers didn’t actually come up to the observatory to do their science, I was told how hard it would be to do “something cerebral” as I had a difficult time just filling out a form with information I knew. So the astronomers stay in their comfy offices wherever and watch everything on the computer.

So we got the grand tour of the telescope and how it works. My uncle Dean, an optical scientist at the University of Arizona and an ace photographer, probably would have kept us there all day but we could only stay for a little while due to oxygen deprivation.

When we got outside to take pictures, it was COLD and we were told that it had been snowing on a few days before, and often chunks of ice weighting about 10 lbs come flying off the telescope. We were happy to be heading down the volcano at that point, I think.

My aunt Melinda's panorama:
To read the ins and outs of the observatory, please visit Dean and Melinda's blog at

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