Nothing beats charging up switchbacks on the extinct crater rim (with 1,000 foot elevation change) after a sweaty, rewarding day of patrolling trails in this volcanic moonscape. (This "charging up" the crater business would describing what I did at the end of my internship when this near sea level acclimated person adjusted to altitude and had been hiking over 7 miles a day for 3 months!)
Haleakala National Park, AKA House of the Sun in Hawaiian, is known to tourists for the beauty of watching the sun rise above the clouds at 9,000 feet. Sunrise is an explosion of color above the ever changing and reflecting the clouds. My once-in-a-lifetime opportunity spent here can be summarized as time spent watching the clouds below me, patrolling trails, hearing the eerie human-like scream of 'U'au's,the endangered Hawaiian Petrels, as they fly to land in the night, observing the determined Nene, the endangered Hawaiian Goose, protect their nests, getting in a mud fight in a taro field, and spending the weekends playing beach volleyball, snorkeling, and surfing--life was rough!;).
The thrill of discovering a previously unknown 'U'au nest to be marked for future monitoring definitely tops my list on amazing experiences. It feels energizing knowing that I played a small part in helping to preserve this species. The 'U'aus make their yearly migrations back to this tiny island from a life at sea to breed and raise their young.
This place- Haleakala- is eerie, beautiful, and wild let's continue to protect this wonder for ourselves, the wildlife, and for our future generations as well as theirs.