Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station

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The six-mile road cut through dirt hills, twisting around knolls of rich brown earth and rising in elevation until the atmospheric layers bled together through a membrane of clouds. When I got out of my car upon reaching the visitor information station, the fresh air sent a chill into my lungs. 

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Tourists piled out of a bus to eat foil-wrapped sandwiches at picnic tables and peruse the gift shop. I looked around the gift shop myself after watching an informational video, the slightly dated kind that one would expect to see in a middle school science class. All the souvenirs cashed in on the astronomy aspect of Mauna Kea, with t-shirts, ornaments and patches promoting “Mauna Kea Observatories” with astral designs. In the corner, there was even a tabletop model of Mauna Kea, its landscape dotted in little white observatories, squares of folded paper labeling each one. 

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Near the entrances of walking trails leading to the cold summits of the Mauna were signs urging visitors not to disturb the terrain or build rock piles. One sign declared the area to be a Hawaiian sacred site and prohibited entrance or disturbance of Lake Waiau. The trails were skirted by native vegetation like Mauna Kea silversword and Hawaiian strawberry. I couldn’t see a single telescope from the station; and looking around at tourists snapping pictures of the sunbaked hills, I wondered if that was the point.

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