Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ends of the Big Island of Hawaii's Saddle Road

by Steve Reiss (Dalmdad Landscape Photography - and

Route 200, known locally as Saddle Road, traverses the width of the Island of Hawaiʻi, from downtown Hilo to its junction with Hawaii Route 190 near Waimea. The road was considered one of the most dangerous paved roads in the state, with many one-lane bridges and areas of marginally maintained pavement. Most of the road has now been repaved, and major parts have new re-alignments to modern standards. The highway reaches a maximum elevation of 6,632 feet (2,021 m) and is subject to fog and low visibility. Many rental car companies used to prohibit use of their cars on Saddle Road, but some now permit use of the road. The highway experiences heavy use as it provides the shortest driving route from Hilo to Kailua-Kona and access to the slopes of Mauna Loa and the Mauna Kea Observatories.

In reality, the road is not all that bad.  There are plenty of higher reaching roads in California.  CA120 at Tioga Pass in the Yosemite Area (9,943 ft. / 3,031 m) is the highest highway pass in California.  CA38 at Onyx Summit (8,443 ft. / 2,573 m) is the highest pass in southern California.  Furthermore, many of the desolate, dust covered dirt OHV roads in the California deserts are far more scary.  More people face danger on the back roads of Death Valley than on Saddle Road.


However, the difference in terrain between the two ends of Saddle Road is quite remarkable.  Even more remarkable is a very similar, yet very different pair of hills located at the two ends.

Grassy Twin Hills near Waimea end of Saddle Road

Bare Twin Hills near Volcanic Summit end of Saddle Road



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bighorn Sheep Herd at Zzyzx (Part I of Tales of the Zzyzx Bighorns) (Lamb w/video)

by Steve Reiss (Dalmdad Landscape Photography - and

It was April, 2011 when I first saw the bighorn sheep crossing sign on Zzyzx Road, just outside the Desert Studies Center.  However, in all my times exploring this area, I never actually saw any bighorns.  That does not mean there may not have been any bighorns hiding up in the rocky hills, invisible to my poor eyesight.

Looking north on Zzyzx Road (Hill to the left/Soda Dry Lake to the Right)
 In September 2011 I had my then-closest bighorn experience at Willow Beach, just below Hoover Dam in the Black Hills of northwest Arizona.  Having bighorns so close made for an incredibly exciting day.  I did not get this close to wild bighorn sheep again for a while, having to settle for seeing bighorns only at long distances at Anza-Borrego. 

In early 2013, while recently doing some research on Zzyzx for other purposes, I was lucky enough to be placed into contact with someone very knowledgeable about the Desert Studies Center and Zzyzx area.  On May 8, I asked him about the bighorn sign; asking him when was it actually possible to see any.

I almost hyperventilated at my desk when I read his e-mail saying: 

        "see them daily now along zzyzx road.  Groups of 25-35 on a regular basis..." 

25-35 on a regular basis?  Wow!

So, off to Zzyzx I went that very weekend.

When I got there, I almost super-hyperventilated (if there is such a thing) when I saw the herds of bighorns roaming around at road level, standing on the rocky hills, and hanging out in a marsh.  A feast for lovers of the bighorn.

Now, if this was not exciting enough, perfection followed.  A lamb, maybe 2 weeks old, was making its way across the loose rocks of the hillside.  It was followed by a ewe and tucked itself into a tiny cave in the hill.

More on the herd to follow...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Progress Halted at Punaluu on the Big Island of Hawaii

by Steve Reiss (Dalmdad Landscape Photography - and
June, 1991: It was the Big Island leg of our Hawaiian island hopping portion of our honeymoon and we were making the long drive back on Hawaii SR-11 from Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side of the Big Island around the southernmost point in the US (the remote and difficult to access South Point or Ka Lae (one of the few places on the Big Island where taking your rental car will void any insurance), to Kona on the west side of the Big Island.

The Punaluu Black Sand Beach Restuarant (PBSBR) appeared out of nowhere in the dark of the summer night.  When we had reached the restaurant, back in 1991, it was pitch black out, so the Black Sand Beach was not really viewable.  However, with the restaurant’s lack of windows (a common construction motif in Hawaii), you could hear, albeit faintly, the night surf coming up on the beach combined with the bristling of wind-blown coconut tree palm fronds.

We don’t remember what we ate that night, but we do remember the restaurant being an upscale, pleasant experience.  It was our first time eating at a restaurant where geckos stuck to and climbed along the walls.  The place was a real trip!


March, 2013: When we decided to go back to the Big Island in 2013, besides making sure we saw flowing lava (like we did on our Honeymoon), one of the things I absolutely wanted to do on this trip was go back to the PBSBR for dinner.  While researching the trip, I looked for the restaurant on-line, but it was not to be found; there was not even a website for the place.

So, I had to dig deeper for information.  While finding out when exactly the restaurant closed was impossible, I was able to confirm it had long been closed and deteriorating since at least 2006.   The war over development and progress in the Punaluu area between the locals and the developers went on so long, that the developers went out of business with the collapse of the Japanese economy.  When we saw a youtube video of some people exploring the restaurant ruins and web posts where others are asking about the history of the ruins of the place, our hearts fell.  I wondered what it would be like when we actually got to these ruins in a few months?

June, 2013: The drive from Volcano to Punaluu Black Sand Beach (the same drive along HA-11 we made 22 years ago) was on and off rain and on and off overcast.  This was the major weather theme from our entire 2013 trip.  After 32 miles on HA-11, we turned right on Ninole Loop Road for Punaluu and Punaluu Black Sand Beach.  We passed some natives picking coconuts from the road side as we drove down the coconut tree-lined road.  The road ended next to a snack-bar and souvenir stand.  This was the outermost portion of the black sand beach.

Views of Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Looking north towards the Snack Bar/Souvenir Stand

Us at Punaluu Black Sand Beach


There was a lot of excitement down towards the center section of the beach.  The excitement was created by a huge green sea turtle sleeping on the beach.  The turtle was probably about 4-5 feet nose to "tail".

Jade Relief Depicting Sea Turtle Carrying Hawaiian Goddess

As can be seen by this sign, and many similar signs all over the island, Hawaii takes the obligation to protect the sea turtles very seriously.

Ruins of the Punaluu Black Sands Beach Restuarant

After roaming around the beach, it was time to look for the restaurant.  As I mentioned, we sort of just found the place in the dark of night back in ’91, so I wasn’t exactly sure where it was.  We got back in the car and had not driven 10 feet from the snack bar when Joanie spotted the Tiki Style buildings surrounded by an overgrown portion of the coconut grove.  The “parking lot” was filled with garbage, smashed coconuts, fronds, and assorted other “tropical waste”.  The restaurant was so overgrown, that I did not realize that the far end of the lily pond was the wall of the restaurant.  It was so eerie walking around the area not even realizing that the place we were looking for was right there, behind the souvenir stand.

Views of the restuarant ruins and beach from the satellite