For 81 million years, a stationary plume of magma has been rising from a hot spot within the earth's mantle. As the Pacific plate moves northeswestward over this spot, new land which forms the chain of Hawaiian islands is created. While the volcano is still active on the big island of Hawaii, the fire has left Haleakala for a few centuries. Erosion has carved the summit of the volcano into an immense basin (called improperly "the crater" since it was not formed during the eruption) dotted with distinctive cinder cones.
Only a few plants have adapted to the harsh conditions created by the high elevation, porous lava soil, and wind, most notably the Haleakala silversword, which is found on the whole earth only here, with a total range of less than 2500 acres. Below this area, plants have had a better chance to establish themselves on the steep and lush mountain slopes, covering them with a subalpine shrubland, rain forests on the windward slopes, dry forest on the leeward slopes, and coastal habitats, all encoutered on a road which goes from near sea level to 10000 feet in 38 miles, one of the steepest in the world. Visitors can take in one of the most spectacular sunrise views anywhere on the edge of the crater, in near freezing temperatures, before relaxing in the pools of a tropical lush paradise in the sliver of the Park which reaches the ocean.
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