Buck-gallup in Haleakalā

I looked into the tough, young horse tour guide’s grimy, blond unshaved face, and asked, “If the volcano erupts will you make sure that we all get out safely?” His eyes shifted away, he snorted with a sneer, but he said nothing. I was worried about the hefty oriental couple who inexplicably wore flowing yellow plastic rain ponchos for our ride into the Haleakalā volcano caldera. Horses spook when things fly around them, that is just what they do. I was surprised that the guide let them ride wearing ponchos, especially as there was zero chance of rain on that day, high up above the clouds, on top of Haleakalā volcano.


Our tour guide led our descent into Haleakalā, everyone else strung out behind him. I kept to the rear so that I could see what I was riding into. I had a plain brown horse with a nice, chunky face, easy to ride. I had patted and stroked his withers and flanks, scratched the base of his ears, and combed some tangles out of his mane with my fingers before mounting and was satisfied with his temperament for a rented horse. No one talked, there was none of the usual banter along the trail. I was surprised that the horses did not balk. I was not enjoying myself at all, and actually regretted having signed up to take an innocent horse into potential hell on earth. It took a couple hours to switchback our way down to a crude campsite on the floor of the caldera. The place was uncomfortably hot and it stunk. It vibrated with geological power, like a massive, evil trampoline flexing to go. I did not like that at all. At the campsite, the tour guide dismounted, unpacked gear, and stood on the vibrating ground. Dust shimmered up around him, “Well, anybody want to stay here?” No one had dismounted. No one said anything, just a lot of head shaking, “No.” He gathered up the lunch stuff we did not want, mounted his horse, and led us back up the trail.


Sometime after midway, our oaf of a guide, hollered out, “Let’s go!” and whipped up his horse. Everyone’s horse bolted after him in a mad dash for the summit. And sure enough, those billowing yellow plastic ponchos caught the breeze and swirled out, causing the woman’s horse to buck as it galloped along. A bucking gallop is very awkward movement for a horse, and it is almost impossible for you to keep your seat unless you are a rodeo champion. She was pretty good. Her horse bucked her sideways but the saddle stayed cinched so she was able to cling to the pummel. She buck-galloped her horse, leaning over at a thirty-degree angle, up the inside of the volcano following everyone else’s full-out gallop, with me closing up the rear and working my reins trying to stay out of it. I did not want to see her fall onto the jagged lava ground, I did not want to run her over, and I did not want to get thrown myself if my horse decided to join in; so I summoned my best teacher’s voice and yelled up the trail after them, “STOP, everybody, STOP NOW.” Amazingly, all the horses slowed and then stopped. The guide whipped his horse back into a gallop, but soon had to come back to where we were all stopped. Since the guide had ridden pell-mell in the lead he had not seen the woman falling, and he was, in his vernacular, “pissed” that I had stopped everyone. The husband of the yellow ponchoed couple got his wife righted, her cinch and stirrups checked, and we all trotted on up to the crater’s rim.


Back at the parking lot along with everyone else, I wrapped my horse’s reins around the hitching post, and patted my surprisingly steady horse goodbye. Day was done and I was done with it. The tour guide hopped off his horse and stormed over to me. He was furious, “YOU. Stay here until I get back.” I watched him stomp off to the office to turn in his tour paperwork. Was I going to hang around and wait to be reprimanded by a tour guide who had done a poor job at best, putting us at extra risk at worst? Not a chance, I hopped into my car and skedaddled. If I had it to do over, I would not.

Caption: āhinahina (Silversword) grows inside the Haleakalā shield volcano,

on the island of Maui, State of Hawaii. It is threatened.

—photographs by Annmarie Throckmorton, Maui, Hawaii 1998.

Caption: Annmarie Throckmorton And Horse On Tour Into the Haleakalā Caldera.

—photographs by Annmarie Throckmorton, Maui, Hawaii 1998.

Caption: map of the Island of Maui, with Haleakala volcano,

and the road to Hana-public domain 2017.


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