Strange States: Hawaii's Stairway to Heaven

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If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home.

This time we’re going to the Aloha State, Hawaii—the latest state in the Union, the birthplace of President Barack Obama, and the home of macadamia nut farmer Roseanne Barr.

Stairway to Heaven

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Between the rainforests, the black sand beaches, and Kilauea—one of the most active volcanoes in the world—Hawaii is a state unlike any other in the Union. So it should come as no surprise that hiking is a very popular hobby on the islands, with numerous public trails crisscrossing the countryside, offering picturesque views of the Pacific. In the horseshoe-shaped Haiku Valley on O’ahu, though, one of the best views is an illegal one, and can only be seen by climbing the Stairway to Heaven. 

The Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haiku Stairs, is a series of approximately 3922 concrete steps climbing 2800 feet through lush jungle to the often cloud-covered peak of Pu'u Keahi A Kahoe. The stairs were originally little more than a wooden ladder built in 1942 to help the U.S. military string antenna cables between the mountain ridges of the valley for use at the very low frequency radio communication station on the peak. They were later replaced by wooden stairs, and then concrete in the 1950s after the Coast Guard took over the site for their Omega Navigation System. The Coast Guard closed the Omega base and the stairway in 1987, but every week about 100 daring hikers ignore the No Trespassing signs and avoid guards stationed at the base in order to walk along the mountain ridge. 

There are many on O’ahu who would like to see the stairs become a public trail, but the local government says it would be cost prohibitive to keep the stairs in safe condition. The counter-argument is that people are going to use the stairs either way, so why not charge a fee for the privilege and open it up as a tourist destination? A town meeting was held about the Stairs in March of this year, but so far no decision has been made.    

See all the entries in our Strange States series here.

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