As a child, we were often told to come in out of the rain. In a national park, however, it’s sometimes best to stay put. Otherwise you could miss out on an experience of a lifetime.
And I’m honored that one of my experiences of a lifetime — the afternoon that resulted in the image Rainbow on Haleakalā — was selected by the U.S. Postal Service to appear on a very special commemorative stamp to honor the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
As a nature photographer, I was in heaven — or at least 10,000 feet closer to it.
Whether it’s because of the explosive growth of photography, or our need to take a break from our always-on, connected lives, our national parks are busier than ever. But for me, they can still be wondrous places of solitude. Such was the case that November, 2008, afternoon I spent chasing Haleakalā’s rainbows.
My day started as a scouting trip. Haleakalā is known for stunning sunrises. I needed to photograph one to illustrate a story for my series on native legends. Getting that sunrise would require me to arrive at my shooting location while it was still dark. I decided to take a look at the crater during the day in order to determine where I wanted to be the next morning.
But the closer I got to Haleakalā’s summit, the less I could see. The fog got thicker and thicker. Then there was heavy rain. Then the rain turned to hail. I sprinted from the car into the visitor center, hoping to catch a bit of the view through the window. All I could make out was the railing of the viewing platform.
It quickly became clear that the storm wouldn't. The few visitors in the center sprinted to their cars. I decided to stay put.
Then something amazing happened. The hail turned into a light drizzle. Sunlight poked through a tiny hole in the ominous cloud. And a rainbow dipped into the crater.
I managed to get a few shots before the sun slid back behind the storm clouds and the pelting hail resumed. It was a beautiful scene. Much of Haleakalā’s beauty comes from its rainbow-colored rocks. The rainbow in the sky complemented that nicely.
But I hoped for better placement of the rainbow. In those first images it was off to the side of the crater. I knew that as the sun moved across the sky, weather permitting, rainbows later in the day would land closer to a core group of cinder cones that I found especially attractive.
And so I waited.
During the hour and a half I spent on the rim, the storm gave me just six opportunities to photograph rainbows. My favorite image — and the one that is used on the stamp — was taken during the next-to-last “window.”
It was also the briefest opportunity. I was able to shoot only a single frame before the rainbow vanished.
Back in the car, with the heat and the de-fogger set on high, I was thankful for the experience even though I was soaked. In all of my work as a photographer, I treasure most the images that show nature at its dynamic finest. Braving an intense hailstorm is just part of the experience — a key part of the experience.
National parks take us into a different world, a world of jaw-dropping scenery and experiences that are dramatically different from our daily lives. This image of Haleakalā is both to me. And it’s why I’m so honored that it will help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
(Learn more about Kevin Ebi's newest book, Living Wilderness, the first comprehensive portfolio of his fine-art images and download a free preview. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram .)