National Geographic : 2008 Apr
out by the law. At a bend in the trail I meet one hiker of that generation and ask him ifhe'd been to Kalalau. "I was there in the 1960s"; he said with a warm smile. "It was pristine. Everybody ran around naked. But hey, it was the '60s!" When I finally reach the magical valley with its folded cliffs and sinuous beach, the vibe is more frat party than nudist retreat. Dozens of campers, some apparently long-term, are scat tered among the trees behind the beach. A group of college kids have a boombox blaring, and a woman with bright red hair is shaving her legs in the valley's famous waterfall. Bags of garbage, old coolers, and discarded tents are strewed about the campsites and sea caves, waiting for work crews to haul them out by helicopter-the greatest expense for the cash-strapped park. "The challenge of managing Kalalau is its isolation, which is also its attraction;" state parks administrator Dan Quinn told me later. "Ifwe'd get more people carrying out what they carry in, it would be a better experience for everyone." As I watch the sun melt into the sea, a passing shower uncorks a magnificent rainbow. How could humans trash such an earthly paradise? The fictional Shangri-la, as portrayed in James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon, was inspired by the Buddhist concept of Shambhala, a mythi cal place of peace and tranquillity reached by enlightened beings. Maybe we aren't there yet. On my last day in Kalalau, however, I meet someone who seems well along the way. A young outlaw with a massive backpack bounds down the last stretch of trail as I'm starting the long climb out. He drops his burden at my feet, sprawls on the grass, and tells me his name is Eric. He's planning to stay for two months in a cave up the valley, foraging, meditating, and "getting centered" with the universe. "You go back up that valley and there are rock platforms, taro fields, sacred altars all the way up," he says. "It was a metropolis in there! It's the land of the menehune, the ancient ones. It's primal!" Eric is bright, articulate, and seems utterly at peace with himself and the world. We chat for a while, and then he picks up his 75-pound pack as if it were full of feathers and lopes down the trail, singing a joyful tune. "Enjoy your journey on planet Earth!" he shouts in parting. And for the rest of the day, I do. t Pacific Apertures Explore Na Pali's magnificent beaches and vistas, and find out where the images were taken in an interactive map at ngm.com.