So lets geek out, not on Star Trek, but on one of my other nerdy passions - geology - rock on! Do follow the links too - it took me a long time to write this since I kept reading off on a tangent about volcanoes and the youtube posts of other folks footage is simply fascinating - just don't forget to come back and finish reading my post though.
Hawaii only exists because of volcanoes. The chain of islands that make up the 50th state are due to a hot-spot on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. As the earth's mantle slides and continents drift, volcanoes go dormant and new ones are born, often producing new islands. The Big Island is the youngest of the Hawaiian islands and has five separate volcanoes, so it is entirely appropriate that it has a Volcanoes National Park! Within this park one of the longest-lived eruptions in the world is taking place - Kilauea.
Unfortunately at the time of our visit the lava was flowing in an extremely hard to get to place. It required a fourteen mile round trip , hiking over sharp rocks and lumpy lava fields. This flow has at times reached the sea, giving spectacular views of steam plumes as the molten lava plunges into the ocean but upon our arrival it had not had an ocean entry since the beginning of the year. However, Pele (the Hawaiian Goddess of the Volcano) did tease us by coming within 50 meters of the coast while we were staying at Volcano (the aptly named town closest to the volcanoes). We decided that if an ocean entry did occur we'd fork out for either the boat or helicopter trip. Then Pele further taunted us by dipping her toes in the water - but only briefly. Without a sustained ocean entry there was no guarantee that we'd see a plume. We decided that it would be something to come back for.
Apparently the neighboring volcano - Mauna Loa, is due to erupt again soon - we vowed to come back for that!
If you have only one day to visit the volcanoes come for one of the hikes and then make sure to stay for the sunset. Make sure to get there a good hour beforehand since traffic is horrible! Kilauea is best viewed in the dark and the park is open all night. From the viewing area you cannot see the lava during the day, just the steam and gases (vog - a cross between volcano and smog) rising from the vent.
While we were there the vog closed the Crater Rim Drive
But at night you can see the red hot lava below reflected off the vog.
What with Hawaii being two hours behind California time and my sparse sprinkling of little white lies when asked by my not-a-moring-person Husband what time it was when we woke up, we hit the trail at 8.30am - a phenomenal achievement for us as a couple!
The road south from the gates of the park goes all the way to the ocean. This is Chain of Craters Road, so called as there is a chain of raters and other interesting volcano-induced features to see the whole way down to sea level.
On Anne's (from the Rainforest Retreat) recommendation we decided to tackle the Lava tubes early.We parked at the trail head the for Kilauea Iki trail but did the trail in the reverse order to that laid out in the trail guide, thus beginning with the walk through the lava tubes.
Click this link to find out how. In November of 1959 a fissure opened in the 600ft deep pit and spewed a curtain of lava along its length forming a 360m deep lava lake within the crater.
The floor of the crater still had steam vents - eerie on a cool morning!
At the top my heart stopped. There was a big crack in the earth! It was a couple of feet wide - large enough for a body to slip through...
I edged closer to the crack preparing myself for the ordeal of climbing into it to search for him. As I stood quivering at the opening of the fissure, cursing the lack of cell phone coverage yet wondering who the hell would I call.(Certainly not the ranger since he'd probably shout at me for going off trail!) I spotted a ting figure back at ground level waving up at me. My husband had found an easy way down that left him on the opposite side from where he'd left me and had had to circumnavigate the base.
"You scared the shit out of me!" I said when I'd climbed down (the hard side not wanting to loose sight of him again.)
"I'm sorry," he said, ducking as I swiped at him. "It was cool up there though wasn't it?"
Let's just say the vog turned blue until I'd calmed down.
After that we drove to sea level to the end of the Chain of Craters Road... literally the end of the road where the lava come across the road in one of the recent eruptions, blocking the road for miles.
On one of the ranger talks we attended the speaker asked the question, "What do sister's do with each other?"
One person answered, "Shopping!"
I said, "Party?"
"How odd," I thought.
But the correct answer was fight!
And the legend of the two sisters well describes the constant battle between the volcano and the ocean. As the lava pours into the ocean the waves constantly erode it away.
As the lava spills, pools and cools it produces some amazing textures.
Sorry Pele, but I have to say that this did remind me of one huge cow pat!
But Pele is a
She can even produce semiprecious stones. I found this olivine, called peridot and chrysolite when of gem-quality. It is a magnesium iron silicate with the formula (Mg,Fe)2SiO4.
I was sorely tempted to pocket this tiny rock of perhaps 1/8" diameter, but I'd been warned not to remove any rocks from the volcano area since it would upset Pele. I reckon she could throw one helluva hissy-fit, so left it there. Ya just don't mess with a Volcano God!
Photos fail to capture how vast this moonscape is.
The forth hike of the day, Pu'u Huluhulu and Mauna Ulu, was postponed to the next day since we were so worn out from traipsing across the hard lava - it is deceptively hard going. But I wasn't going home without doing that one - it was my volcano-twin having erupted the same year I was born - Mauna Ulu.
From the top of Pu'u Huluhulu we could look over at Mauna Ulu. Pu'u Huluhulu means hairy hill and refers to the forest growth on an old cone. This forest was not buried by an eruption and is still growing but other trees weren't so lucky. Along the way we came across lava trees. Here the lava flowed around trees whose dampness cooled the lava before it burned up the trees resulting in these strange pipes in the rock.
ʻu ʻŌʻō (pronounced Poo ew oh oh) another live volcano erupting since 1983. Heaven only knows why they haven't built a nice visitor center and cafe closer so we can get a better look!