Previously: Valley of the Kings
While I had been planning our trip to the Big Island, the thing I most wanted to see was the volcano. I mean, the thought of being able to see the birth of the world was extremely exciting, and the fact that we happened to know someone who knew someone who had a guest house in Volcano seemed serendipitous.
So Saturday was Volcano Day.
As we entered Volcanoes National Park, we were inundated with warnings about the air quality. The level of sulfur dioxide in the air was high, and we should only enter at our own risk. We closed our windows and put the air on “recirculate,” but the smell was still coming in. The cloud of SO2 billowed across the road like a sinister fog (they call it “vog” in Hawaii – volcanic fog), and because we couldn’t find parking at the visitor’s center, we decided to drive around the crater away from the vog.
First stop: the Thurston Lava Tube. This seems to be the most famous of the volcanic landmarks, although when you come right down to it, it’s little more than a cave with two entrances. Sometimes, when lava flows, the top crusts over, but beneath it remains liquid magma, creating these natural pipes underground. As the source of the lava shuts off, the lava keeps flowing, but there becomes less and less and less, until there is nothing but air. This one is the largest of its kind, I believe, and you can walk right through it, which is what we did.
While we were on this side of the crater, we decided to take a look at Desolation Trail, which is truly a path of devastation left by an eruption in the 1959. The ohia lehua trees seem like the only plants able to survive in this desert. We started up the path, but quickly realized that there wasn’t much to see here (hence, desolation trail), so we turned around and headed back to the car for more sight-seeing.
Unfortunately the Crater Rim Drive was closed due to a new vent that recently opened within Halemaumau Crater, so we opted for the only road open to us: Chain of Craters Road.
The Chain of Craters Road is a 18.3-mile winding drive down the mountain to the sea, with craters and lookout points along the way. We stopped at some of the craters, but after the fourth one, we got bored and decided to stop at the scenic lookouts instead. I was ready to turn around about halfway down the mountain, but Ray was enjoying the lava experience, and he wanted to know what the end of the road looked like, so we kept going.
Lava flows from as recently as 1974 are all that exist here. Oh, there are some hardy ferns growing out of a few crags here and there, but there is nothing but black as far as the eye can see. A blank slate, land yet to find a name.
We finally made it down to the shore, where it was at least 15 degrees warmer. I shed my sweater as we headed down the path towards the plume of steam rising from the sea. That was where the lava was hitting the water, and I was interested in seeing what that looked like.
More warning signs abounded as we set off on the trail. Apparently when the lava hits the salt water, large amounts of toxic hydrochloric gas is produced, so we should proceed at our own risk. A little cartoon man on a warning sign was falling into the ocean because he had been hiking on an unstable lava shelf. All this made me nervous, but we decided to at least hike out for a little while.
As we were walking in the hot midday sun, Ray noticed a little oasis-like area with palm trees. It stuck out because there were no trees of any kind anywhere else. They were all so close together we thought maybe this must have been a village of some sort at one point or another (we found out later that it had indeed been a village before the lava came).
We did have to stray from the path to get to the trees, but it was nice to be in the shade even of coconut palms, and we got some cool pictures while we were there. That plume of steam was so far away! And it was lunchtime, and I was starving.
What to do? I wanted to see the lava flow into the ocean, but I just couldn’t ignore my growling tummy. We decided to turn around and head back up to the mountain (there was certainly no food anywhere here) and have lunch by the Kilauea crater.
Besides, my mom reasoned, the lava is much more spectacular at night when it’s glowing red. We could go to the ocean lava viewing area in the evening around sunset. But for now: lunch!
Next: Volcano Day (Part 2)