A Visit To An Erupting Volcano

When I had dreamed of my first visit to the erupting Mt. Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, I expected to see exploding guysers of molten red lava shooting into the air,  and to watch the burning lava flow make its’ way down the blackened mountain to the Pacific,  dying off into a plume of steam…  but the experience turned out to be much less spectacular.  We had been warned, I had done my homework and saw by the latest entries that there is no lava flow to the ocean right now, there are no active flows, and the massive Halema’uma’u Crater is covered by a layer of solidified lava.  Still it was a awesome sight.   As soon as we entered Volcanoes National Park we were greeted by more than a dozen plumes of steam all around us.  We stopped the truck and got out, making the short walk to the edge of an enormous crater that is breathtaking although you could barely make out the distant plume of steam from the most active part of Mt. Kilauea.  We drove on to the Jagger Museum, the best vantage point and the end of the road heading counter clockwise around the crater because of road blocks. This the most active site on the volcano and there was a huge plume of steam coming up from the edge  of the Halema ‘umu ‘u crater.  (We returned later that evening to see the dome in the crater glow red… beautiful but too faint to be captured by my camera. It’s also why I’ve decided not to spend the money for the helicopter tour of the lava flows – they’re just not dramatic enough right now – but I’ll be back when Pele explodes back to life.)  You realize that this is the stuff that the earth is made of… the building blocks for the planet.  As you look across the barren landscape, it’s not hard to forget about the simmering pot of lava, ready to break through the rocks and continue reshaping the island, but all the warning signs remind you where you are.  We decided our next stop would be the ancient lava flows where petroglyphs were carved into the flat porous rock.  The drive to the site is spectacular as you pass through lava flows marked with signs “1979 eruption”, “1973 eruption” and even the tropical forest doesn’t quite look right.  The green isn’t as vibrant as on other parts of the island and there are dead trees, bushes and piles of dead ferns scattered across everywhere, most killed off by the acid rain that continues to affect the plants.  We parked along the side of the road and started the quarter mile trek to the petroglyph site.  It was a challege walking across the fields of lava but the rocks themselves were works of art, created by the forces of nature… lava that had hardened into layers of rope, or wrinkled as it was pushed in different directions.  There are also mounds of rocks scattered along the path,  markers so you don’t wander too far off the route set out.  When we finally arrived, we spotted dozens of spectacular petroglyphs, carvings made by the ancient Hawaiians into the lava rock.  Most were representative of humans, fish, turtles, boats, and a series of  ‘Piko’ dots and circles that represent the ‘umbilical cord ceremony’.  There are warnings to respect the petroglyphs,  some people still need to be told but Hawaiian culture has a powerful effect on even young people in the Islands, and there is little graffiti especially around sacred sites.  

We decided to extend our day trip to South Point, the southern most point in the USA.  It was a very picturesque drive down the coast as the barren lava fields give way to rainforest and then farm land.  There is a large wind farm to mark South Point but only one line of windmills were turning in the strong wind.   At the end of the line, there is a parking lot and a cliff going down to what appeared to be a very deep ocean. There is also a large hole in the lava rock that allows you to see down to the ocean and a small cove – it may have once been a lava tube.  It is awe inspiring but appeared too dangerous to get near… or at least I thought.  As we were leaving a group of locals arrived, and one guy just jumped through the hole into the ocean below.  He emerged from the hole a minute or so later, still intact… I was more shaken than he was.  Then just as we were backing out of the parking space a girl standing along the cliff in front of us,  just jumped into the deep blue ocean below – I’m sure they both had some kind of a death wish.  But apparently it is something that people have been doing for years,  but it’s not something you’ll ever catch me doing. I’m fine just to enjoy the spectacular landscape.

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2 Responses to “A Visit To An Erupting Volcano”

  1. Jeanine Appleton-Bott
    January 2 at 9:56 pm #

    Hello Darren,
    I am so glad to see that you are having a wonderful time. All that steam from the volcanos must have been really good for your skin-hehehe.
    As for the crazy cliff divers, “they” used to show that on the Wild World of Sports!!! When I was younger I wanted to do that too, but now I’m with you-NO thanks!!
    I hope that you had a GREAT Christmas and HAPPY HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
    take care of yourself!!


  1. Having It All On The Big Island | RTW Travels.com - January 2

    […] back to Hilo to rest up for your next adventure to Volcanoes National Park. I wrote about that in A Visit To An Erupting Volcano.  But there’s still more to see, after your visit to Mt. Kilauea and South Point  make sure you […]

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