A Day with Pele

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November 15th 2012
Published: July 7th 2017
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Geo: 19.4308, -155.238

Today was a day of lots of firsts for me: first time standing on lava, first time walking through a lava tube and the first time seeing a road covered in lava. The destruction and birth of land are both on display at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The park is located about 30 minutes from Hilo and just outside the tiny town of Volcano. There is an entrance fee of $10 and your pass is good for 7 days. You will get your moneys worth even if you only spend one day. The whole day was a mix of mist and sun, with more mist than sun, and plenty of wind. The
weather did nothing to stop my visit or the visit of lots of other people, most of whom seemed to be Japanese. In fact a nice Japanese man took my picture at the park sign after I offered to take one of him and his wife.

Anyway, the best place to start is the visitor center, which is open every day from 7:45 to 5:00 (the park itself is open 24 hours a day), where you can find lots of information on the current volcanic activity, maps of the park and suggestions for what to do depending on how long you are planning to stay. I had all day at the park so I followed the suggestions for the 1-3 hours and the add ons for 4-5 hours. The first ranger talk wasn't until 9:30 so I headed out to see the steam vents and view the Kilauea Caldera. The views were a bit shrouded in mist, but I was just in awe of the beauty of Kilauea. The Caldera is a harsh grey landscape, which may not sound beautiful but it is. Kilauea is the youngest area of Hawai'i so it does not have the rising mountain top of Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea, but it is active and always changing. I went back for the ranger talk, which was a good 20-30 minutes about the history of the Hawaiian Islands, the history of the Big Island and what is going on currently. Lucky for us, there has been a lot of activity lately in the Halema'uma'u Crater. The crater suddenly had a giant hole and now a lava lake is slowly rising towards the surface. The level changes slightly each day and is currently about 100 feet below the surface. At night, you can see the glow of the lava reflected in the steam. During the day it is an impressive site with a huge cloud of steam billowing out of one side and smaller trickles from other sides. The crater is easily viewed from the Jagger Museum. The road around Kilauea is closed due to this new activity.

After lunch I took the Chain of Craters road. This road is about 30 miles round trip and dead ends into a lava flow. I spent a good 3 hours making the trip as there are lots of places to stop and view craters, lava flows from different years, a lava tube, the Devastation Trail and the current coast line. The mist was out in full force until you drive out of the rainforest. Then it was really windy (I had trouble getting the car door to open at a few of the stops) and then warm and sunny down by the ocean. The views of the lava flows were just amazing. There
are jagged edges and smooth rounded edges, giant boulders and tiny rocks, dead trees uprooted when the lava came flowing through and new green growth. I finally had to stop stopping at all the pull outs because I wanted to get to the bottom. The road ends where the lava flowed right over it. There is parking and those always nice natural toilets where the wind rushes up at you when you sit down. I hate those! You can walk out to the edge of the coastal cliffs and view the water meeting the land. The waves are huge and it's very easy to get sprayed, or soaked, by the surging water. You cannot see lava actually flowing unless you take a 15 mile hike over the hardened lava field and that's way more work than I wanted to do. You can also hike into the Kilauea Iki Crater, which is an easier 2ish mile hike that I also did
not attempt on my own.

I headed back into the park after dinner to view the glow of the lava lake. There was a steady stream of traffic heading down from the Jagger Museum so I took that as a good sign. The parking lot at the museum was packed and very dark so I carefully found a spot without running anyone over. It was so cold and windy! I quickly walked to the lookout point and was rewarded with the sight of a bright orange glow in the crater. So amazing! I would have liked to stay and watch the shifting of the plume and the change in orange tones, but I was just too cold. Took my few pictures that are pretty terrible and called it a night. I'm sure spewing lava would be way more exciting to watch, but this was better than nothing.

And so my day with Pele comes to an end. I am ready for bed and hope to be all caught up on my sleep by tomorrow!


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