As I walked past the tiny photography shop, the 8-foot-tall print of this photo caught my attention:
"That was taken by my partner, CJ Kale, about 4 months ago." Nick Selway mentioned as he saw me gawking at it. "We visit Hawaii Volcanoes National park several times a week to capture photos like this. This one was taken at sunrise."
I loved the photo, and was excited because I had planned a sunrise boat tour to get an up-close-and-personal view of hot lava flowing into the ocean. I was looking forward to watching the creation of new earth.
Nick was so friendly, and he had such amazing photos on display, that I was drawn into the shop. When I commented on the photos I found most amazing, Nick would excitedly give me a blow-by-blow account of how he or CJ had been able to capture the image. Chatting over the photos was so fun that I came back again with my sister Tracy. That second evening, CJ was minding the store, and was also totally fun and friendly. I learned that they would soon be traveling to Utah on a 10-day photo shoot that would include Yellowstone and some of the other western national parks, and we had fun comparing notes on good places to visit.
Not only was it fun to chat with them, but they also gave me a key piece of information: currently, the lava flows were not hitting the ocean. The direction and volume of flows coming out of Kilauea change frequently; I was there at a time when I wouldn't get to see them. I was happy to know that so I could save the money I would have spent on an unsatisfying boat tour. (Which happily gives me an excuse to go back again some day when they ARE flowing! And now that I know Nick and CJ, I'll call them to check on the conditions before booking my next trip!)
Even though I didn't get to see flowing lava, I still loved visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I found myself much surprised by it. I expected it to be a barren wasteland of black lava desert, and while it does have parts like that, much of it is covered with ferny tropical forests. I suspect this is because much of the park is on the rainy side of the island, so life recovers relatively quickly there. Here's a section of fern forest in the park:
The ferns stalks form as the big spiral things you see here unroll:
One part where you do see evidence of a recent eruption is on the Desolation Trail. Here's how the landscape has recovered from a major eruption of Kilauea in 1959.
Since it was raining, Tracy and I were especially happy to walk through the protected Thurston Lava Tube, which is a mile-long subway-like tunnel created by nature. As lava flowed through the area, the top layers cooled first, creating the ceiling of the tunnel, and the rest of the lava stayed hot and flowed through the tunnel until it drained completely into the ocean. leaving the big tube behind. Here's the entrance to the tube, shrouded in ferns:
Here's a photo I captured inside the lava tube:
We enjoyed visiting the Halema'uma'u Crater, where you can see sulfur dioxide gas rising out of a lava lake.
Here's a distant photo. The volcanic ridge at the right reminded me of some of the volcanic formations on my parent's farm in Idaho.
Here's a photo where you can see the moon-like floor of the crater. Mark Twain tells a very engaging account of his hike through this crater in his book "Roughing It".
Steam vents are visible rising from the crater floor also.
If you go there at night, the lava lake glows like this:
You do notice the sulfur dioxide in the air:
But the nearby museums and visitors centers have air filters, to make breathing there more comfortable. (The National Park Service also carefully monitors the air quality--several portions of the park were off limits for safety reasons).
The Jaggar Museum is totally fun to visit. You get to see Japanese tourists jumping in an attempt to create a seismic event that could be recorded on the equipment of the museum:
You also learn that a volcano below the ocean's surface, called Loihi, is growing more land, just south of the Big Island. The park ranger assured us that it will be 10,000 to 100,000 years before the new land breaks the surface of the ocean, so we shouldn't invest in any real estate there..."Not even a timeshare", he smiled.
You can click on this photo to get a closer look at the exhibit that compares the size of the Mauna Loa volcano (the largest shield volcano on earth, which makes up much of the Big Island) to the size of Mount Fuji and Mount Saint Helens. That's one BIG volcano!
You can see the different types of rocks that are formed as a result of the differing conditions under which lava cools. Some of the rocks form into hair-like strands, named Pele's Hair in honor of the Hawaiian volcano goddess.
You can see all sorts of fun volcano-inspired art at the art center there:
As a result of buying some watercolor prints at the art center, I also got to visit the post office at the nearby Kilauea Military Camp, which was a nice way to save on shipping costs. Tracy and I were puzzled about why you would place a military camp on an active volcano, but I'm sure if we thought about it more, we'd understand why. If you have any ideas, please put them in a comment here!
This is definitely a place I'd like to visit again. On my flight home, as I read through the materials I had picked up there, I learned that the park has some campgrounds (some even with cabins), where you can stay very cheaply. Getting your camping gear there on the airlines would be expensive, but it would probably work to just buy camping gear at the Goodwill when you arrive in Hawaii, and donate it back when you leave! So, maybe one day I'll visit there again, and camp! Let me know if you'd like to join me!
Hopefully, we'll be able to see something cool, like the palm-trees-in-lava-flow image in this amazing framed photograph: