Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Visiting Volcano National Park: Part I

Last Saturday I took a trip to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park with some co-workers, a place I've only been to twice before and which I've been meaning to visit for some time now that I have a car. And because of the number of pictures I took, I'm going to split them up into three posts.

Volcanoes National Park contains the summit caldera of both the Mauna Loa and Kīlauea active volcanos, although the former has no visitor facilities and requires a strenuous several hour hike – minimum – to access, while the latter has plenty of paved road and ample tourist amenities. There is a lot to see in the Kīlauea portion of the national park – there are miles of hikes you can take, not to mention the miles of paved road running around craters and over fresh lava flows.

Anyway, upon reaching the park, the first place we stopped at was the Sulfur Banks and Steam Vents, a location on the northern rim of the Kīlauea caldera where steam continually rises from the ground. It's quite strange to see a constant stream of steam wafting up from the ground. It's unfortunately also hard to photograph, so I only have the one photo of one of the areas steam was coming from:

My friend Graham next to a steam vent. The hole is only about 6 feet deep, the steam rises off the floor.
After that, we went along the rim of the caldera to the Thomas A. Jagger Museum which has a great outlook over the caldera (along with a scientific monitoring station). It also offers a spectacular view of the vast length of Mauna Loa, which caught me completely by surprise with its incredible beauty.

Mauna Loa panorama from near the summit of Kīlauea.
From an overlook on the north rim of Kīlauea caldera, we got an excellent overview of Halemaʻumaʻu crater within it. Halemaʻumaʻu crater has an active lava lake within in (though it is too low to be seen from the overlook at the moment), and has off and on for a few dozen years now. Below is a picture of Halemaʻumaʻu crater, with large clouds of poisonous sulfur dioxide gas rising out of it:

Halemaʻumaʻu crater.
This massive pit in the ground made quite an impression on me. Knowing that at the bottom lay a lake of molten rock, seeing the gases rising up from was an awe-inspiring sight. According to what I read in the museum Kīlauea is estimated to have had a cone several hundred feet higher about 500 years ago that collapsed into a truly massive caldera, which over the intervening years gradually filled with more and more cooled lava until the present day where the floor of the caldera has filled to within 400 feet of the rim at most.

Kīlauea is a rather unusual volcano in its near-constant, yet gentle activity. Very, very few volcanoes actually have sustained lava lakes – in fact only four of them exist in the world at the moment. And most volcanoes when they erupt tend to do so much more violently, making it incredibly dangerous to be around them while they are active. Yet Kīlauea repeatedly has mild, effusive eruptions of lava that tends to move slowly enough not to be a threat, to the point where it's completely normal for people to walk up and poke sticks into it. It offers an almost completely unique chance to experience an active volcano without a corresponding probability of death closer to one than to zero. It's utterly fascinating, and if you ever get the chance to visit, do so.

Now, this has been a short post, but the next one will have a lot more pictures as it will deal with the incredibly cool Kīlauea Iki hike that we spent a few hours on. A hui hou!

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