Saturday, November 30, 2013

Visiting Volcano National Park: Part III (also happy Thanksgiving!)

Finally, part three of my adventure to Volcanoes National Park three weeks ago. It's also coming out the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm certainly thankful that I live on this amazing island and get to see such amazing sights.

Anyway, after hiking back up out of Kīlauea Iki, we drove down Chain of Craters Road. This is a short (23 miles, 38 kilometer) road that starts near Kīlauea Caldera and descends nearly 3,700 feet (1.130 meters), passing by several craters before plunging steeply down a scarp and ending abruptly at sea level along Hawaiʻi's barren, wind-swept south-eastern coast where it was covered by lava flows. Here, a patchwork of recent lava flows (many less than five hundred years old, and nearly all less than a thousand) contrast sharply with struggling, stubby ground-cover, providing a very different look from the lush rainforests where the road begins.

Down where the road ends in a small turn-around and some park buildings, there's a small look-out point facing the vast expanse of the Pacific ocean. Down the coast a few hundred feet we saw this nice-looking sea-arch carved by wave action in the hard lava rock.

Sea-arch on the south-east coast of Hawaiʻi.
Passing beyond where the road is closed to vehicle traffic, we walked along it for perhaps half a mile before coming to where lava flows between 1986 and 1996 covered it. It used to reach to the town of Kalapana further up the coast and serve as a second entrance into the park, but not anymore since Kīlauea begin its current eruptive cycle in 1983.

Looking back along the road from whence we came.
The sight of lava covering the road put me into a bit of a sober mood. It brought to mind Shelley's sonnet Ozymandias, and its theme of time and entropy's eventual triumph over man's accomplishments.

A weighty subject, to be sure, but it's very strange to see something as common and ubiquitous as an asphalt road covered in a lava flow. Most of the lava flows on the island are historical curiosities to me – although many of them are not that long ago, historically speaking, they're still from before I was born, and usually what you see is asphalt and other human structures on top of lava – not the reverse. The lack of context around the road makes it easy to imagine “this could be the road in front of my house covered in lava.” Although Hilo is in much less danger than most of the south and west coast of Hawaiʻi, it's always good to keep in mind the 1880 flow from Mauna Loa that came within a few miles of downtown Hilo – the Kaumana Caves that I've crawled around in came from that flow, and it came within a mile of where my current workplace is located.

Anyway, enough seriousness. Chain of Craters Road was actually first covered by lava in 1969. It was re-opened in 1979 before being closed again in 1986, but I imagine the sign I found below is from that time period:

You don't say...
By this point it was early evening and the sky was beginning to darken. After walking around on the lava near where it covered the road for a bit, we headed back to the car then drove back up Chain of Crater Road. A bit more than halfway along, we took a turn off for a lava tree forest. From what I've read, I gather that this was the original Chain of Craters road when it was created back in 1928, back when it merely took drivers out to Makaopuhi Crater (which is no longer accessible by road, only a hike). It wasn't until 1959 that it was extended to Kalapana to create the road we were driving on before.

Anyway, we drove a short distance along until reaching a parking lot shortly before the place where this original road was also covered by lava. Uphill from the road we found places where trees had been surrounded in lava and subsequently burned or rotted away, leaving holes where the trunks were. Sadly, it was starting to get dark, so I wasn't able to get many good pictures.

The hole you see there is a cast of a tree trunk. We found nearly a dozen in the area in the short time we were there, but most of them were not different enough from this one to bother getting a picture.

Well, except for these three. I found the collection of shapes to look rather like a surprised face. Lava apparently collected around the tree trunks forming raised, rounded shapes around them, so it makes a nice “head” with two holes for eyes and another (harder to see) for a mouth.

At this point the sun had gone down and it was quite dark, so we headed back to the car and drove back to the Jagger Museum outlook again. The sight was quite different from when we first came during the day. In the daytime, there isn't much to see except a large hole in the ground inside a larger depression, with a never-ending cloud of gas arising. At night time, all is cast into shadow, except for the still-ascending gas cloud which is lit from below with a fiery orange glow. This was definitely one of the high points of the day for me – seeing with clarity the light from Earth's molten core spilling out through this break in its flimsy crust. It was highly impressive, and I recommend going to see it if you ever get the chance.

Unfonrtunately, the darkness and the fact that I was trying to take a picture of a glowing cloud meant that I just could not get an acceptable picture, though not for lack of trying. Possibly with a tripod and a long exposure, but I didn't have one with my and short exposures just weren't cutting it. I really, really wish I had one to put up here, but the best I got is just a fuzzy, out-of-focus orange cloud. I was hoping to capture how the light from the lava lake was lighting up the far inner walls of Halemaʻumaʻu crater, but I just couldn't get the camera to focus. Perhaps another time.

And with that, it's time to wrap this series up. I'm planning on taking another hiking trip in the area tomorrow, so hopefully I'll have some new pictures up in a bit. A hui hou!

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