Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hawaii, the Big Island

Wow, big lag in adding to this blog. While we were on Hawaii, then in Las Vegas, there did not seem to be any down time to write or upload pictures. Then, when we got home it was easy to get caught up in family gatherings, daily routines and volunteer activities. With the passing of time, I hope I can do this part of our trip justice, at least some pictures will help convey some of the dramatic landscapes we witnessed in Volcano National Park.

The Big Island - Hawaii

The Ohi'a Bush, with it beautiful red Lehua blossoms is a native Hawaii plant with a local legend that tells of a handsome chief named Ohi'a who Madam Pele wanted to marry. The chief, however was in love with Lehua and turned the goddess down.

In her fury, Pele turned him into a tree with grey green leaves. Unable to undo Pele's magic, the other gods turned Lehua into a blossom and placed it on the tree so they would be together forever.

On Monday October 28 we flew from Maui to the big island of Hawaii. Local people just call it “The Big Island” because of the confusion when talking about the State of Hawaii, which is all eight islands combined. Hawaii itself is bigger than all seven other Hawaiian Islands put together.

We had found information in “The Big Island Revealed” book about Kilauea Military Camp that accepted reservations from military personal. John, being a disabled vet, was able to make reservations here. One of the best things about this lodging was that it was inside Volcano National Park and we had a two bedroom cabin with two full baths and a complete kitchen.

We arrived shortly after noon, got settled, then went back into the town of Hilo to find a visitors center and check out the attractions in and around the city. Hilo is on the “wet” side of the island, where vegetation reminds you of Jurassic Park. They get, on average, 140 inches of rain each year. A man in the park said it had rained for last 100 days in a row. Hilo is also the least visited side of Hawaii. Most of the resorts, and sunshine, are on the Kona (eastern) side. So, the saying goes that Kona creates the tax base from its tourists, and Hilo, where the government center resides, spends it.

Banyan Drive runs along the edge of the ocean and is named after the enormous banyan trees planted in Hilo Bayfront Park. Our trusty book tells us that each tree is named after the celebrity who planted it, like Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, FDR. However, all the wording on the signs was worn away and unreadable. Probably that constant precipitation is to blame. Bayfront Park was, in the past, the main Japanese district. After suffering two major tsunamis, one in 1946 and another in 1960, each claiming many lives, the ocean property was turned into a park, instead of housing, to forestall more loss of life if, and when, another tsunami occurs.

Our afternoon included a visit to the Lyman Museum and the Lyman Missionary house. The museum held a large rock and mineral collection and displays with artifacts from each distinctive ethnic group, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, that immigrated to Hawaii. The missionary house told the story of David and Sarah Lyman, who came to Hawaii in 1832 and eventually started a boarding school for young Hawaiian men. The house is the oldest wooden building on the Island.

Tuesday morning we headed for the Thurston Lava Tube, hoping to beat the tour busses and crowds. Our planning allowed us to have a private viewing of a lava plumbing system. This 400 foot long tunnel, formed about 350 to 500 years ago, is the result of a lava flow that hardened quickly on the outside, then when the molten lava stopped flowing and the remaining fluid lava drained away, leaving a long black rubble strewn tube. This lava tube has been cleaned up, lighting installed, and access permitted through a small pit crater. It is tall enough and wide enough for two people to walk upright side by side. The best part is at the end of the lighted section, if you have a flashlight, you are allowed to continue another 200 feet through an unlighted portion that eventually dead ends in a solid wall of lava. We naturally had to turn off our lights to experience the total darkness. When you emerge you follow a short walk through the rain forest where giant fern trees make a thick canopy covering the trail. Feels like Tyrannosaurus Rex will show up any minute.

Volcano National Park is located on the rim of the Kilauea Caldera, which is a 3 mile long crater originally formed about 1500 years ago. The 11 mile Crater Rim Drive circles this, as well as the smaller Kilauea Iki Crater slightly to the east. Following the drive in a counter clockwise direction, we first visited the Sulphur Banks, (smelly) and the steam vents where you can see white plumes of vapor, created by rain that seeps into the ground, is heated by underground magma, then rises out of the crater walls in clouds of steam. This adds to the prehistoric feeling of the place.

Next in line is the Jagger Museum and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, with its displays and exhibits explaining how all this internal agitation creates earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. There are seismographs twirling away, recording every blip the plumbing makes on a minute by minute basis. I wonder what it would be like if you were standing there when a substantial quake showed up on the graph! Each stop on this road provides a walkway at the very edge of the crater, where you can look down into the Caldera and see steam still spouting from various sulphur vents along its bottom.

Within the large Kilauea Caldera is the smaller Halema’uma’u Crater. This white and sulphur colored hole is said to be the home of Madam Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess. Madam Pele’s home is currently only 300 feet deep and 3000 feet across, but in the past it has varied between 1300 feet deep to overflowing its banks. Volcano house has a picture taken in 1952 from its crater-facing windows that shows Halema’uma’u shooting lava high into the air.

Further along Crater Rim Drive is the over look into Kilauea Iki, (little Kilauea). This is a crater and cinder cone just outside of the main Kilauea Caldera. This crater had been idle for more than a century, when in 1959, fountains of lava, some as high as 1900 feet, surprised scientists who thought the predicted eruption was about to occur in the main Kilauea crater. The cinder cone, called Pu’u Pua’i, was created by the spouts of lava that were blown into the southwest corner by the winds. This eruption continued for 36 days, spewing enough lava to bury a football field 15 feet deep, every minute.

Chain of Craters road is a 19 mile road veering off from Kilauea Crater Road toward the ocean. All along this road are countless craters, some small and some large, where eruptions have occurred in the near and distant past. We stopped at most of them and took lots of pictures that all look the same but each new sighting got an equally vocal response from us because they were so unbelievable.

Devils Throat was the most impressive, not because of its size, but because it was shaped like a giant worm hole with verticale sides that looked like an enormous ice auger had bored straight down 100 feet. You could see where the edges were continuing to collapse inward making the warning signs believable. We got almost, but no quite, close enough to see the very bottom.
From 1967 thru 1974 twelve miles of this Chain of Craters road had to be rerouted after Madam Pele did her own paving with lava flows. One of the posted pictures shows where the lava poured over a hillside and remains on both sides of the road. We wondered how they got the hardened lava out of the roadway. Maybe they used a snowplow.

The 1 ½ mile trail to the Pu’u Loa petroglyphs departs shortly before the abrupt end of the Chain of Craters road. The walk takes you over old lava fields where mother nature is trying her best to put some green among the black. At the spot with the greatest concentration of drawings, the park has erected a boardwalk loop in order to minimize wear and tear on the petroglyphs. There were many identifiable shapes and we had a good time make up stories to go along with any unusual pieces or recognizable series of sketches. Small holes bored in the rock are said to be cut by parents who placed newborns umbilical cords there to bring good luck. Perhaps an offering to Madam Pele.

At the end of Chain of Craters road, there is a temporary visitors center, established after a lava flow buried the old one along with a subdivision, Kalapana Gardens. We walked quite a distance on the old lava that continued over the land and into the ocean. Signs warn that the new land built by lava flows is unstable and a shelf can break off unexpectedly, so we were somewhat careful but still walked to the edge. You could see where the lava had flowed as far as it could then broke off, leaving a jagged edge, and fell into the sea.

Until September of this year, molten lava could be viewed from this area. Just our luck that the Pu’u O’o crater, that had been pouring out lava in this direction since 1983, collapsed. A new vent has since opened, however, this lava is flowing into the rain forest in an area that can only be viewed from the air. We were disappointed, but even without the hot lava flow, we were incredibly impressed the what we were able to see in two days. Guess we will just have to come back for a longer stay and take some of the narrated hikes described in the book and at the visitors center.

Wednesday morning we checked out and returned to the city of Hilo, where we had enough time befor our flight took off to visit Rainbow Falls. These beautiful Y shaped falls produce a rainbow when the morning sun hits the water mist. We arrived in the afternoon but when we walked up the stairway that goes to the top of the falls, we were treated to see the rainbow from above. Unfortunately, it did not come out very well in our photos, so you'll have to take my word for it.

We returned to Maui Wednesday evening with enough time to clean out the frig., pack our belongings and pick up a few more gifts before catching our plane Thursday to fly into the Disneyland of the West, Las Vegas. More about that next.

Banyon trees in Bayfront Park, Hilo

Hilo's Bayfront Park

Thurston Lava Tube

Madam Pele's home, Halema'uma'u crater, in the background

John and Marlin at the edge of Devils Throat

The floor of Kilauea Iki crater. See the hikers on the trail?

Kilauea Iki cinder dome on the left. You can see the trail that crosses the floor of the crater
This dome was created in 1959 after it spued cinders and lava for 36 days filling the crater with a lava

Steam vents on Kilauea's banks

Map of Kileuea Crater. The darker circle at the top right is Halema'uma'u crater

Halema'uma'u Crater inside Kilauea Caldera
Lava boiled here for 100 years from 1823 to 1924.

The southwest rift is an area where greats rents in the earth appeared and shot up huge curtains of fire and lava.

The rough and chunky lava on the right is called A'a and the smooth ropy mass on the left is called pahoehoe.

There are miles and miles of these lava fields along Crater Rim Road and Chain of Craters Road

Past lava flows that poured over the hill, covering the Chain of Craters Road.

New land that has been formed by lava flowing into the ocean from the Pu'u O'o vent on Kilauea Volcano

The current "end" of the Chain of Craters road

A Lava Arch, formed at the oceans edge

Just a few of the thousands of petroglyphs we saw etched in the old lava fields adjacent to Chain of Craters Road. The sign posted at boardwalk that surrounds one of the major concentrations of petroglyphs said that the round holes dug into the lava were recepticals for the imbilical cords, which were placed here asking for good luck and long life to the new born.

Rainbow Falls, near Hilo

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