According to legend, Pele – the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, dance, and volcanoes – lives in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kīlauea, located in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea means “spewing” or “much spreading” in Hawaiian, an apt name given that it is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Unfortunately there were no active lava flows during the time I was visiting the park, though at night we could see the glowing steam rising above the lava lake that is Pele’s legendary lair (Halemaʻumaʻu crater).
Occasionally during stronger volcanic activity the lava escapes the lava lake (and other areas) and slowly oozes its way down to the ocean. Along the way the crust hardens, creating an insulating barrier that keeps the lava inside hot and flowing. When the source “dries up” what remains is an empty tunnel called a lava tube. There is one particularly big one at Volcanoes National Park, the Thurston Lava tube. What I found most fascinating about this lava tube compared to others I’d seen in northern California were the strange ‘beards’ that were hanging from the cracks in the ceiling. These beards are actually aerial roots of the ‘Ohia, a common tree in the park with red feathery blossoms. The ‘Ohia is particularly well adapted to the rough lava landscape of the island and is often one of the first plants to settle on new lava flows (after about 100 years). The aerial roots help to collect moisture from the air.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gets over a million visitors each year (1.6 million in 2006), so you can imagine that it can get pretty crowded. Fortunately there are opportunities to escape the busloads of tourists, and I took the opportunity to do just. I had my parents drop me off at the Puna Coast trailhead and I headed out towards the coast through six and a half miles of desolate lavascape. After about 3 miles it became a truly surreal experience. In the heat of the afternoon the black and silvery landscape shimmered with heatwaves for miles in every direction, and far in the distance I could just barely make out my destination: a lonely grove of Coconut Trees. Or was it a mirage?
Solidified lava takes all sorts of interesting forms depending on the geochemical properties and temperature of the flow. Most of the flow the trail took me through was Pahoehoe, which has a smooth, undulating, and ropy surface. Some of the flows along the trail were particularly fascinating and had a glassy surface to them with a light red staining (my guess is the red is due to a higher concentration of iron oxides).
At long last I made it to my destination, where I promptly dropped my pack under a Coconut Tree and cracked open my Coconut Porter. What an excellent way to relax! To my surprise there were in fact three other people at the beach – turtle researchers who were keeping track of the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle which comes to nest on this part of the coast. After enjoying the sunset from a beautiful patch of Pahoehoe lava I joined the turtle researchers for part of their first turtle watch. Of course, no turtles showed up, but that’s not too surprising since they only averaged about one per week!
click for larger view!
This is part 2 of 3 from my posts about Hawaii. Read part 1 here: Walking on Stars, and stayed tuned for part 3!