Usually when volcanoes erupt, people will flee. But in Hawaii volcanic activity attracts the islanders; they abandon other islands to come for a closer view. Eruptions are considered a spiritual sign (great mana), giving birth to precious land with awesome flows accompanied by light, sound, heat and gas. Remember those peaked volcanoes from school? Instead of triangular mountains formed by violent explosions Hawaii's volcanoes are shield volcanoes, meaning they ooze fluid lava forming sloping shield-like mountains. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are shield volcanoes, the most massive mountains on earth, covering half the Island and rising 32,000 feet above the ocean floor.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park lies on the slopes of Kilauea, the active volcano constantly erupting for 20 years and home of fire goddess, Pele. It's a very popular Hawaiian attraction and a "must see" for every visitor. The seismic drama is raised even more as park signs warn of the dangerous sulfur dioxide gas. Activity can close parts of the park at any time, and we were restricted from parts of the crater drive. But there was still plenty to see...
Molten lava flows toward the sea and the 20-mile Chain of Craters Road follows this lava path past spatter cones and pit craters, across a desolate rift zone, down to the Pacific shore. There's very little vegetation in the zone, but abundant dark twisted lava deposits that resemble a barren moonscape.
We walked several park trails past steaming cliffs, tree fern forests, geologic faults, and finally across the rocky 3-mile Kilauea Cauldera. It's a landscape like no other, a display of powerful natural forces, and a showcase of how life becomes reestablished on new land.
We enjoyed a hike though the Thurston Lava Tube on the east side of the Kilauea crater. When the tube was discovered a local newspaper man, the roof was covered with lava stalactites. Unfortunately, those have disappeared to souvenir collectors, but you can still see evidence of the red hot lava river that rushed through the tube just a few centuries ago. The popular tube path is conveniently lighted for those who fail to bring flashlights.
We hope to return to the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park like the other islanders, to be present when the goddess Pele spews forth her new offering to the sea.
(Lava photos courtesy of NPS).