Time to go camping....
Trip Start Apr 15, 2008
10Trip End May 17, 2008
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Right now I'm sitting in one of the hottest spots in the world...the crater of Kilauea volcano....its fuming and firing and smoking and sending plumes of So2 and other gases and particles up to1 mile up into the air....actually it is the crater of Halema'u ma'u which is within the caldera of Kilauea. I'm asking the park rangers every possible question I can think of....because I'm standing in this place I feel this driving need to find out all the details of the life of this volcano. And I do think this park ranger is actually enjoying telling me everything she knows. So I'm going to relay some facts to you all who are reading this.
First of all, there hasn't been this much activity in this crater since 1924. Between 1888? and 1924, the caldera was filled with fiery lava, like a molten pool with a rim of hardened volcanic rock over which it spilled once in a while just like a pot of boiling pasta. And then in 1924 it suddenly drained down (must've found a deep fissure back into the Earth's interior), and when it hit the deep water table, it send up this huge burst of ash and steam...a big burst of an explosion...and since then it's been quiet. Until Jan of this year when it started to emit bursts of sulfur dioxide and then proceeded to get more and more active until Pele (the goddess who runs the show here in the volcanic world), started throwing out molten rock up to the size of a VW bug. All the way up onto the visitors center platform....and she also threw out tears (lava shaped like water droplets), and strands of her hair (in the form of thin lava strands), and popped a hole in the side of the crater that's now quite large. And scientists from all over the world started flocking here to join in all the excitement...they're watching her day and night from the Jaggar Observatory, located right on the rim.
I myself have been here three times already and I'm spending the night in the park so I can stay late and watch the fiery plume shooting up from the middle of the Earth. This place really has me mesmerized....the earth feels alive here...it just blows my mind to think that I'm watching stuff from way inside our earth coming out the surface, forming new land...from the ocean floor on up. This is the current location of the "hot spot" that formed all the Hawaiian islands...this is the most southern island of Hawaii...but as we speak, there is a new island forming from the bottom of the ocean named Lo'ihi. And it should peek out above the water in about 10,000 years. Reminder-- a "hot spot" is when a thinner area of a tectonic plate (a section of the earth's crust which is constantly but slowly sliding along the hot molten interior), gets busted through by magma. The magma continues to spew out, forming underwater mountains and then eventually rising above the water's surface.
OK enough for the lesson in volcanoes....those are the facts but the first-hand experience of the reality is compelling. Pele has also been showing herself by flowing out the side of the mountain, flowing down to the ocean. Another magnificent sight. Ms. Yakey tells me you can watch it live at the USGS website...they have a 24 hr web cam running on it. And I'm really struck by the uncertainty of the volcanic activity. As much as this location has been monitored intensively thru time, it's also surprised people, defying predictions. Part of me would love to see one of those surprises. Every once in a while I do think I see a more brilliant shot of fire but maybe I'll be lucky enough to see something more eruptive....like maybe Pele will surprise me tonight. I'm going out to the rim in a few minutes...it's dark out now and the red really shows up in the dark.
Well after the show Pele offers me, I go in search of my campsite. I've gotten pretty tired being out in the cold....at this altitude the temperature is about 12 degrees colder than at the coast - only 20 miles away. Plus it's misty/rainy and the wind is ripping across the viewing platform. I didn't want to look for my campsite earlier because I wanted to hang out at the rim so now it's dark...very dark...and my night vision is pretty poor on a good night. I'm following the park map but I feel like I'm driving forever on this crunchy lava road And these landscapes are pretty austere....hardened lava, not much vegetation...I'm wondering what it is that I cant see along the sides of the road...am I on the edge on anything? ...I think about the wild pigs running around here...I saw a stuffed one in the museum at the visitors center...big old fangs on each side...I hear they can really tear you up. So I'm wishing a little bit that I had already set up a place to sleep and was way down deep in my sleeping bag by now.
But I finally find the campground ring....at least the ranger said it was a ring...except it's a walk around ring which means my headlights will do me no good out here...so I've got to set up my tent in the dark....and there's literally nobody else here...I chose the camping are that they said had less people but I did expect less to mean somebody at least. I'd stand more of a chance with the wild boars with more people options. But I find a place to situate myself and I start to set my tent up. Now this is actually a borrowed tent and brand new...I've certainly never set this one up and in the dark is not the best time to unveil it. I'm thinking I should just sleep in the back of my rented Chevy Cobalt...and if I didn't have legs I'd seriously consider it. But after some tribulation I have something I can sleep in and as long as there's no strong wind and no herd of wild pigs run thru the area, I think I'll still be inside it in the morning. I eat a somewhat pitiful although unrealistically tasty dinner of chips and salsa and string cheese...the highlight is the quart of milk I indulged in....milk is sooo expensive here I'm staying away from it...plus I don't have a cooler. But tonight I've got a whole quart to myself....and none of that skim or even 2 percent when you're paying this much....so it fills the role of dessert also. The meal intensifies my desire for sleep and I crawl inside my sweet little nylon abode....believing myself to be safe from the pigs, the wind, and Madame Pele, at least until sunrise.
Things always look better in the morning and in this case, the scenery is incredible. I wake up with the sunrise, have a breakfast of cereal with bananas and papayas and take in my surroundings. Today I get to explore the rest of the park.....take a ride down Chain of Craters Road...all the way to the ocean (from 4000ft to sea level), passing these breathtaking lava flows along the way. I find myself stopping in awe every 5 minutes...it'll take me all day at this rate...so I pick up the pace and make it to the lava tubes - which I might add are very cool - and over to Halema'uma'u to bid farewell to Pele. I'm headed to South Point to camp tonight and I really don't want to set up my tent again in the dark...plus there are supposed to be sea turtles and maybe some monk seals down there.
So after a rare sunny gorgeous day up at Volcano and a really pleasant lunch with a new friend, I head up to Mauna Loa...that is, as far as the road will take me. With an injured knee the amount of hiking I can do is limited...especially on lava with its irregular and jagged rocks. So I've become quite bonded to my Cobalt and am doing more car touring than I'm used to, saving the walking for when it really counts. So during the ride up Mauna Loa, going from 4000 ft to 7400 feet, you're watching the vegetation change... the trees arch over the road, except in areas of scrub on the more recent lava fields. My favorites are the nenes, the Hawaiian geese....you can see them in the pictures...and there are these hen-like birds with red heads and a broad spray of tail-feathers that seem to keep jumping out into the road threatening to die. Luckily I avoided all of them...but it was like an obstacle course.
So I finally get down to Punalu'u where I think I'm going to camp...it's a black sand beach and of course, breathtaking ...but the wind is blowing with all her might right off a long stretch of the Pacific...there's nothing between this coast and maybe Polynesia....so I'm watching tents straining against the wind, the palm trees are leaning, waves are crashing onto the beach and I'm thinking maybe I'll check out the state park five miles down the road. It may not have a black sand beach but if I stay here it could be a crazy night with this wind. Plus the sky is quite dark...the only thing that may keep it from raining is the driving wind forcing those clouds to go north. So I get to Whittington State Park and of course the wind is just as wild...but I find a little corner to pitch my tent...I even have it up before dark, with enough time to walk around. And it seems like each place I visit is more beautiful than the previous.
It looks like Whittington may have been an old port town - maybe not a whole town but a small community - that didn't quite make it. There is a dilapidated dock (which gets a bit eerie as the sky darkens), and some sort of platforms on the ground, maybe where houses used to be. I guess there were all sorts of tiny settlements along the coast at one time, but between the lava and tsunamis and quakes and general unpredictability, most of these towns didn't work out and were deserted. So that's where I am tonight. Clearly nowhere to eat in these parts so I resort to the leftover salsa and chips...ran out of cheese...and besides I had a good lunch so all is well. I go to sleep hearing the crashing surf just beyond the palm trees...I believe I'm out of reach of the big waves and should be pretty well protected from any rain. But in a pinch if I really need it, there's always the Chevy Cobalt waiting in the parking lot.