Sunday, December 2, 2012

Big Island: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Part 1

After flying over a volcano in a helicopter, I was anxious to see one up close and personal. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and allows casual visitors to get reasonably close to some modest volcanic phenomena. Determined visitors can get stupidly close to flowing lava, gas vents and deep crevasses – but they do so at their own risk.

When we arrived at the park entrance, the ranger on duty took one look at me and asked, “Is there anyone in the car over 62 years of age?”

“Umm, yeah,” I answered. “That would be me.”

The ranger then explained that as a result of my advanced age and U.S. citizenship, I was entitled to a Lifetime Free Pass to all U.S. National Parks. He then issued me this pass and a delightfully embarrassing SENIOR ACCESS tag to hang on the rear-view mirror.


We drove to the Jaggar Museum on the rim of Kilauea caldera. The first thing I noticed was this USGS marker.


Kilauea caldera is enormous, over two miles wide. Inside is a smaller crater (3,000 feet wide), which was belching smoke and gas, but there was no lava visible from our location.



The museum housed exhibits of various kinds of lava, including this sample of a hardened viscous lava flow.


This sample is composed of glassy filaments that are created when lava is ejected into the air. It is known as Pele’s Hair (Pele is the Hawaiian volcano goddess).


And this is the protective gear worn by a scientist who walked out onto the newly-formed crust over a lava flow and broke through. He was immersed in molten lava, but survived.


We wanted to take the crater rim road to get a better view of the caldera, but the road was closed due to poisonous gas emissions.


Instead, we went to see the steam and sulfur vents, and were warned about the doom that awaited us.




What we found were lush fields of ferns and orchids, which had made a home in the warm soil that was constantly bathed in mist from the steam vents.




Eventually, Paradise gave way to Hell, as we entered an area venting stinky sulfur dioxide from vents in the rocks. No orchids here, just delicate sulfur crystals deposited by the gas.



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