Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hawaii = Day 12

Saturday, November 8

We ate raisin bread toast and coffee fixed in the room for breakfast and checked to make sure that we had packed everything back into bags to load in the trunk of the car. We left this charming old-style Hawaiian lodging with some regrets that the stay was over, and met Janet Arizumi at her house at 9:30.

The three of us drove out of Hilo, slowly climbing up the long gentle flank of the Kilauea volcano, stopping along the way at an outlet that offered literally hundreds of different varieties of orchids.

Turning off at the tiny town of Volcano, we located the bed & breakfast imaginatively named The Tara Firma Inn, and dropped our luggage before continuing on to the entrance of Kilauea National Park.

We ate a leisurely lunch on the terrace at Volcano house overlooking the huge Halema’uma’u caldera, the main crater of the Kilauea volcano. Within this miles-wide crater a new 180foot by 200 foot crater has recently opened, continuously spewing a column of noxious smoke containing choking sulfur dioxide and caustic sulfuric acid droplets so poisonous that the downwind section of the crater rim road has been closed off as hazardous to your health.

We explored the upwind side of the caldera, stepping cautiously through clouds of mist where rainwater seeps into the ground until it encounters rock hot enough to vaporize it and force it back through pores and cracks to emerge again as steam.

Sometime in the not too distant past, red hot liquid lava, gushing out of a volcanic rift near the top of the mountain had poured down the slopes, cooling as it flowed until a solid crust formed on the surface. Beneath the jagged black surface the lava continued its rush downward, and when that eruption slowed and stopped, the melted rock drained out of its huge self-made pipe, leaving an empty tube. Empty lava tubes like this exist near the surface in many places on the flanks of the volcano, and we made our way for some distance through section of the Thurston Lava Tube that was lighted. If we'd had flashlights we could have explored for at least another quarter of a mile underground.

Just a short distance from the Volcano House we walked along the Desolation Trail. Here, in November and December 1959, a spectacular fountain of glowing lava had jetted fifteen hundred feet into the air at the side of the Kilauea Iki crater.

Now 49 years later there is still a lot of barren cinder covered land, but trees and plants are beginning to recover the surface.

We drove down the Chain of Craters Road that used to go to the oceanside town of Kalapana. Lava from Kilauea flowed across the road and buried it in 1969. It was reopened ten years later, but continuous flows since then eventually completely covered seven and a half miles of road, and it remains a dead end.

We ate dinner at the Lava Rock Café, an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant with good food in the town of Volcano, and lingered for awhile close to the wood stove that took the chill off the mountain air at the Tara Firma bed & breakfast before retiring for the evening.

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