Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was founded in August 1916. The park covers 333,000 acres or 505.36 square miles that runs from the summit of Mauna Loa to the Pacific Ocean. The park displays 70 million years of volcanism that created these beautiful islands. The first time I visited the Volcano Park was in 1979. At that time I had visited one of my favorite places, Kalapana. From the black sand beach at Kalapana you could drive up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance. This road, the beach and park entrance are now covered with lava. In 1998, I visited the park again. As I drove around the roads, I was amazed at how many dead ends I came across. The lava just flowed across the highways and dried there. I have been to the park 10 - 12 times since then and see something new each time. I will try to explain some of the park’s highlights. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains 150 miles of hiking trails through rainforests, deserts of dried lava and through a volcanic crater. It is important to remember that Mauna Loa, the earth’s most massive volcano, last erupted in 1984. Kilauea the most active volcano has been erupting continuously since 1/3/1983. Kilauea has already added 518 new acres to the Big Island. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours per day all year long. Kilauea visitor center is open daily from 7:45 AM until 5:00 PM. The Jaggar Museum is open from 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM. The cost to enter Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is $10.00 per vehicle for a seven day permit. Just inside the entrance is the visitor’s center. At the visitor center you can learn more about the volcanoes by watching their short film which runs hourly. There are maps and lots of information about recent eruptions and recent lava flow viewing sites. Across the street is The Volcano House. The Volcano House is a Hotel that overlooks Halema’uma’u Crater.
Halema’uma’u Crater is home to Pele, the Volcano Goddess. When Pele left Oahu, she went island to island digging her fire pits while searching for a new home. Pele found her new home in Halema’uma’u Crater. The Volcano House started out as a grass shack in 1846 and grew into this hotel that it is today. The Volcano House will be closed for renovation until summer 2012. There is a great gift shop in the Volcano House where you can buy a great assortment of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park souvenirs. Everything from clothing to Christmas ornaments. Crater Rim Drive is a 10.6 mile drive that circles Kilauea Caldera. If you follow this road, you will see most of the park’s main attractions. The next interesting thing to see is the Jagger Museum and Halema’uma’u Crater. The Jagger Museum is a great place to stop and learn about the Volcanoes. Thomas A Jagger Museum sits on the edge of Halema’uma’u Crater and offers great photo opportunities of Kilauea’s active caldera. Inside the museum there are great depictions of Pele along with displays of different types of lava as well as working seismographs which detect the volcanic movement in the earth.
It is all actually quite amazing. There is also a nice bookstore where you can buy books and posters about Kilauea and other Hawaiian Volcanoes. Halema’uma’u Crater, the home of Pele, is a massive crater that was a lake full of lava in 1967. The lava drained away leaving this humongous crater behind. I have been to the crater when Hawaiians were having a sacred ceremony to offer gifts to Pele (mostly flowers, coins, chocolates and alcohol). This was a truly sacred sight to behold. I will remember it for the rest of my life. They performed ancient hula with ancient instruments and chanted in the Hawaiian language. For hundreds of years Hawaiians have come to this site to offer gifts to appease Pele. In 1790, a group of warriors, Hawaiian women and children came to the crater to offer Pel’e gifts. Pele was not in the mood for visitors. There was a violent eruption and many of the visitors’ were killed. Others tried to run and left their footprints in the hot lava. These footprints can still be seen today. Look on your map form the visitor’s center for location of 1790 footprints. The last activity on Halema’uma’u crater was a small explosion on March 19th 2008. This explosion was the first since 1924. The 2008 explosion sent ash over 74 acres and covered part of crater rim drive and damaged Halema’uma’u overlook. ( I visited in July 2008 and have some great pictures of the crater on the page entitled Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photos. I got as close as I could get without too much risk). The explosion did not release any lava, it just opened a major sulfur dioxide gas vent. The increase in sulfur dioxide gas caused closure of Crater Rim Drive from Jagger Museum to Chain Of Craters Road.
The next stop on the road are the sulfur banks and steam vents. The sulfur banks are quite spectacular and makes you feel as if you are on another planet. The volcano fumes are hazardous to your health. There are some fantastic sulfur crystals that form on the volcanic rocks in the area. There are also a lot of wild orchids growing in the area. The Volcano steam vents allow hot steam to escape from inside the volcano. The guard rails around the steam vents are there for a reason. The steam is very, very hot and can easily burn you. Just stand in front of the vents and you will get a free steam bath from Pele herself. As you drive along Crater Rim Drive, you will see devastation trail and plaques along each lava flow telling the date of the flow. When you reach a dead end, (this is no longer a loop road), you will be at the most recent flow that destroyed the Chain Of Craters Road. Get out of your car and walk along the hardened lava. It looks like a huge brownie with it’s hardened wavelike structure and cracks. Driving the other direction is the Thurston Lava Tube. You must hike a 20 - 30 minute trail through a lush green tropical rainforest to reach the Thurston Lava Tube. This enormous Lava Tube (Tunnel made of lava) is over 350,000 years old. Lava tubes are created much like the Lava trees were. The molten lava cools on the outside (due to rain or weather) and the hot lava on the inside continues to flow through the tube leaving a hollowed out tunnel.
Thurston Lava Tube is large enough for a subway to run through it. This is a really awesome sight. Kilauea’s east rift zone is quite active. The lava flow from these vents average 800 - 1300 gallons per second. Kilauea’s lava flow came dangerously close (a couple of feet away) to the Visitor’s Center and destroyed a couple of outer buildings around the center. I feel tremendously luck to have seen Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from 1979 to 2008. I have been able to drive the entire 10.6 mile Crater Rim Drive and other times I have not been able to get past the Visitor’s Center toward Halema’uma’u Crater. I can’t wait to see what awaits me on my next trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. For more Photos of the Park click here.
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