The brochure reads: “Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, displays the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution -- processes that thrust a bare land from the sea and clothed it with complex and unique ecosystems and a distinct human culture.”
Some more history: “The park encompasses diverse environments that range from sea level to the summit of the earth's most massive volcano, Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet. Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, offers scientist’s insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and visitors can see views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. The terrain ranges from isolated tropical beaches to snowy mountain summits to lush rain forest alive with rare wildlife and plants. The park is located at 4,000 feet, so one should be prepared for rain and temperatures ranging from 30 degrees to 75 degrees. The weather down at the ocean can be hot, dry, and windy.” Source: (http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm)
We drive to the entrance gate at the park - the park ranger greets us and we pay the ten-dollar entrance fee. It is now 4 o'clock in the afternoon and the park has thinned-out; most of the tourists have gone back to their hotels. Channa stops at the visitor center where she gathers maps and learns what areas of the park we should see first. I'm glad the concierge suggested bringing long pants and sweatshirts - it's cold up here! We change out of our shorts and into warmer clothes – it is cold but nothing like the Minnesota Winter we've left far behind. Zach walks towards a place where thick white smoke is coming out of the ground; it has a pungent sulphuric smell. We learn this is a steam vent and is the earth's way of relieving pressure that builds up underground, beneath the volcano.
I get a sudden flash of inspiration: Even our Creator needs a pressure relief valve! What a blessing and privilege it is for us to be here and be able to take cover from the storm we are having with Sam. It's been tough living like this. It seems whatever we do for him he has throws in a monkey wrench to screw things up. I can relate: for many years I often sabotage many a good thing before sobering up.
We walk through a lodge until reaching a wooden picket fence in front of a crater. We’re looking at the base of a mountain that was once a mountain; a mountain with a volcano on top. It looks like what I envision to be the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. The crater is at least a mile- maybe two miles in diameter. It's huge. Our visitor brochure says the Hawaiian Islands were formed through many, many thousands of years of numerous volcanic eruptions until the islands were formed from the bottom of the sea.
As we were driving to the park, we saw a thick plume of white smoke from miles away. I thought maybe there was a fire burning but it turns out the smoke is from hot lava flowing down the mountain into the sea. A portion of the park road is closed because the flowing lava has crossed its path.
This is exciting! The volcano’s aren't erupting but the activity is drawing a lot of people back to the park as day changes into night. A park ranger suggests we hike out to a certain point where we’ll be able to see red hot lava flowing down the side of the volcano. We get back in our car and drive as far as we can until seeing a sign saying “Road Closed.” We park behind a large line of cars that belong to other tourists wanting to see what we want to see. We hike to a vantage point; high up on the volcano overlooking the ocean. As the sun begins to set, the color of the sky transitions from a turquoise blue, to a deep, rich blue. The smoke is noticeable but as it gets darker and darker, the smoke looks bright white like puffy cumulus clouds building over the mountains. The changing light makes the ocean appear deep blue and the mountains deep chocolate.
Something very spiritual is building inside of me – I’ve brought my Nikon, tripod and a big telephoto lens. A ranger suggests if we walk along the volcanic rock about a half a mile we’ll be able to see the flowing lava - forgetting about my bad ankle, I aske Zach to carry the camera gear. Even though walking on the lava rock is difficult, I am determined to make it out to the vantage point where we will see the lava flowing down the mountain. The spirituality in the air is contagious; even Zach, who normally is stoic and reserved can’t refrain from getting excited. We meet a father and son from the East Coast. The boy is around Zach's age. They struck up a conversation and me with the father. As we’re talking, we’re interrupted by a large commotion of people talking. Their heads are turned towards the mountain on our left. As we looked out we see a faint line of glowing red lava flowing down the mountain. It’s hard to see but as it gets darker, the colors become more pronounced. Excited and eager to capture this experience with my camera, I quickly set up my tripod and Nikon, doing my best to balance the tripod on the rocks we’re standing on. It takes a few moments to get the shutter speed and lens aperture dialed in until I begin to capture images of red hot lava flowing down the mountain. All of a sudden it’s really dark. I've never been to outer space but from all the pictures I've seen, I’m there. The sky is a dark, dark pure and clean blue, contrasted against the now black volcano. The molten lava is a steady red glow flowing down from the mountain to meet the sea. And nothing’s going to stop it: This is nature and nature prevails over man. To witness such an event is hard to describe in words but the feeling is quite overwhelming. Everyone stops talking and watches in awe as nature takes its course. After taking at least 30 or 40 pictures and satisfied that I can share this experience with Channa and my family, Zach and I make our way across the volcanic rocks to meet up with Channa. How did it get to be ten o’clock?
Our concierge had warned us to take it easy on the drive back to our condo because the roads are dark and poorly lit. I take her advice and take my time. We’re hungry and try to find a place to eat but we’re in the country and out of luck. Most of the stores are closed. I keep driving and driving and am rapidly reaching the point of exhaustion - the curvy roads don’t make the drive any easier. I’m relieved when we reach Kona by the Sea safely - I'm sure I’ve been on autopilot! We make our way out from the car and into our condo. All I remember is peeling off my clothes and hitting the pillow - I was out for the night! What a day!