After our visit to Green Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii, Mr. Handsome and I spent a few hours at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the east side of the island. The five volcanoes on the Big Island are Kilauea, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kohala, and there are many others located on the other Hawaiian islands and in the ocean.
Of the volcanoes on the Big Island, only Kilauea is currently erupting and has been for more than 30 years. The current eruption has destroyed a significant number of rain forest, homes, and roads. The lava flow changes on a daily basis.
Sometimes it’s flowing in a location where folks can walk right up to it, which was the case when my family visited the island 15 years ago. See the red? That’s hot lava! Some of the black lava rock is fully hardened, while some is still soft.
My dad and brother are in the brown and green shirts, about five feet from the fresh lava flow.
While Mr. Handsome and I were on our trip, one of the flows was accessible only by a long, treacherous hike, but we decided to forgo that. We were, however, able to see lava erupting out of the Halema’um’u Crater, inside the Kilauea Caldera.
The picture below shows the floor of the Caldera, with the Crater inside it. See the red glow? It looks small from the picture, but it’s actually
quite large and is bubbling and spurting, which we could see quite well
with our binoculars.
In the 1800s, the Halema’uma’u Crater was at times so full of lava that it overflowed onto the floor of the Caldera. It was a popular tourist attraction for the rich and famous, including Mark Twain, who visited in 1866 and stayed at Volcano House, a hotel that has been in operation since 1846.
Imagine leaving the comforts of home and trekking across the vast ocean to an unknown island, which wasn’t even a U.S. territory at that point. And imagine how terrifying it would have been to visit the volcano at a time when science was much less advanced and impending eruptions would have be more difficult to detect.
Kilauea Caldera–essentially a massive indentation that is 2.5 miles long and 2 miles wide, according to the National Park Service–was formed when the summit of the volcano collapsed about 500 years ago. On a sign inside the park, the NPS informs visitors that they believe the initial depth of the caldera to have been around 2,000 feet. Since that time, the floor has risen, bringing it to a current depth of only 400 feet (another fact we learned by reading those informative signs throughout the park!)
Crater Rim Drive encircles the Caldera, but the bottom half of the road has been closed for 10 years due to toxic fumes, so visitors can no longer walk right up to the edge of the Halema’um’u Crater.
We explored other areas of the park until after sunset, when we returned to the overlook to check out the nighttime view. It was fabulous! The lava flow had changed slightly since we had been there a few hours before.