The Hawai’i Adventure continues with Part 4 of 6 series as we explore Volcanoes National Park with Guest Blogger Danielle Lescure.
Madame Pele, Hawaiian volcano goddess, does not like me. Or perhaps she just picked me to mess with. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.
When I first told one of my co-workers I was going to the Big Island, he shared how he’d spent his honeymoon here and how it feels like you’re on the moon. It’s true. The landscape is littered with the rocky scars of it’s volcanic past. Volcanoes are how these islands came to be and the Big Island is by far the best example of those turbulent beginnings. Not to mention those erupters are still active in these parts!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is also one of the main reasons I chose to come here as opposed to Maui, Oahu, or Kauai. It’s simply something you can’t find or experience anywhere else. And there’s something rather exhilarating about hiking across a crater knowing that deep underneath your feet the earth is still busy percolating.
It’s a two-hour drive from Kona to the park accompanied by long stretches of rocky terrain. But the landscape I drove alongside was nothing like the enormous craters within the park. Yep, looks like the moon to me, minus the spacesuit.
The park volunteers are outstanding: John who gave the morning lecture, Gary who helped acquaint me with the area when I arrived, and Charlene who led a terrific tour down into and across the Kilauea Iki crater. Many of the volunteers are retirees and their love for the island and this park is palpable. They’re extremely knowledgeable and great with all the visitors some of whom had traveled from as far Spain and Germany.
I spent the first part of the morning wandering the grounds and investigating the many vents pouring steam out from the floor below my feet. They’re all over.
Another stop overlooked the massive Halema’uma’u crater. Ever since an explosive event in March of 2008, the crater has been spewing steam and sulfur. They’re still puzzled as to why it’s happening or what set it off. And it sure is a sight to see.
Then it was off to hike the crater of Kilauea Iki. Kilauea Iki last erupted in 1959 for 36 days. It took 36 years for the lava lake to harden. While the ground is now solid, the core underneath is still hot and you can see and feel steam rising through cracks in the ground.
But before heading into the crater I walked Devastation Trail, a short stroll that takes you into the wasteland behind Kilauea Iki. In 1959, with lava spewing like a fountain, wind lifted and drove some of it up and over the mouth of the eruption leaving a wake of, you guessed it, devastation. Hence the name. The tree limbs littering the rocky desert almost resemble bones.
Our guide into and across the crater, Charlene, was a regular encyclopedia when it came to the flora surrounding us. We were all enjoying the walk so much and asking so many questions that what is typically a two-hour trek ended up well over three hours! She even had us looking for bits of Pele’s hair, lava caught on and stretched out into thin strings by the wind. It’s not as easy to find as you might think; none of us had any luck.
Hiking across what initially appeared to be a barren landscape, it surprised me to see small green buds, bushes, and plants scattered about growing somehow between the fractures in the rock floor. How had those roots managed to take hold in what seems like such an inhospitable place? Remarkable.
The park is enormous; you could easily spend a few days exploring and wandering the trails. This is why I returned to the park a second time the afternoon after my visit to Hilo. I wanted to drive down Chain of Craters Road to see the petroglyphs.
The path leading to the petroglyphs is a several minute walk over the rocky field and while it’s an easy path to trod, it’s not always a clear one and had there not been little stacked piles of rocks to guide the way here and there, it would have been easy to get a little lost or turned around.
With over 23,000 petroglyphs here, it is the largest field of them among the islands. As there was no written language in ancient Hawaiian culture these carvings told stories, some with meanings that will only ever truly be known by those who created them. There are also thousands of pukas (holes) all over where families buried the piko (umbilical cord) from their newborns hoping the spiritual guiding energy of Pu’uloa would bless the child. These age-old impressions appear very faded to the naked eye but pop on a digital camera screen.
Despite knowing it would be a very long (almost 3 hour) drive back to the hotel, I ventured further east to Kalapena. It’s said here you can sometimes see lava pulsing out into the sea. Unfortunately, not until I got there did I find out this is a rare sight from land and best observed via boat or airplane. Bummer.
Oh, right. As for my run-ins with Pele?
Well, on my first trip to the park while hiking into the crater, Charlene cautioned us to watch our step as they’d been experiencing a drought and the gravel was very dry and slippery. Now, I am not one to lose my balance and fall; it rarely happens. However, almost as if on cue, as soon as Charlene uttered those words it was like someone kicked my heel, sending my foot flying and my bottom to the ground. Yep, definitely slippery.
And this was after I’d hit a bird with my rental earlier in the day. I’d never hit an animal while driving before. Thank goodness the park forces you to drive very slowly. And fortunately, it happened right by the Visitor Center. I quickly parked, scooped up the hobbling bird and brought it to Gary who made sure to contact the proper people to could come and care for it. I checked in with him later that day for a status update. Though he assured me the bird would be okay, I still felt terrible. Couldn’t help but wonder if my pratfall on the trail was a little Pele retribution.
On top of somehow managing to drive over some rock – boy, does that make a terrible noise underneath your car – while on Chain of Craters road and a wasted trip to Kalapena, I was beginning to think Pele had it in for me and the sooner I left the park the better.
But it seems she was looking out for me after all on the long ride back. While I wasn’t overly tired, the road is very dark at night and has a few twists and turns. It can be a draining drive.
Even though I knew the way, I found myself hoping to come across another car to help guide me back to Kona. And sure enough, off in the distance I saw one up ahead. Once I caught up to it, trailing it back into town helped me see what was coming up around each bend. Plus, I felt a little less alone.
Maybe Pele likes me after all.
Danielle Lescure is a writer and singer in Los Angeles. You can find out more at DanielleLescure.com, tweet a hello @daniellelescure, or check out her blog at https://daniellelescure.