I enjoyed immensely my stay on the Big Island. My base camp for my visit was a Big Island vacation rental. I was stationed very near one of the most amazing places on Earth – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
When I first arrived in the Park I took a drive around Crater Rim Drive, which circles Kilauea’s summit caldera. This road provides a tour of lava tubes, pit craters, sulfur banks, steam vents, and also recent lava flows. Magma is still very near the surface of Kilauea’s summit area, and steam vents are common there just as they are along the rift zones.
Kilauea Iki is a smaller crater found in the summit area. This crater is thought to have formed about the same time that the volcano’s summit collapsed to form the caldera. Kilauea Iki means “Little Kilauea,” and the last time it put on an impressive fire show was in 1959 when fountains of lava erupted to heights of 1,900 feet. These were the highest lava fountains ever recorded in the Hawaiian Islands.
Kilauea Volcano extends over an area of about 600 square miles of the south-central region of the Big Island. From January 3, 1983 to 1986, Kilauea erupted amazing fountains of lava, and the volcano has been erupting almost continuously ever since that time. Since 1983 the lava flows coming from Kilauea Volcano have covered more than 38 square miles and have destroyed more than 180 homes. The volcano has also added more than 535 acres of land to the coast of the Big Island – more than 10 acres since 2002.
The summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano is up to 2.5 miles across and 400 feet deep. Within Kilauea Caldera is a pit crater called Halemaumau Crater. Located at an elevation of 3,646 feet, Halemaumau is a pit crater within the larger Kilauea Crater. Halemaumau Crater is about 3,000 feet across and is also more than 280 feet deep. This volcano is said to be the site where the volcano goddess Pele still protects her sacred fires.
Magma funneled up into Halemaumau Crater from deep in the earth has caused the size of Halemaumau Crater to change over the last century. Halemaumau Crater was 1,200 feet deep in 1924. Eruptions as recently as 1974 and 1982 have poured lava onto the crater floor and filled it to its present depth, which is now only about 280 feet. Pungent sulfur fumes coming out of the ground continue to steam up from the mineral-encrusted cracks on the rocky black floor of Halemaumau.
Pit craters similar to Halemaumau Crater also line the East Rift Zone that leads from Kilauea’s summit toward the sea. Chain of Craters Road descends 3,700 feet from the summit to the sea. In 1986, the road was blocked by lava flows, and then eventually reopened. It was closed again in 1987. More than 9 miles of the original Chain of Craters Road have been covered since 1986. Increased activity began on May 12, 2002 and again sent lava flows over the road.
Also found along Chain of Craters road is the Puu Loa Petroglyph Area, a amazing display of ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs.
If you visit a lava flow area you will see two distinct types of hardened lava: pahoehoe (pronounced puh hoy hoy), and also aa (pronounced ah-ah). Both types of lava have the same chemical composition, but differ in their appearance. You can read more about this lava and about volcanoes at www.hawaiianencyclopedia.com Pahoehoe lava has a smooth, ropy texture, because it is hotter and more fluid than aa when it erupts. Aa has a rougher, chunkier look, and may be spiny. Both types of lava may be shiny black or a dull brownish color.
Lava tubes are formed when flowing hot lava cools and crusts over as the still-molten interior lava continues to flow downhill through the tunnel. When molten lava eventually drains out from the hardened outer crust it often leaves behind a lava tube, which is the hardened shell of the flowing lava. The most prominent example of a huge lava tube is found along Crater Rim Drive at the Thurston Lava Tube.
In active lava tubes on the East Rift Zone or near the sea, one might see what is known as a “skylight,” which occurs when the walls of a lava tube are very thin, and close to their melting point. Sometimes the lava tube roof completely collapses giving a view of the flowing lava within. You can learn more about visiting this area by visiting the website of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Seeing all of these volcanic features was the highlight of my stay in the Hawaiian Islands, and as I spent the whole rest of the week in my luxury Big Island vacation rental. I was still feeling the amazing wonders of my visit to the volcano!