Road closed due to lava flow

16 Nov

Understatement.

I think they mean it!

I tend toward the preconception that any warning from a government agency is so layered with ass-covering over-caution that it can be taken quite lightly.  But at Volcanoes National Park – where their idea of a good time is hiking across a volcanic crater to warm your face in front of a steam vent, where their idea of an accessible campground is four miles down a one lane road with a suggestion to share the road with oncoming cars – when they close a road they don’t mean ‘there could be an off chance of mild driving disruption due to volcanic activity nearby’ – they mean the road is closed.

The eerie lava field in the morning fog.

I spent a few days in Volcanoes traipsing over lava flows, strolling across craters, climbing debris piles.  I was repeatedly amazed by this landscape – at once so destructive and so creative.  Traversing the bottom of the Kilauea Iki Crater, steam rising from bubbles popped in the earth’s burnt crust, I imagined I could be in some post-apocalyptic hellscape.

The trail across a crater.

But then looking at the cracks between the layers of up-heaved lava rock, life is sprouting out this inhospitable terrain.  The a’e fern pokes its way out of every crag where soil might settle.  The ohi’a tree rings the crater’s edge showing of its own blazing lehua blooms.  And the rain forest full of hapu’u tree ferns and colorful birds crawl up the hillsides forged by long-past eruptions.

Plants like this ohi'a tree flourish in the young lava fields.

It seems unbelievable that such abundance could flourish on the crusts of old lava flows.  But, look deep beneath the forest and you can still see Pele’s signature.  The Thurston Lava Tube is a bizarre cavern formed as the outer edges of a lava flow cooled and formed a tube around the still molten rock.  Once a channel for a river of lava near the eruption center, the lava tube now lays quietly underground as roots try to penetrate its ceiling.

Inside the Thurston Lava Tube.

This landscape will continue to change as Kilauea continues to ominously remind us of its activity.

Kilauea by day...

...as the sun sets the glow of still-active lava becomes apparent...

... glowing brighter as the light fades ...

...until night gives a colorful volcanic light show.

You can track my trip around the big island on googlemaps!

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One Response to “Road closed due to lava flow”

  1. Nate November 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Hey there, I found your blog by surfing the “travel” tags. I’ve been to Volcanoes National Park as well and was equally a struck by the raw power and destruction displayed by the lava flows. That national park is truly one of my favorites. Did you take a helicopter ride over the lava flows by any chance? That was an incredible experience as well.

    Thanks for sharing your photos, and I’m glad you enjoyed the park as much as I remember that I did.

    Nate

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