Back to the Philadelphia Zoo with our membership and camera in tow. The kids weren’t feeling it this visit. End-of-summer malaise to the point where they really need the structure of school. Also, it was super crowded since we went on Labor Day weekend. Oh well, we got to see a fair number of baby animals.
Category Archives: gallery
In our last full day on Hawai‘i we set off early to go see Punalu‘u beach. Obvious but obligatory since I’d also always wanted to see a black sand beach ever since I was a little kid.* Punalu‘u is the easiest to access on the island plus I’d previously scanned a photo of my grandmother taken when she visited there around 1940.
*Also Papakōlea’s green sand but taking the walk (or hiring a drive) to South Point was a bit more than I was ready to undertake.
It is indeed very pretty and even past the color difference the sand is very different than the sand I’m used to. Rather than being the soft, rounded and eroded sand we have on beaches in California,* the black sand is rough and abrasive since it’s powdered lava. Rather than being formed by wave action on solid lava rock, it’s a result of explosions when the molten lava hits the ocean water. It doesn’t hurt to walk in but your feet do get exfoliated a bit. After all the walking we did the previous day this wasn’t a bad thing.
*Or even the coarser sand made of broken shells in Waikoloa.
After walking along Crater Rim Drive to see Halema‘uma‘u and before going to the Jagger Museum, we drove Chain of Craters Road to the Hōlei Sea Arch. We took our time, pulling over whenever we saw something interesting or if there was a pullout to go look at yet another crater. It’s a fun drive out toward the ocean through fresh lava fields. The nice thing about this drive is that each pullout explains the date of the field we would be standing in and describes each eruption, how it occurred, what parts of the road were covered, etc.
In most parts of the world, the geologic history of the land is hidden in the stratigraphy under the earth and only where the stratigraphy is exposed can you figure out what happened there. On Hawai‘i, the lava flows are visible everywhere and tell the story of how the island was built. Because the Chain of Craters road goes through the most-recent flows, it serves as a primer on looking at the landscape in general and allowed us to think about the other parts of the island we’d been to and put together how the lava flows had created and shaped the landscapes everywhere else too.
Our hotel in Hilo had a wonderful map on the wall which marked all the lava flows on the island and included the dates—or where they predated western contact with the islands, the Hawaiian names—of those flows. I’ve been trying, and failing, to find a copy of that map since the lava flows have become one of my most-vivid memories of this trip. It’s not the being on the flows either, it’s the driving along the highway and just seeing dark patches flowing down the mountain side* or noticing that the vegetation has gotten more sparse and recognizing that we were passing through a newer portion of the island and wondering when that flow occurred.
*This was the other thing besides the cinder cones that we kept seeing when we drove over Mauna Kea.
At the end of the road is the Hōlei Sea Arch and a parking lot for the trailhead to go look at the lava from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō as it flowed into the Pacific Ocean. It would’ve been an 8-mile round-trip walk to see the lava. Nothing too strenuous but it would go over rough lava and after having hiked Kīlauea Iki earlier, we were both wary of how sharp the lava could be.
The little kid in me who had always wanted to see volcanos wanted to take that walk. The grown-up part of me thought better of it. The grown-up part of me won.
We’d seen so many people being stupid already by walking close to the edge and trying to get a better view of the ocean that we didn’t want to see them be stupid around lava either. Having already seen Halema‘uma‘u breathe we knew we respected the volcano too much to be with a bunch of tourists messing around with it.
So we enjoyed looking at the ocean and seeing it crash into the lava cliffs. Then we turned around and went back up the ridge to go to the Jagger Museum. Do I still have some “what ifs” and “if onlys”? Absolutely. But I’m also perfectly satisfied with what I did see.
My first real look at Halema‘uma‘u was walking a closed-to-cars portion of Crater Rim drive,* coming over a ridge, and seeing smoke just billowing out of the earth. It didn’t emerge in one continuous cloud like it does from a fire. Nor was it a small controlled emission like from a smokestack. Instead the earth was breathing and alive and awesome. Impossible to take my eyes off of it. Impossible to even really wrap my brain around it. And that was just seeing the smoke.
*Because it was erupting the road was closed to everyone in the down-wind section. The segment we walked had no good turnaround spot for cars.
We’d noticed clouds at the end of the Kīlauea Iki crater but hadn’t paid them much thought. It was only after driving and walking closer that we realized we’d been seeing evidence of the main vent the entire time. The portion of the road we walked on went through some even-more-recent lava flows and land which is still reeling from getting destroyed by volcanic activity.
We later drove around to the other side of the crater and saw much more of the main vent from the Jaggar Museum.* The photos don’t, can’t do it justice. It’s huge and feels even larger. It’s both compelling and intimidating. I want to go closer yet I can see how powerful it is and that it deserves as much respect as I can give it.** I could have stayed all day on the crater rim and just watched it breathe.
*I’ve not much to say about the museum itself beyond that it’s a good primer on how the islands were formed and how volcanos work.
**As a Californian who’s grown up with a healthy respect for the ocean this falls into the same category of an elemental which I refuse to take my eyes off of because it’s both amazing and dangerous.
We left before it got dark. It would’ve been fantastic to stay and see the smoke light up from the glow of the lava. It would’ve been much less fantastic to drive home in the dark. Plus it had been a long day of hiking so it was also time to go home and rest before it was too late.
We spent our first day in Hilo at Volcanos National Park. We left nice and early because we planned to do the Kīlauea Iki trail and wanted to finish it before it got hot. It’s a good hike, not too long at 4½ miles but long enough that we packed plenty of water. We chose to go around the edge of the crater before crossing the crater floor and it was nice to start through the cool forest of ferns and everything while we studied the hiking guide which told us the backstory of the Kīlauea Iki eruption.
By the time we’d descended into the crater we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking at. Which was good because being in the bottom of the crater is a completely different experience which causes you to lose a lot of perspective. First, while the trail is completely obvious from above it’s completely invisible on the surface. There are cairns which mark the path but you can’t see any of the grey stone that you can from up on the crater rim. The crater floor is also undulating and cracked. It looks like it should be flat but it’s a strange, surreal surface which reminds you with every step how it used to be liquid.
You can feel the weight of the lava and the stored heat of the earth here. This is new earth, new rock still fresh from its formation where plants are only beginning to take hold and there’s no topsoil yet. What little dirt there is collects in the natural channels of the surface as water and wind* deposits but there’s still not enough to sustain much life. I realized how used to walking on earth I was and how little padding was left in my shoes. The rock is hard and sharp. Where it’s cracked you have to be careful not to scrape or cut yourself.
*There was a wonderful breeze along the crater floor which made the hike very comfortable.
After climbing back to the ridge we took a quick walk through the Thurston Lava Tube before finishing the loop and getting back to our car. I don’t have much to say about the tube itself but we’d seen various lava tubes and caves all over the island already* so it was nice to actually walk into and through one.
*Many of which are right along the highway and cars and tourists will pull over to go exploring in a way which strikes me as wildly irresponsible.