Friday, March 18, 2016

Hawaii: The Island of Hawai'i (Second Day)

Having spent the first day on the Big Island traveling all around the thing, the following couple of days were spent focusing on a few key destinations: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Hilo Farmer's Market, and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. We basically spent our entire second day just exploring the national park.

The weather was mostly overcast for the last two days of our trip, and as we approached the national park area we weren't entirely sure it was the best weather to be spending a day outside. That said, there really wasn't much else we wanted to do, so we went for it.

Laura and I were both somewhat disappointed that there was no flowing lava anywhere accessible in the park. Apparently the lava we would normally be able to see up close had stopped flowing a couple of years ago, and the only other place lava was flowing was inaccessible. As a result, the only way to see lava was to fly over the area in a plane. We didn't want to charter a flight, so instead we enjoyed the other sights at the park.

First we took a small, guided tour, in which a ranger showed us various plants and sights along a closed road. The road itself was fairly interesting, since it was only closed because it was destroyed in an earthquake, rebuilt, and immediately destroyed again by another earthquake. At that point they gave up and closed it to vehicle traffic. The road is still mostly intact in parts (street signs, road markings, and so on), but others have huge fissures running through them or areas that have collapsed into big sinkholes.

Over the course of the rainy tour we learned a lot about native life on the islands and, basically, how Europeans kinda screwed it up for everyone. The tour guide was herself from England, and she felt comfortable acknowledging the problems caused by English colonialism. (Not that American colonialism was much better, heh.)

After the guided tour, Laura and I hiked through a valley that had once, just a few decades ago, been filed with lava during an eruption. The valley was blackened and covered with volcanic rock of various sorts, and it was clear the area was still pretty volcanically active; the ground was warm to the touch, and steam was pouring out of several fissures. Here's a video I took of one of them, though YouTube compressed it into poop, I think:

Eventually the hike lead to a "lava tube," which is a sort of cave formed by lava cooling around a hotter, more active lava flow. The cooled lava forms a tube around the flow, which eventually empties out, leaving a distinct, tube-like cave.

It had been raining off and on throughout the tour and the hike, but as we drove down the mountains toward the coast, along the Chain of Craters, the clouds cleared up nearer to the ocean.

At the end of the road we saw a sea arch, which is a rock formation at the cliffs where the lands meets the sea. The water, due to the turbulence, erodes the rock in an unusual way, forming an arch of rock into the sea. It's really cool looking. Here's another compressed-to-poop video:

Nearby we took another hike, this time to see some petroglyphs: carvings in the rock made by the native Hawaiian people some time ago. Some of the carvings portrayed distinguishable figures: people, boats, turtles, and so on. Mostly, though, the area was covered with small holes carved into the rock. According to signs in the area, the small holes marked the places where the umbilical chords of newborn babies were placed.

The sun was setting as we returned inland through the Chain of Craters and up the volcano known as Kilauea. By the time we reached the summit the sun was setting, and we gazed upon the open mouth of the volcano from a distance. We couldn't see the lava directly, but the glow of the molten rock reflected off of the steam above, giving the area an orange glow.

Once we were done being fascinated by the volcano, we decided to attempt to go up to an observatory, where apparently the view of the stars was supposed to be spectacular. We drove back to Hilo, then veered further inland, and started heading up the tallest mountain in the world: Mauna Loa.

Unfortunately, the weather turned bad at dusk, and I found myself climbing a mountain against steady, constant rain. After passing through what I believe was a series of clouds, which reduced my visibility considerably, the drive started to seem treacherous. We weren't sure how much further we had to go, so we eventually gave up and turned around, figuring the view of the stars would probably be blocked by clouds anyway.

Turns out, the observatory was actually located above the clouds, and the view that night was spectacular, according to an Austrian couple who were also staying at our B&B. Ah well. Maybe next time.

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