Thursday, December 09, 2004
Lap Around Hawai'i (pictures only are here) After a more than lackadasical day, Caitie and I fired it up to drive around the circumference of the Big Island. We were strongly advised to take the Northern route, which winds up the west side of the island, hooks around the north side, and winds southward along the east side to Hilo and then Volcano National Park. Another handy map: (these maps come from Best of Hawaii, be sure to check them out) Hawaii has an unwritten rule that all rental cars must be Mustangs, and the majority of Mustangs must be red. Both on Maui and the Big Island we were given the exact same car. So, a short pictoral tribute to our touring car of choice, the red, convertible, 2003 Mustang (1 2 3). Along the way across the northern end of the big island, we could clearly see the snow on top of Mauna Kea, one of the three peaks on the island. Caitie strained above the windshield to photograph the hawaiin snow. Trying valiantly to overcome intense motion-sickness, fear of speed, on-coming traffic, high-winds, and road-bliss, she failed. Instead, she took a picture of some random part of the road. Somehow, I really like the picture. After reaching the East side of the island on 19, we went up the dead-end highway 240, which terminates a Waipio Lookout, a state park overlooking a gulch. A really huge gulch. A really huge and beautiful gulch, Waipio could induce agoraphobia in even the most outdoorsy. In addition to being lovely, Waipio lookout is also apperently the location of choice for in-car marijuana use. When we parked, we were next to a few locals whistling along to their crackling radio, holding their smoke and taking in the view. Dr. Fawcett shouted under her breath that "one joint is the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes", and would ultimately lead to emphysema and/or lung cancer. The local dudes kept whistling, and we took some pictures of the view(1 2 3). After chastising the locals, Caitie and I climbed back in our trusty rent-a-stang, and doubled back over 240, and picked up 19 to head south. Our next stop was the famous Akaka Falls, another Hawaiin state park. The Akaka falls site has a nice hiking loop that passes some impressive bamboo stands (1 2), many streams, and wild Impatients of many colors (Caitie noted that you buy them by color, but they grow wild in mixed bouquets). Leading up to the Akaka Falls, is another, smaller waterfall. Though smaller in stature, grace, and impression, the Kahuna Falls pummels Akaka in the naming category (1 2). After a mile or so of "hiking" on the paved, handicap accessible, made-in-the-USA, sidewalk that leads throughout the park, we reached Akaka. And really, what an Akaka it is (1 2 3 4 5). It is hard for heights to be impressive only an hour or so after looking out on Waipio, but Akaka measured up. The green of the thick fern and bamboo cover and the constant mist from the foot of the falls looks more like a movie set than a state park. After Akaka, we drove and drove and drove on 19 until we reached Hilo. While windy and steep, 19 has nothing on Maui's Road to Hana; all the bridges are a full two lanes. There are few small land slide areas, but by and large, it is a safe road, easily driven in the daylight, and acceptably traversed at night. All that safety evaporates the moment you leave Hilo, and pick up HI 11 to drive into Volcanoe National Park. First of all, the whole area in and around the park is a USGS Fault Zone. This means an earthquake could strike at any moment. Ok, fine you say, same in San Adreas California. That is true, but then you have to consider that the park is also at risk for Tsunami -- giant, freakish waves induced by offshore seismic activity (polite speak for earthquakes) that swell up and engulf miles of shoreline. Doesn't Tokyo have those you protest? Ok, fine. But there are also sulphuric acid rain showers, poisinous gas vents, and of course, molten lava and to quote dr. evil, liquid hot magma. They have signs for the poisonous gases, and you can actually see the steam vents, venting away right there in plain site. Like all great places under the US government's stewardship, there is a very well paved road leading to the most interesting locations. This short panaramic video of Pu'u O'o (I don't make them up) was shot about 25 yards from a veritable highway. As if driving to the caldera of one of the world's most active volcanoes is not exciting (and convenient) enough, there is another road to the coast, where you can actually see new land being created as the lava reaches the ocean. We snapped a few shots from "Chain of Craters Road" (1 2). One experience in the park, however, remains spectacularly remote and rare, despite the best efforts of the US park service to drive you withing feet of every natural marvel. The liquid magma flows mostly underground in Lava Tubes (shouldn't they be magma tubes?), which empty into the sea at the base of Mauna Loa (not kea, loa). So most of the liquid rock stays underground as magma, and never flows overland as lava. The underground flows are difficult to track, and it is nearly impossible to predict when or if they will produce visible lava flows. So, going to the volcano park is like going to the beach. You check the weather report to see what kind of beach day it will be, and you check the lava report to see what kind of volcano day you have ahead. As it turns out, we went to the park on a pretty good lava day. To see lava, you had to drive about 5 or 6 miles down to the coast line and park along a now abandoned highway. The highway used to lead to a town, then lava ate the town. So they kept the road up to lead to the lava. Then the lava ate the road (1 2), so the parks service gave up on the road. Now, when the parks service says something is accessible they mean it. Accessible by their standards is paved pathway with railings, signage, and maps. They told us the lava was "mildly inaccessible", and that to reach it we needed in order of priority: water, hiking shoes, long pants, sunblock, hats, and flashlights. We had sneakers and shorts on. Caitie had sunblock, but I forgot to apply that morning. I assumed a somewhat linear scale in accessibility ratings from the park service. Apparently, they use a logarithmic scale. "Mildly Inaccessible" translates to a 4 hour round trip hike over burning hot, razor sharp, frozen metallic lava. You have to move fast, because after sunset, it become nearly impossible to judge where the ocean is. Judging the location of the ocean is important, because the ocean is preceded by giant cliffs formed from partially hardened lava. In addition, there is no telling where the lava is or will be. Your best bet is to follow the trickle of human sacrifices ahead of you, ask every returning hiker you meet where the lava is, and pay attention to the air temperature. When you are withing 50 feet of lava, the temperature jumps very significantly. All that being said, the hike to and from the lava was one of the most exciting excursions I've ever made (not that there have been a lot of excursions). On our way in, we told everyone we met that it was worth it -- if you have a flashlight. All told, we covered 5 miles of the lava fields in about 3 hours, and saw a lot of liquid red lava (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11, and movies crackle, lava). Following our adventure, we drove the rest of the way home on 11, stopping in Kailua-Kona for dinner, and completing our circuit of the big island.