Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hawai’i: Thanksgiving with Pele at Kilauea

Blog Entry #55: Hawai’i: Thanksgiving with Pele at Kilauea

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Honolulu Harbor
Diamondhead from Honolulu Harbor
Eight days after leaving Japan, we arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, the day before Thanksgiving, and passed the day refueling in the Harbor.  How tantalizing it was to be looking out over the Honolulu skyline to the green hills beyond, over Waikiki Beach to Diamondhead, but not be able to get off the ship!  Arcane U.S. custom rules prohibited us from disembarking, so I tried to teach class with the distraction of Honolulu out the window.
Heading out of Honolulu past Diamondhead [Note wind in shirt :) ]
[NOTE: Page still under constriction!  Check back later for great photos from Hawaii]
By mid-afternoon we were heading out of the harbor, back out into the Pacific, headed for the Big Island of Hawai’i for Thanksgiving Day.
Sunrise in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai'i
We arrived in Hilo just at sunrise.  Slowly the clouds gave way to give us tantalizing glimpses of Mauna Kea to the west, the world’s tallest mountain from its ocean-floor base to its summit over 14,000 feet above the Pacific.
Relief Map of the Big Island of Hawai'i showing Volcano summits
While our geologist colleague, Alan Goldin, led a field trip up Mauna Kea, Pat and I took a group south of Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, centered around the active crater of Kilauea, at 4000 feet elevation, and on the flanks of 13,000 foot Mauna Loa, a shield volcano that is the world’s most massive.

Mauna Loa shield volcano from Kilauea
Map of Volcano NP Showing Volcanoes & recent Lava Flows
Kilauea crater steaming
Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Sulfur Crystals in thermal area
I had never been to Hawaii (my 50th and final state!), and I was particularly excited to see Kilauea and learn about its eruption history.  After a short hike through one of the thermal areas near the Park entrance, we drove to the Visitor’s Center and Volcano Observatory on the Kilauea Rim.  The clouds parted for us, giving us a view of all three of Hawaii’s main volcanoes: the active Kilauea crater in front of us, Mauna Loa to the west, and Mauna Kea to the north.
Then we headed to the trailhead of the Devastation Trail that follows through the Puu Puai crater from the 1959 eruption cycle that devastated much of the surrounding area.  The rain forest has been allowed to grow back on its own, an ecological laboratory of biological succession much like the area around Mt. St. Helens in Washington state following its 1980 eruption.
Entrance to Lava Tube
Inside the Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes NP
Tree Ferns
Before descending to the crater floor, we took a walk through a large lava tube near the trailhead.  It was fascinating for me to see a lava tube in a rain forest environment, as I have spent years since my boyhood exploring the lava tubes in Lava Beds National Monument NE of Mt. Shasta in the high desert environment of NE California.  Here tree ferns grace the trail to the tube, and long roots come through the cracks in the ceiling of the lava tube.
Roots of Plants come through the ceiling of the Lava Tube
Descending to Puu Puai Crater
Fern growing in new lava
Then we descended to the Puu Puai crater floor.  It was fascinating to think that the lava rocks we were walking on are younger than Pat and me!  The lava features are very fresh, and there are still hot spots where steam escapes through fissures in the rocks.  Equally impressive is the amount of vegetation already reclaiming the lava surface, as ferns and other rocks take advantage of the abundant rainfall to reseed the ground wherever cracks and fissures allow water to collect.
Crossing the floor of the Puu Puai Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes NP
Offering to Pele in Puu Puai Crater
Kilauea Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Kilauea is the traditional home of Pele, the Native Hawaiian volcano goddess, and these lands are still considered sacred to many native Hawaiians.  Spending time on Kilauea it is not hard to feel the land and volcano beneath you are alive, as Pele’s cycles of eruptions bring both destruction and new life as she extends the perimeter of Hawaii into the sea.
Puu Puia Crater with 1959 Lava Lake
Volcano Lover at Kilauea
Pat amidst Ferns
In Puu Puia Crater
Geologically, the Hawaiian Islands have formed as the result of the Pacific Plate moving relentlessly to the Northwest at the rate of a few centimeters a year (about the rate your fingernails grow), passing over a "Hot Spot," the term geologists use for a deep-seated source of molten rock or magma that ascends from the mantle below through the passing plate.  Hence the Hawaiian Islands go from the oldest island, Kauai, to the Northwest, down through Oahu, Molokai and Maui to the southeast, until reaching Hawaii, the only currently active volcano complex.  Already to the southeast of Hawaii another volcanic island is forming, though its summit crater still lies nearly a kilometer below sea level.
All too soon it was time to head back to the ship and return to the Pacific for the next nine-day stretch westward to Costa Rica.  A very brief time on the beautiful island of Hawai’i, but somehow appropriate to celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the abode of beautiful and powerful Pele.
Mauna Kea from Hilo on Thanksgiving Day, 2011

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