Thursday, November 8, 2007

Big Island Days 1-5

Day 1, Saturday, Nov. 3. We were late getting to Lihue Airport (see the picture of the open-air airport) for our trip to Honolulu and on to Hilo on the Big Island. We made the flight but our luggage didn’t. Not a problem, we went to a museum and then drove back after the next flight came in. The Hilo airport is tiny and easy to get to!

We went to the Tsunami Museum started in the 80’s to raise awareness of tsunamis and educate people about the warning signs and evacuation plans. It’s an excellent museum. There was an interesting (and scary) movie recording first person accounts of people who experienced the 1946 tsunami in Hilo. There were displays with more info on the survivors and info on the equipment used to detect the earthquakes that cause the tsunamis.

The road to our apartment is an old lava field! Some of the land has been cleared as there are hundreds of papaya trees on either side.

Want to buy some real estate in an old lava flow (from 1960)? Another road in the Pahoa area is filled with chunky volcanic road and had this sign about land for sale.

Our studio apartment is on the first floor of a house. Here, having resident geckos is good luck. Sandy’s seen 3 but I could only get a picture of 2. They’re not a problem. They hide when they see you coming. And they eat any bugs that come in the house.

What we noticed first was the coquis (frogs) that have “invaded” the Big Island (they must have come into Hawaii on shipments). They’re pretty loud but they really didn’t bother our sleeping.

Day 2, Sunday, Nov. 4. We headed straight to the Volcanoes National Park, the reason we decided to spend a full week on this side of the island. After viewing things in the Visitor Center we heard a short presentation about the island. Some interesting facts: the hot spot (where the lava comes from) that we were above was under Kauai 5.5 million years ago. Because of the movement of the tectonic plates, the islands had shifted that much! There are 5 volcanoes on the Big Island with only 2 being active. They’re all shield volcanoes, (Called that name because they look like a warrior’s shield laying face up on the ground) this means that they just build on the last lava flow. They don’t erupt like Mount St. Helens and spew ash.

The current eruption, Pu’u ‘O’o, has been flowing in a remote area since 1983 and has created a lava tube that can only be seen well from a helicopter or plane. We were told that you could see the glow of the current it from a Ranger’s scope at the end of a 1 mile hike. Before we got to the Ranger a couple of hours later two things happened: it started raining and someone told us that because of the clouds they couldn’t see anything. So we turned back, sopping wet from our raincoats on down. We’ll try another day. Two pictures of a lava flow.


It was really pouring. We decided to just drive around the crater but only stopped at the Jaggar Museum (it was dry in there!). Here we learned more about volcanoes, saw pieces of volcanic rock, and saw a seismograph at work.

On the way home we stopped at the Akatsuka Orchid Farm. What a beautiful sight, especially with the rain outside! It was a huge nursery of mostly orchids. There were tons and tons of flowers and I took lots of pictures. Here are two of my favorite.

We saw a mongoose run across the road. (There aren’t any on Kauai.) We learned the mongoose, feral pigs, and cats are enemies of the birds. Some native songbirds have actually been decimated by them!

The rain had pretty much stopped when we got back but we found a big puddle in the apartment. Not fun! We cleaned it up and hoped for no more rain this week.

It’s a little damp and humid here, not what we experienced in dry Poipu in Kauai. The temperatures are lower so far, only about 75.

Sandy signed up for 3 months free of dial-up internet so we could log in everyday but it’s very slow. We’ll wait to post the blog later in the week at an internet cafĂ©.

Day 3, Monday, Nov. 5. Yeah, blue sky and sunshine! On the way to the Volcanoes park, Sandy spied a change to Mauna Kea where they have the observatory. It had snowed! We later learned it was the first snow of the season (4”) and last year it hadn’t snowed at all. Here’s a little fuzzy picture of the snow-capped peak.

Our first stop was a free Nature Walk from the Volcano Art Center at the Niaulani Campus just outside the Volcanoes Park. The land the art center owns is an old growth fern forest. It was very interesting. It was at 3800’ and gets 100 inches of rain on average (for perspective, Amherst gets about 40). We learned that trees in climates like Hawaii where there aren’t definite seasons don’t form rings so other means of measurement are used to determine age. That pretty ginger that we saw in Kauai is actually invasive. (It looked so nice!) Besides hapu’u fern we saw koa trees with crescent shaped leaves and ohi’a with red puffy blossoms (lehua).

The park ranged in temperature from 62 when it was raining yesterday to 68 today when the sun came out. Great hiking weather!

Next stop was a Ranger-led hike through the Thurston lava tube. The guide was full of info on how these got formed. The lava flow creates a trench. The top hardens but the inside keeps flowing. When it stops flowing a tube is formed. We saw interesting formations: smooth and crusty, rough and dull, nipple drips (dripping with water from last night’s rain), and what resembled cow poop.

Devastation Trail took us past the blown lava from the 1959 eruption that changed the road. A few plants and trees have started to grow but not many. We did see one wild orchid.

The latest, and hopefully the last, eruption that formed the Kilauea Iki Crater was in 1959. Before that it was actually 400 feet lower.

The Kilauea Caldera is huge with steam vents all over. Sometimes the air quality isn’t good because of the sulfur dioxide coming out of the vents. Sandy’s eyes started to water and sting but mine were fine.

We saw cool tree molds formed when the lava wrapped around trees and they just burnt up and decomposed.

We love the shape of these monkeypod trees found on all the Hawaiian islands.

Day 4, Tuesday, Nov. 6. We’re learning so much about volcanoes and how much elevation affects the weather here. You can pretty much count on nice weather in the morning but by late morning on it’s a toss up. We tried to get a good hike in everyday but it didn’t always work out. (Did I tell you it’s an hour drive each way to the park? The apartment rental info said 45 minutes.)

First we took a Ranger-led walk through the fern forest. We learned a few more things and enjoyed our conversation with a couple who were weavers and had homes in Incline Village, NV (north Lake Tahoe) and Mexico, north of Puerto Vallarta.

Then we drove 11 miles up Mauna Loa Road to the lookout. Some of it was one lane and some was very twisting. Some sides of the road had old lava flows, some trees and bushes, and some just dead trees. There was a stunning area of grass (very unusual) and koa trees making a canopy over the road. When we got to the lookout the elevation took over and we had clouds so had no view at all!

This picture near the Visitor Center is typical of the area that hasn’t been affected by lava. There are tree ferns (hapu’u), ohi’a, and koa.

We were lucky this afternoon to just have mist on the first part of our 3.6 mile hike on the Ka’u Desert Trail off Hwy. 11 out of the park. It usually is hot and dry. It had amazing landscape. We walked on ash or smooth lava flows (pahoehoe). Here and there ohi’a or other plants had started to grow. The ohi’a is the first plant to root itself on hardened lava. The red on the lava is oxidized iron.

We went to a nearby town for dinner and then back to the park for a presentation by a PhD student in Volcanology. She had a slide show about the Kapoho rift eruption in 1959-1960 when the lava flowed to Kapoho where our apartment is (where the land is now for sale). She had broken down the flow into 16 separate episodes and was doing some kind of research which we’ve already forgotten. Interesting but a little too detailed.

Day 5, Wednesday, Nov. 7. Again it was sunny when we started off and even when we got to the park but the weather deteriorated as the morning went on.

The ranger we had met yesterday suggested we go on the afternoon ranger-led walk to Mauna Ulu. So, we decided to drive down Chain of Craters Road that goes to the ocean where the flows from 1986 to the present covered over the road. The road used to go from the southeast side up to the park but no longer. It was a very interesting drive. Here are some of the sights: different lava flows (chunky and smooth), fog rolling in, and the view to the ocean.

By the time we got near the ocean it started to rain, then pour so we couldn’t see some of the sights at the bottom. Oh well, another time!

We had great hope that the storm was just at the coast but it ended up following us up the mountain! Our afternoon hike was in the rain and it was greatly shortened because of the accompanying thunder and lightning. But we still learned a number of things from a geology trained ranger. Here is a rift that opened and lava spewed up lava in 1983. The mushroom shaped thing is called a lava tree. The lava flow wrapped around a tree and then future eruptions spewed ash on top.

We’ll be back on Friday for a long morning walk around the Kilauea Crater.

(The price of gas this morning was $3.19.)

(Posted at a McDonald's in downtown Hilo. 2 hours for $2.95. The one different thing on the menu is instead of an apple pie they have a coconut pie called haupia.)

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