The Island of Hawaii, also known as The Big Island has five volcanoes. Two of these volcanoes are extinct, these are Mauna Kea and Kohala and they are situated to the north. Two volcanoes are dormant; these are the Mauna Loa and the Hualalai volcanoes. There is one active volcano on the Island that has been erupting since the year 1984; this one is called Kilauea. The extinct volcanoes date thousands of years ago. It has sank into the earth's crust, the smallest, the Kohala, is about one mile in altitude, and Mauna Kea is considered the tallest volcano on the planet, as it rises fourteen thousand feet. Its name translates to White Mountain.
Of the dormant volcanoes, the Hualalai is located within the Kona District. The most recent eruption from this volcano was in 1801. This volcano is 8500 feet high. Mauna Loa erupted last in 1790. Its lava steams reached forty miles long, hence the name Loa, which translates too long. Appropriately, this volcano is almost as high as Mauna Kea, rising 13,500 feet.
Kilauea had an impressive eruption in 1959. It was such an amazing display of the force of nature that its fountain extended two thousand feet and was able to consume thousands acres, leaving the tropical forest surrounded by death in a few days. Its caldera centers in the Volcano National Park.
Hawaii's volcanoes have two different kinds of lava - the Pahoehoe lava and the "aa" lava. The pahoehoe lava is the smoothest kind of lava and therefore rich in gases. This type of lave is also known as being earth's hottest substance. The "aa" lava is not as smooth; on the contrary, it is rough and sharp.
Today, the Volcano National Park area is one of the most important attractions in Hawaii, and visited by tourists most frequently.
Hawaii's Volcano National Park
Considered the number one attraction in Hawaii, the Volcano National Park covers an impressive 344 square miles, extending to the summit of Kilauea, the Puna eastern and southern seacoasts, and the upper part of Mauna Loa. The Volcano National Park was officially established in 1916. This park receives 2.5 million visitors yearly who end up staying and camping or hiking in the park. Other visitors come in a Hilo's Circle Island Tour. The entrance to the park is inexpensive, only $10, and people have seven days to return to the park with the same entrance fee. People looking for accommodations in the area can stay inside the park at the Volcano House. They also can stay nearby at the Lodge or at Michael's Cottages. There is an information center where the tourist can obtain information about the area, some hiking trails and about the history and eruption of the volcanoes, including the legend of the goddess Madame Pele, who resides in the volcanoes craters, and is responsible for heating the lava and pouring it through the tubes into the ocean, according to legend. This can be seen on Hawaii's southeast side, as the Pacific Plates magma source is linked to the Hawaiian Archipelago. The lava is two thousand degrees hot.
The Kilauea volcano spits lava every day, as much as one hundred thousand cubic yards of it since the year 1983. According to the United States Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, this activity will not end soon. The eruptions are not violent. Because of this, helicopter tours are available to see the crater from above and appreciate natural beauty of the red lava inside it.
The visitor center is the spot where you can take Crater Rim Road, 11 miles circling the Kilauea Caldera. The caldera was created as the hot magma underground caused the volcano summit to collapse, as the mountainous support gave way. The caldera is not that old, it formed after the first wave of Polynesians to the island, about 13 centuries back. This impressive caldera measures three hundred feet in-depth and three miles across. At the bottom, you can find the fire pit, called Halemaumau fire pit, which is one and a half miles wide and three hundred feet of depth. The Halemaumau firepit also has a crust on the top, which is about 20 feet. What makes this scenery more exciting and mysterious as well as luring is that it is constantly changing. Legend has it that Madame Pele is unpredictable and the roads will change as they are devoured. This makes your next visit quite new.
History of the Volcano National Park
Keoua was the big chief of the Big Island and he was also the known enemy of King Kamehameha 1. In 1790, Keoua troops rested close to the volcano. The volcano suddenly erupted and killed most of the soldiers, and the few survivors were overwhelmed by King Kamehameha's troops.
Commercially, it was not until the year 1916 that a publisher named Lorrin Thurston and Dr. Thomas Jaggar from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory visualized the area as a public park and made the petition that was approved by President Wilson. The size of the park keeps increasing with the many discoveries throughout the years.
The Observatory, known as the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory dates back to 1912, when it was founded by Dr. Thomas Jaggar, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This place is known worldwide as it is the leading institution on active volcanoes studies. To gain more insight on volcanic activity, Kilauea and Mauna Loa are studied closely since they are not a threat right now. The Hawaiian Volcano Research Association along with the United States Weather Bureau, the National Park Service, and the United States Geological Survey manage the entire place. Here, meetings of the minds take place as worldwide vulcanologists study the earth using the latest equipment and technology. The Jaggar Museum, next to it, offers a display of this spectacular equipment. Earth movements can be seen through a seismograph battery. Earth vibrations, gas geochemistry, geology, seismology, geophysics, and ground deformation are studied here. Visitors are not allowed in the observatory, but they can enjoy the museum and the view from above the Halemaumau fire pit and the caldera since the museum and observatory are situated high on crater rim drive.
The Chain of Craters
The commercial value of this land was first realized by Lorrin Thurston, a publisher of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Along with Dr. Thomas Jaggar, Director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, a petition was made to turn the area into a public park. In 1916, President Wilson approved the Bill. The area has grown overtime, including other sights. Legend has it that the enemy of King Kamehameha1 was Keoua, the chief on the Big Island. He sent his troops and they rested close to the volcano. The big eruption of 1790 killed most of the troops, and the survivors were conquered by King Kamehameha, in was an easy battle to win.
This activity takes a different twist in an active volcanic area. It is not your typical hiking adventure, as you have to wear proper attire and be prepared, as well as keep a close eye on some of the expected and unexpected hazards along the way, as this is volcanic area. The visitor center is the best source of information, and information on weather, eruptions, updates, and hiking maps can be obtained there thru park rangers.
This is important to know as the weather may change abruptly in this area. It can be dangerous if unprepared as one side of the mountain may offer very cold weather and the other may offer very hot and dry temperatures. In addition, hikers should mind the lava fields, which are constantly changing as basalt rapidly, adjust to the outside temperature. In addition, the floor surface can be very sharp, as glass is. The higher you go the more readiness and preparedness you will need to handle the climate surprises. For people who are spending a few days hiking in the park, there are a few bed and breakfasts nearby and the Volcano House, which is located inside the park. These are the most suitable accommodations in the area.
The Crater Rim Trail
There is no permit required at the Crater Rim Trail. This trail leads you along the Caldera along 11.6 miles, but the crater rim drive is very close to this trail, so you can drive. The Kilauea Caldera hike is not an easy one. The hiking is strenuous and high, and you will encounter many Hydrogen Sulfide steams along the way.
The Halemaumau Trail
This is considered a short trail, about 3.2 miles; however, this trail is not easy, as it crosses the crater floor, you will encounter weather that is extreme. One day it may be extremely hot and dry and another it may be chilly or rainy. The Byron Ledge Trail is near and can be combined.
The Byron Ledge Trail
This trail starts with the Halemaumau trail in identical condition and then goes on to the rim of the crater as opposed to the Halemaumau trail, which continues descending into the crater. However, it is also difficult to hike, although it is a short 2.5 miles.
The Sandalwood and Sulfur Bands Trail
A combination of trails that are only a short one and a half miles and are considered easy to hike. Here you will see sulfur steams and gorgeous views of the crater.
This trail is of moderate difficulty, also a short 2.5 mile hike along the hills and dead tree forest. You need proper footwear as well.
The famous Thurston Lava Tube
This is one of the easiest hikes or walks as it takes you on a trail that is paved onto the old lava tube. Along the way, you will enjoy the gorgeous flora and fauna that surrounds the area and the particular geology of the area. It is an easy ten-minute walk and a popular trail.
The Devastation Trail
This area is referred to the southeast area of the Crater Rim Road where you can find the entrance to this spectacular trail. The barren and bizarre landscape resembles a moon walk. This phenomenon is the result of the Kilauea Iki eruption in 1959, which was a powerful eruption that went 1900 feet high and covered the area leaving this impressive landscape frozen dead in time. This is one of the most interesting hikes.
The Mauna Loa Summit
A Permit is required to hike to the Mauna Loa Summit. This long hike will take about four to five days to complete, and at an elevation of approximately 13,677 feet as you reach the summit. This is one of the most difficult hikes in the Big Island. In addition, you will not find any areas to camp on your way up, only two cabins that are designed for that purpose, and you can stay overnight on the cabins. One is situated seven miles from the start of the trail and the other is all the way up top. The amazing beauty and mystery of the scenery is well worth the effort and difficulty of this hike.
The Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea translates to White Mountain. This is the highest mountain of the chain in the Hawaiian Islands. If you are visiting the next island of Maui, you can see it from there on a clear day. This mountain is ten thousand cubic miles in volume, which makes it one of the most impressive mountains in the world.
The last eruption of Mauna Kea was around 4,500 years ago. It exploded in the air causing large deposits of ash, triggering off explosions as it made contact with the water of the three glacial covering the summit surface. Unlike other shield volcanoes that erupt slowly and smoothly, the Mauna Kea offered a fast and furious eruption. During the winter, Mauna Kea has snow, the only place in Hawaii where you can ski. This volcano has a glaciated summit - the only one in the Pacific - that has about five hundred feet of ice, covering it. Astronomical observatories and stargazing tours are a favorite activity on this location.
This is also a place for mystery and legends. Here, the goddess Poliahu, goddess of lightning and the snow, has her home, but many times, rivals the goddess Pele who lives at the Kilauea Caldera and the earth shakes.
The Saddle Road
Known as the Saddle Road, it was made in 1964, and it is the shortest stretch between Hilo and Kona. However, it is very dangerous and high. For this reason, many car rentals will not allow driving on this road. Jeeps or 4x4 vehicles can be rented in Hilo and Kona, however with a word of extreme caution. You can also take a stargazing tour through this road with a guide for more safety.
When the road was in construction, several skeletons were found along the way. Spooky stories and incidents are known throughout the area, whether real or urban legends. The elevation of the road will take you up 6600 feet through lave deserts and clouds. A paved road will lead to OCIA - the Onizuka Center of International Astronomy, named after Ellison Onizuka, and astronaut. Ellison Onizuka died in the Challenger fatality of 1986. There is an information center for the visitors, usually opened on weekends. The center is located near the Mauna Kea lower slopes. From Hilo to the Center, there are thirty-four miles and it will take an hour and a half to travel here. From the Center to the summit, the road is difficult, rough, and unpaved, also very steep. Here you will encounter all kinds of rough weather - ice, rain, storms, and fog, and all kinds of less desirable road conditions. Many times this road is closed due to snow storms - yes in Hawaii - high winds or even dense fog. For weather information visitors should call the 808-969-3218 number.
The Observatories at Mauna Kea
The summit of Mauna Kea is known as being the best astronomic location on the planet. The elevation is 13796 feet and the sky is mostly clear throughout the year - or 325 days of the year. This works great for the many scientists in the area. The atmosphere is dry above, which helps scientists obtain the best exact measurements. In addition, the dark and opaque environment such as the dark lava fields and oceans will favor observation, as light reflections do not disturb the eye and equipment. Scientists of the area study the galaxies. Stargazing tours are available as well.
The University of Hawaii leases the land above 12,000 feet, an approximate 11,200 acres - known as the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. Here you will find an 88-inch telescope operated by the University of Hawaii. In addition, the California Institute of Technology, University of California, and NASA - National Aeronautics Space Administration, operate Keck telescopes and equipment valued at $140 million. These telescopes are massive, and are considered the largest infrared and optical telescopes; meaning and impressive eight stories high and weighing 300 tons. One of the Keck telescopes has a mirror that is ten meters in diameter and has 36 hexagonal segments. The power of these telescopes can be explained by the example of you sitting in New York and reading the newspaper that is hanging at a newspaper stand in San Francisco - many miles away.
Tourists are allowed to visit the gallery during the daytime were you can see the Keck 1 and the 88-inch telescope, during the night, scientists observe the stars, and visitors are not allowed as the car headlights may disturb their work. If visiting plan for reaching the summit between the hours of sunrise and sunset.