Pele’s house

Published 12:04 pm Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hikers at the beginning of the trail at Kilauea Iki. -- SUBMITTED | ARCHIE HOWELL

Hikers at the beginning of the trail at Kilauea Iki. — SUBMITTED | ARCHIE HOWELL

by James D. Howell

I leave the hotel in Hilo and catch breakfast at a local favorite eatery — Ken’s. It’s on the corner where I turn toward the mountain. Hilo is not a large city and a mile or so in any direction will be countryside. My hotel is not the newest, but the location is wonderful – right on Kuhio Bay, with well kept grounds that include a small island in the bay. The price is right, also. One of those travel benefits that I like about my job.

Today, it’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I plan an all day excursion.

I leave Ken’s, fortified with an omelet and coffee, set my sights down state highway 11. I pass the road to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut company. My mouth twitches a little, in spite of the good food at Ken’s. Maybe a side trip is in my future.

I pass Keaau, thinking that if time permits today on the way back, I’ll make a turn down towards and past Pahoa and drive as far as I can toward the ocean. One of the rivers of lava from Killauea flows into the ocean across that road, and it’s always a little iffy to make it to the end. I’ll try.

From Keaau, the road is labeled Volcano Road. The first major turn will be at the national park. Most traffic is local and there’s not much of it. I make the turn off at the park entry, stop at the Ranger station and show my Golden Eagle Pass. (It’s one of the benefits of growing old.) From here it’s called Crater Rim Drive and it does exactly that. It’s circular, with many overlooks and interesting short trails and geological features. Other park roads connect with this one.

A quick stop at the Visitors Center is a must for local information. I learn that there’s a hotel in the park and an armed forces retreat center as well. I locate the Jagger Museum. It’s not just an artifact depository. It’s a combination museum and real time geological observatory. An extensive array of sensors is spread throughout (and beyond) the national park boundaries. Much of the transmitted data is recorded here, for scientific monitoring and research.

Named for an M.I.T. geologist, the museum has active and passive displays about the parks history and the geological processes that produced the Hawaiian Islands. I educate myself about A’a and Pahoehoe. By far, Pahoehoe is the dominant lava type on all the Hawaiian Islands. Its flows like a slow river and is deposited as it cools in puddle like formations, almost like cake batter. Eruptions are not pyroclastic, as those that makes headlines in newspapers and television. This is laid back lava. The observatory/museum has an overlook for a spectacular, if distant, view of the Kilauea caldera; I move back to Crater Rim Drive.

Mindful of limited time, I move around the crater to the main viewing parking lot. A paved trail to an overlook is available and a trail beyond that is available to the more adventurous. Along the paved trail is a large fumarole field; I see visitors stopping to stare into the open, steaming earth. Sulphur smell is strong here.

I hike a hundred yards or so along the trail on the far side of the main overlook. Just there, along the rim, I see a genuine tribute to Hawaiian culture. Someone has left an offering to Pele, the goddess of fire. This is Pele’s house, and tribute is paid to her for blessings. I see fruit and flowers. Everything is fresh; so I know the gifts are recent. I record the ceremonial offering with my camera and move on.

I drive to the Thurston lava tube on the east side of the rim road. The tube is what remains after a round lava flow has tunneled through the earth, run out, and left a shell in the land. I spend a little time here, but I want to cross back over the road and take a trail down to the floor of Kilauea Iki (little Killauea). It’s a popular hiking trail for visitors and school children alike. It’s also hot down there, and I take water with me.

Along the way, I can literally feel the volcano under my feet. I see many seismic sensors placed in the black rock. Other travelers move in a widely broken line across the caldera floor. I hike to the newest lava eruption and back, About 3/4 mile one way across the old, but hot lava. I make the climbing trail back to my car at the parking lot and call it a day.

I thank Pele for her hospitality.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at