Next, we drove down the park's Chain of Craters Road. This road winds from the 4,000-foot level near the park entrance (and near the summit of Kilueau) all the way down to the ocean below. Along the way, one passes through countless upon countless lava flows, some older, some much newer. In places there is established vegetation, where there have been no recent lava flows. In other places, it is a nearly completely barren lava landscape. Nearly so, since there are a few hardy Hawaiian plants that are very good at recolonizing recent lava flows.
We stopped at several overlooks and pullouts along the Chain of Craters road. There are many excellent examples of the two main types of lava that the Hawaiian volcanoes produce: Pahoehoe - ropey lava, and A'a - crumbly lava. Pahoehoe is the prettier and more solid of the two, and we spent much time examining the ripples, flow marks and tubes that this type of lava produces.
After a long and winding descent, we reached the coastal plain. The Chain of Craters road turns east, roughly parallelling the coast. And then, suddenly, it ends at a parking lot. Prior to 1986, it continued all the way to a town outside the park boundary called Kapalana. A 1986 lava flow obliterated that section. We got out of our car and started walking down the abandoned highway, looking to see this for ourselves. It was a fairly normal-looking highway for about a half-kilometer or so. Then it disappeared under a ten foot-think layer of black basalt.
Side view, lava-covered road
Ahead, a solitary "Road Closed" sign from 1986 stuck out at an angle from directly in the flow - its base now fused solidly into rock. It was fascinating to see this interaction between an extreme force of nature and everyday pieces of human infrastructure. You would think that thousand-plus degree molten rock would completely melt and absorb the pavement, but no - it seemed quite intact, sitting there underneath the now-cooled lava flow. If you could cut and blast away the overlying basalt, it looked quite driveable!
The warm, early afternoon sun had given way to overcast, and now a rapidly-approaching rain squall from the east chased us from our lava flow exploration and back to our car.
Back at the visitor center, we had inquired about the status of active lava flow viewing within the park. Unfortunately for us, there was nothing easily accessible on foot - there was nothing near the end of the Chain of Craters road, and the access to the Pu'u O'o vent - a place with high volcanic activity - was closed. There was some rumor of a guy who offered tours over private land from the Kapalana side of the flows - off park land, but we couldn't get substantiation of those rumors, and we didn't have time today to check them out. Perhaps, we thought, after our Mauna Loa backpack.
Flows on the Pali
With the day growing long and the weather decidedly more rainy, we decided to look for a campground for the night. Hawai'i volcanoes NP has two "car campgrounds". With the deteriorating weather, we ultimately chose the one closer to the main highway and with the better washroom and eating facilities (the Namakanipaio campground). It is unpleasant enough as it is, camping in the rain.
A thin but steady drizzle formed as we set up our tents (it was looking like another wet pack-up of the tents the next day). We didn't feel like hanging around at 6:30pm in the dark and drizzle, so we decided to ditch the camp dinner idea and go for a nice, warm restaurant. But before that, I wanted one last look at something volcanic and active. And what better time to see fiery hot things than in the dark?
We drove back over to the Jaggar Overlook and pushed our way through the surprising number of visitors to the overlook's metal fence. There, in the growing gloom of a rainy twilight, was the same huge plume of sulfur dioxide gas and smoke. Except now, it glowed with an unearthly (or should I say, a very earthly) light. In the now fairly heavy rain, I managed to take a few timelapse shots to try and capture the sense of the power of nature at work. You could almost visualize the seething, bubbling lava lake down below, casting its light upwards against the steam.
Dinner at the Kiawe Kitchen
We got back into the car and drove several kilometres east to the small park-servicing town of Volcano. We picked the first restaurant we came across - a place called Kiawe Kitchen. It was nice enough, and with a pretty nice selection of thin-crusted, natural-wood-fired oven cooked pizzas. A tad overpriced, though. More importantly, it was nice and dry. Outside, the night had become an unpleasant combination of wet and chilly.
Interactive trackmap - our drive to Hawaii Volcanoes - double-click map to view