Hawaiʻi 2017: Hawaiʻi Volcanoes NP

Day 6, Monday, May 15, 2017

After we climbed back up the road from Waipio Valley, we had lots more sightseeing to do!  Once again, we went to Tex’s for malasadas.  I got guava filling the second time.  So yummy!

Malasadas in the oil!

Our next stop was at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; unfortunately by then it was really raining hard.  We went to the museum near the crater (it is open later than the main Visitor Center).  From the patio at the museum you could see the glow from the crater after dark.  The sun was going down when we arrived, but you couldn’t see the sunset because it was so socked in with rain!  My camera battery died at that point but I did get a few photos with my phone of the crater glow with streaks of rain.  And I got the stamps for the park and some postcards at the museum store.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park


The crater glow with rain streaks!

Next we drove over to the Thurston Lava Tube, named for an influential family that played a big part in the establishment of the park.  Brandon and I walked down and through it in the rain – the rain flows through the porous lava and drips in from the ceiling.  Brent and Rich had already seen it and opted to stay in the car.  The tube was really cool – it was about 20 feet tall!  It wasn’t very long, but we didn’t go quite all the way to the end, because there was quite a bit of standing water at the end.  It was interesting to compare it to other lava tubes I saw a few months later in Idaho, Washington and Oregon!

The lava tube


Me in the Lava Tube

On my next trip there, I would really like to hike out to where the lava flows into the water.  The hike varies based on where the lava is flowing.  When I was there last May, it would have been about an 8 mile round trip hike.  It would be awesome to do it in the late afternoon, so I can see the sunset over the water, and see the lava flowing after dark.  Of course, the hike back would be in the dark with headlamps – fun!

Interestingly, Hawaiians used to sometimes bury chiefs in lava tubes.  They removed the flesh from the bones and wrapped them and placed them in a lauhala basket; they then placed the baskets and offerings into the lava tubes and closed them off.  I learned that there are a number of lava tubes in the cliffs on Hawaiʻi that have been sealed off that way.

Due to the rain, and the fact that it was getting dark when we got there, we didn’t get to see much of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.  A return visit is certainly in order, to see more and do more.  There is a scenic drive along the crater rim that we saw very little of, the Chain of Craters Scenic drive, which goes down to the water (part of this drive has now been closed due to the active lava flow), and over 150 miles of hiking trails!  One of the most fascinating things about the park is that while the lava continues to destroy things; 9 miles of the Chain of Craters road, a visitor’s center, a historic Hawaiian village, etc., it also continues to add new land to the island and the park.  I can’t wait to get back.

That night, we went to the Thai Thai restaurant – I had a Shrimp Wonton soup that was soooo good.  It had broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, cabbage, spinach and green onions.  And shrimp wontons!  Delicious!  I should have taken home leftovers. And now I’m craving that soup!

My Shrimp Wonton Soup – YUM!

We got home late that night. On our drive home, we passed South Point, which has one of only four green sand beaches in the world!  The sand is green because the lava there contains olivine, which gives the sand its green hue when the lava rock breaks down into fine sand.  Of course we just passed the turnoff on our drive home, and wouldn’t have been able to see anything anyway because it was long past dark.  I definitely want to go there on my next trip.

Volcanic glass with olivine

Our day was once again amazing and we saw really cool things.  We also had to pass up a lot of really cool things!  I have so many ideas for my next visit!


Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park History

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was established on August 1, 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.  It was the 11th National Park established in the U.S., and the first in a U.S. territory. It contains and protects two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest shield volcano.  A shield volcano is one built almost entirely of fluid lava flows, and is usually lower to the ground than other types of volcanoes with gentle slopes; it is said to look like a warrior’s shield.

The park today consists of 323,431 acres (505.36 sq mi) of land, with more than 50 percent designated as the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes Wilderness area.  In 2004, an additional 115,788 acres of land were purchased through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and added to the park, making it 56% larger than its original boundaries.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Historically, Kīlauea and the Halemaʻumaʻu caldera with it are considered by the Hawaiian people to be the sacred home of the volcano goddess Pele, and Hawaiians visited the crater to offer gifts to the goddess.  In 1790, a party of Hawaiian warriors (along with women and children) were in the area, and were killed in a violent and fast-moving eruption. Many of the Hawaiians killed and others left footprints in the lava that can still be seen today.

The first western visitors to the site arrived in 1823, and the volcanoes became a tourist attraction in the 1840s.  Several hotels and restaurants were built along the rim of the volcanoes to accommodate the tourists traveling there.  Now, Volcano House is the only hotel within the borders of the national park.

The park has an easily accessible lava tube that was named for the Thurston family, a family that was influential in the designation of the park as a National Park.  It is open and can be walked through, with only a short, paved walk to reach it.

There are also amazing hiking and camping opportunities – how often do you get to hike and camp on lava!  The park ranges in elevation from sea level to the summit of the active volcano Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet.  From ocean views all the way up to stunning and violent lava flows!  The climates in the park range from tropical rain forest, to a desert landscape.  I was consistently surprised by the range of climate and bio-diversity that I saw on my trip to Hawaiʻi.

There are also a couple of scenic drives, giving visitors amazing views of the volcanic craters and the ocean.  The Chain of Craters Road takes you past several craters from historic eruptions to the coast. However, some of the road has now been covered by more recent lava flows.  The landscape here is always changing.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 1987, designations that recognize its beauty and importance in nature.

It was a brief visit, and I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked, but I will share my visit in my next post!

2017 Big Four Ice Caves Hike

Friday, September 1, 2017

My last summer hike was to the Big Four Ice Caves, outside of Granite Falls. I had one last summer Friday off at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, so my girlfriend Katie and I took her kids to see the caves.

They are named the Big Four Ice Caves, not because there are four caves, as the number and composition of the caves changes every year; rather they are named for the Big Four Mountain.  The mountain is apparently named that because of the large “4” shaped snow patch visible on the east face of the mountain.  There is debate about whether the “4” forms anymore, but you can see an old photo of it here (scroll down a bit).

The trail starts with a paved path through the woods; you can turn right to head to a grassy field with a picnic area. There used to be an old hotel there, but only the chimney remains. Of course, I didn’t find that out until after – I would have checked it out had I known!

The trail continues over a large aluminum bridge over the Stillaguamish River; it was built after multiple floods kept wiping out the footbridge and the trail. After crossing the bridge, the trail gets a little tougher, heading up the hill, but it is still easy enough for even little kids. The trail is gravel and boardwalk and winds through the forest. The kids enjoyed checking out the stumps and the rocks and the sticks and the mushrooms and the flowers and the pine needles and the moss and… Well, you get the idea…

The Stillaguamish River – that’s a mouthful!


Me on one of the footbridges

The trail comes out of the woods and we were surrounded by whispy white seed pods being carried through the air. A flower was going to seed and releasing all its pods to float on the wind; it was neat to just watch them being carried along. Bonus: the kids loved it!

At this point you can see Big Four Mountain looming above, with its steep granite face. We teased the kids and let them know that we were climbing to the top of the mountain!

We came around one last corner on the trail and saw the caves; they are a fascinating sight! These caves are formed by avalanche snow and ice that slides down the Big Four Mountain each winter and accumulates here.  The caves are made from a huge slab of ice that generally remains year round at the base of the mountain, because it is in the shade. The melting ice creates caves beneath the ice pack.  Of course, the fact that they are melting also makes it extremely unstable.

The surrounding mountains


Big Four Ice Caves

A word of caution here: it is NOT safe to enter the caves, or even go close to them. At least half a dozen people have died here in the last decade, including an 11-year-old girl named Grace Tam who was crushed in 2011 when a giant slab of ice destabilized and rolled down the top of the cave, crushing her as her family looked on. She was standing outside of the cave.  There is no cell service here, and help is a one mile hike down the mountain and a 15 mile drive to reach an area with cell reception.

Of course, we saw lots of people standing right outside the cave, in the cave, and even walking around on top of the cave. Not only adults, but adults with their small children and their dogs. It would be hard to say they hadn’t seen the signs explaining the danger, which are numerous, so we’ll just have to chalk it up to the, “it won’t happen to me mentality.” And it probably won’t, until it does…

Darwin Award Contenders


At least no one died while we were there…

We stayed a safe distance back, and sat on the rocks and enjoyed a picnic with the kids. We talked with them about why we didn’t go any closer, and talked about how other people get to make other choices, and how sometimes those choices have risks. There was a slight mishap with some dropped gum (not mine!) and we decided to make our way back to the car to find some food!

A robin at the caves

The entire hike is 2.2 miles round trip, with a 220 foot elevation gain, so it is easy enough for small children and those who are less physically fit.  Even though it’s easy, the destination is impressive!

On the way back, we did a very brief stop at a mining tunnel that was carved into the mountain around the turn of the last century. A man dug it himself looking for mineral laden ore, although I’m not sure what he was mining for. Like many mining claims, I can’t imagine it was long lived or profitable, but it did make for an interesting pit stop to see a tunnel dug into the mountain…

The mining tunnel

We finished our day with lunch and a beer at RAM – always delicious and a worthwhile stop!

Hawaiʻi 2017: Swimming with Dolphins

Day 5, Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday morning I had plans to go snorkeling with an old friend who lives full-time in Hawai’i.  Who knew it would turn into a bucket list experience of a lifetime!

We went to Two Steps Beach, right near the National Historical Park I had visited on my first day.  We walked out over the lava rocks and found the spot to get into the water.  From shore, we could see that there were dolphins out in the water!  A man near us told us that they had been there all morning, but we didn’t want to chance it, so we got in the water right away and swam out past the reef to where the dolphins were.  It was pretty deep water there, but so clear that you could see all the way to the bottom.

The dolphins were swimming in a big circle, they would swim near us and then go on their way to complete their circle.  They would swim really close, and then swim away and disappear for awhile as we tread water.  There were a few dozen dolphins, including calves!  A couple of them would jump high out of the water and spin in the air, clearly happy and playing.  There was another that was slapping his tail on the water.

There were maybe 20-25 people who had swum far enough out to be so close.  You had to be a strong swimmer, as we were a ways out and the bottom was far below.  At one point, one of the dolphins jumped out of the water only about 10 feet from Jay!  It was an amazing experience.  The dolphins were coming so close to us with each pass; they were obviously very curious about us.

This was easily one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I could see their eyes, as well as the bite that one had on his side from a cookiecutter shark (also known as a cigar shark).  I watched the baby dolphins swimming next to their mamas.

Jay and I stayed out there for awhile, until I started to get a bit cold in the water.  We swam back into the reef, and watched the fish that were swimming  among the coral.  We saw puffer fish, trigger fish, and lots of other tropical fish.  Sadly, we didn’t see any turtles swimming.

When it was time to go in, we swam back to the same spot, where there is a little shelf under the water to stand on to get out.  If you go, just remember to keep your feet flat because there are holes in the lava rocks with sea urchins in them!  Don’t curl your toes!

Of course I wish that I had photos, but the memories that are in my mind will last a lifetime.  Since I don’t have my own, please enjoy these photos from Wikipedia of Spinner Dolphins and Cookiecutter sharks.

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I am so grateful that Jay took me to this spot – I swam with dolphins!  In the wild!  Amazing!