When you arrive at Hilo Hawaii on the big Island, the road signs point one direction to Hilo and in the other direction to volcano 29 miles. If you look in the direction of the volcano, you see a nasty rain cloud with no mountain in sight. The shuttle bus driver, as he dropped us off at Honolulu airport for our flight, said we were in for a treat because the molten lava flow is now only a couple hundred feet from the parking lot instead of the 3 miles of hard lava hiking. When we arrived on the Big Island, we took that 29 mile trip into that cloud to volcano National Park. Half way to the park, the air started smelling and it looked outside like their was a fire somewhere. At the gate to the park, the ranger said that the 11 mile loop road around the caldera was closed downwind from the volcano because the sulfur dioxide level was unhealthy. The first viewing of the collapsed, sunken caldera, after driving through fields of steam vents, showed how incredibly huge this thing is. It is many miles in diameter with two craters and one the Halemaumau crater spews clouds of sulfur dioxide in the air making it difficult to breathe. To get out of the bad air, we decided to drive down to the shore to see if we could see the molten lava flow. We drove through several fields of 1970′s lava flows and again were amazed at the size of the hardened lava fields. Some of the fields were over a half mile wide. Once we got to the shoreline the road ended in a heap of blackened hardened lava. As I was hiking to the blackened glob (by this time Ann was on lava overload and was sitting in the car reading), a couple was returning from the hike and we traded our experiences. I learned that the shuttle driver was referring to a site located on the other side of the of the lava field where we were. They said the molten lava flow viewing was controlled by the county and was open from 5 to 8 pm only. On my way up to the top of the lava heap I met another couple who grew up a few miles away from where I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. We headed for the other side of the lava (about a 2 hour drive) and arrived as it was just getting dark. We knew we were getting to the end of the road when it was interrupted about 5 times with a one lane drive over the old lava fields. Looking out over some of the old lava fields you could see about 20 houses spread out on top of the black harden landscape and wondered why anyone would live there. There were about 200 cars parked in the make shift parking lot when we arrived. You could tell this lava-viewing has been going on for some time by the organization the county has put into it. There were people directing parking, selling pictues, selling snacks and selling flashlights. Walking out of the parking area, red lava could be seen about 200 feet out burning up trees and whatever was in its way. The real show was down by the ocean where the lava was flowing over a cliff created by itself causing a huge steam cloud and explosions of lava as it entered the ocean. The sight was somewhat reminiscent of the slag cars from the Pittsburgh steel mills dumping the hot slag down the sides of the slag mountains, but much more violent. The nighttime viewing make the bright red lava explosions all that more spectacular. To get as close as possible to the lava flow involved a difficult hike for about a quarter mile over broken and sharp lava in the dark with a flashlight. Looking back at the steady line of hundreds of lights for a quarter mile was a sight in itself.
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