Even a brief exploration of the park reveals the process of volcanic mountain building -- from lava flow to a soaring peak on Hawaii's youngest, and largest, island
1. Pu`u `O`o lava flow.
The crater has been spewing molten rock continuously since 1983. Usually, the red-hot river moves gently toward the ocean, where it provokes a huge plume of hydrochloric steam. Observation points are far below the crater and may change, depending on the stability of the beach shelf (it can and does collapse without warning) and the path of the flow.
2. Chain of Craters Road dead end.
This is the trailhead for the nearest eruption observation points, but it's also quite a sight. Where the road nears the Pacific and begins heading east, it stops abruptly at the enormous lava shelf created by Pu`u `O`o fallout. The center stripe slips beneath treacherous black rock, making it plain that, from here, you can't directly get to a lot of towns up the coast.
3. East Rift Zone.
Bleak, blackened terrain marks the site of several volcanic outbursts that began in 1965. Signs note the years when these craggy fields were glowing seas of lava, and the imagination quails.
4. Devastation Trail.
An easy half-mile path leads through the ruins of a forest wiped out by a 1959 eruption. Plants are slowly coming back, and visitors who venture into the nearby Kilauea Iki crater -- heart of the 1959 action -- see rain forest that survived and steam vents that persist.
5. Thurston Lava Tube.
A typical example of magma behavior, the tube was formed 300 to 500 years ago, when some of the lava flowing from what was then the peak of the volcano hardened into a tubular surface crust, while liquid rock gushed out of the core, leaving it hollow. The tube was discovered by newspaper publisher and conservationist Lorrin Thurston in 1913. A lush grove of ferns -- some as high as 20 feet -- surround the short, walk-through cavern.
6. Kilauea Caldera.
This awesome depression, now encircled by the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive, has been the scene of several lava flows, most recently in 1982.
7. Jaggar Museum.
Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied volcanic activity at his laboratory here from 1912 to 1940. The building contains several volcano-related displays, including seismographs like the ones scientists on the site consult to help them forecast future eruptions.
8. Halema`uma`u Crater.
Legendary home of Pele, goddess of Hawaiian volcanoes, the 3,000-foot-wide crater draws worshipers who toss ceremonial gifts (booze, food, money, etc.) into the abyss. Pungent clouds of carbon- and sulfur-dioxide steam dot the landscape. Visitor Mark Twain once remarked, "The smell of sulphur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner."
9. Mauna Loa peak.
Intrepid climbers may want to take the 18-mile hike to the summit -- 13,677 feet above sea level. The rest can look upon the gently rising green slope from oceanside and reflect that they are standing on the dry portion of the most massive mountain on Earth, occupying 10,000 cubic miles and rising 30,000 feet from the ocean floor (1,000 feet taller than Mt. Everest).
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