Lava Season

Isolated from the rest of the US by thousands of miles of ocean, by the rhythm of nature -- even by the very time of day, we truly exist in Hawaii Standard Time. Days and weeks slide past, governed by the phase of moon, the state of the Trade Winds, and the height of the lava in the crater above us all.

The East Coast of the Mainland is celebrating Fall colors. On the East Coast of Hawaii, it is Lava Season.


A couple years ago, we had a lava scare, down here in Lower Puna where I live. The red hot fury below had escaped the safe confines of the National Park and was slowly looming over our town, on a direct path to our house. We and all our neighbors laughed about it for months as it meandered sideways toward us, but sobered up as it crept right up to the edge of town. We all got pretty anxious. I did the only thing I could: I wrote a script to keep track of it all. That was a popular web page around here for a bit.

When things quieted down, I kept it going because it's handy to know what our volcano is doing before we drive all the way up to the park. It also emails me when the lava level is close to the crater rim. It's a real nice trick, because once that information hits the newspapers, the crowds can get pretty thick at the crater overlook. Sometimes it's nice to have a little insider information when you're looking for a particular shot...

Tonight, though, our strategy was different. The lava had been high for weeks and we knew the usual spots would be crowded at sunset.

High above the craters, a one-lane road winds through desolate lava flows and verdant forests. It's a quiet place with stunning views. There's a gate across the entrance, but we know where to get the key if it's locked. That's where we started our evening

Light painting. Who are we kidding... Kids playing with flashlights, right? Lighting from below, blending with the moonlight above. It takes practice and patience to make a smooth effect. The trees up there are perfect subjects, exotic and rare.

You can see behind the koa trees, the red glow of the crater filled the whole sky. What an effect! Clear stars above, some decorative clouds to add texture, and that eerie glow suffused throughout.

I got this shot of Halemaumau crater beaming up into the heavens. We tooled around the road, enjoying the feeling of being the only creatures on Earth, surveying a wild landscape under blood-red skies.

Then we moved down into the main park for a different viewpoint.

The bubbling lake of lava where everyone gathers is called Halemaumau, inside the Kilauea Crater. That crater has a little sister, narrowly separated by a low ridge: Kilauea Iki.

Back in 1959, Kilauea Iki suddenly erupted, briefly filling in dramatic bursts and fountains of lava. Now it's calm, just steaming a little on the bottom.

This is the best place for some quiet contemplation of the eruption at night. Great view, seldom a soul around, and a different angle on an often-captured sight. I especially like to go there when I know the rest of the place will be busy.

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