Hawaii 2001
I definitely chose the right profession -- this time my job took me to do field work in Hawaii. It was an amazing experience to be working there, but it was lots of hard work. During my three weeks in the islands, I was at the beach for a total of about two hours.

 

For those of you that think I had a vacation in a tropical island paradise, think again. I was working in the Hawaiian desert on the south flank of Kiluea Volcano. It was hot, dry, and everywhere you looked there was lava.


Hiking around was no easy task -- the cliffs were steep and the footing was unstable. Here, Roland and Eric discuss how to get down the cliff.


Even though there is lava everywhere, that doesn't mean that everything looks the same! Before this trip, I thought all lava was black but that's simply not true. Besides the textbook distinction between the smooth or ropy Pahoehoe and the broken, loose a'a, the lava itself can have amazing shapes and colors. My favorite lava was weathered to this shiny, metallic, golden color. It looked literally like walking in fields of flowing gold!


This outcrop appeared near a lava tube where volcanic gasses caused the weathering that gives the rock it's scaly look. It just so happens that this formation looks just like a sea turtle! Not only is the Hawaiian word for "World" derived from the word for Turtle, but I also had the opportunity to see geniune Hawaiian sea turtles swimming extremely close to me while sea kayaking on Oahu.


We worked really long days -- often organizing things in the dark. But every evening when we came home, this fun puppy dog came to greet us.


And every morning, we drove past these steam fields reminding us that this is a very active volcano.


One day, we went to visit the active flows where they ran into the water. This is the distance that the typical tourist gets to the active flows.


Geologists, who are immune to natural disasters, get this close.
NOTE to visitors: In case you couldn't tell, this was just me using the zoom lens as a joke. It would be stupid to get any closer to the lava bench because it is danger of collapsing and the fumes are toxic. Don't be stupid -- use your zoom lens.


In fact, we got close enough to look at the hot molten lava forming before our very eyes.
NOTE: Viewing the lava up close is relatively safe in flat areas where there is no vegetation around. Plants can accumulate methane gas pockets that can spontaneously explode, so avoid them. Park rangers and scientists can help you choose a path to the lava that is less risky for collapsing into an active lava tube, but there is still some danger in certain spots.


But sometimes, just looking isn't close enough. Here I am with a hammer full of hot lava. The lava was so hot that we cooked hot dogs on it, but we had to be careful not to let them burn! Another hazard was that shards of volcanic glass kept crackling and popping onto our hot dogs as a result of thermal stresses as the lava rapidly cooled.
NOTE: Again, this can be safe if done in a controlled environment, but you need proper tools and people with experience to help you along. Don't try it unless you are with a team of HVO scientists like I was.


And after all that hotness, we decided to drive through the cool ferns near the Kiluea caldera. These ferns are as big as I am and provided plenty of shade!


Back at work on the flows... Here's the equipment that I have to carry up the cliff behind me.


Some of the traveling is easier than other parts -- this solidified lava pond is a virtual lava superhighway!


Some of the older stretches of lava have petroglyhs carved by native Hawaiians. It was amazing to think about the people that have walked these spots before us and how they must have lived.


In the more recent past, people have been coming to Kilueau caldera for over a hundred years to see the amazing lava lakes. Mark Twain saw something like this when he visited.


And today, it looks something like this...


No Hawaiian trip would be complete without a rainbow!