Visiting the Volcano… Again

Manning the Keck Observatory table at AstroDay had me in Hilo again this weekend. Already close, why not visit the volcano again?

Lava Lake at Halemaʻumaʻu
The lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu sport several fountains of lava along the far rim, May 2, 2015.
This time I drug Deb along with me, not completely unwillingly I admit. A simple plan… Drive over the island early, do lunch at Hilo Burger Joint, off to the mall to do our thing at the table, breakdown the displays, and straight out to the volcano.

That “straight out” to the volcano part was a very good idea, I had made that clear in the plan. Arriving at the park we could see preparations and extra personnel ready for an onslaught of visitors. We got there just in time, parking in the Jagger Museum parking lot. A short time later we learned from the folks just arriving that they were parking at another lot further out. At least the Park Service had a shuttle bus running.

And the crowd was there. We found a place at the wall without issue, but half an hour later the crowd was three deep at the viewpoint. Between Deb and I using the telescope for our own cameras we invited other folks to view as well, the gasps of surprise at the view are always worth it. Below us the lava bubbled and churned. A single lava fountain at first, others appearing later in the evening, up to five at a time.

Volcano Watching
A crowd watching the volcano at the Jagger Museum overlook, May 3, 2015, photo by Maureen Salmi
Arriving the weather was marginal, mist and rain drifting over the caldera. We did get occasional clearing offering beautiful views of the lava lake about a mile away. The clear moment were limited, eventually the mist rolled over us, bringing light rain and dimming the view of the lava. But even that created magical moments… For a few minutes a bright moonbow appeared, lit by the rising full moon. It was yet another wonder to delight the crowd, many who had never seen a moonbow.

It was clear that the lake had overflowed since my visit Monday. Fresh lava covered much if the visible floor of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. Picking out the extent of the actual lava lake was difficult until darkness revealed the red margin. It was not overflowing when we were there, but it was quite close to doing so.

The crowd was thick all evening, simply getting heavier the whole time we were there, leaving around 9pm. It was upon driving out that we learned the true extent of the wait to get in. The rangers had the road blocked at three points with a line of cars at each roadblock. My guess is that there were operating on a one-car-out one-car-in system. The traffic jam reached past the military camp, over a mile.

Towards the 9pm the rain became heavier and steady. We were wet, tired, and elated we had gone. A lot of nice photos despite the poor conditions. A table covered with photo gear laid out to dry. Gigabytes of photos and video to sort through.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *