Volcano Run

The usual plan… A 2am departure from the house, a 4am arrival at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, at the lava while it is still full dark, enjoy the show through the dawn, then go find breakfast.

Lava Fountain
A lava fountain at the western vent in Halemaumau, Oct 16, 2021

Exiting the vehicle after the long drive I was greeted by a serene silence and bright stars. Orion and the Pleiades were bright and directly overhead. I had to pause and just breathe in the damp forest smells, gazing upwards to the heavens.

There were another half dozen vehicles in the large parking lot at Devastation Trail. I was not going to be alone at the viewpoint, but it was not going to be crowded either. Reports online have mentioned large crowds in the evening, with even the Park Service recommending a morning visit.

Halfway down the trail to the viewpoint I was questioning my choice of the heavy tripod and ‘scope. I knew it would be useful when I got there, but it weighed heaviliy on my shoulder and I was not quite sure how far I had to go to the viewpoint. Switching shoulders I continued on the quiet road, walking towards the bright red glow.

It turned out to be a fairly short hike, about a mile down the old Crater Rim Drive to the conveniently signed turnoff to the viewpoint. There I found about twenty other folks enjoying the view.

And it was a spectacular view. A great angle to see the western vent, now the only active vent, fountaining at the edge of the lava lake. I found a place at the rope line beside another photographer. There was plenty of space and no hurry. The signs above the viewpoint reminding me that the evening is a different matter, with rangers limiting visitors to ten minutes at the rope. In the dawn I stayed at the rope for three hours.

The heavy optics and tripod I had lugged down to the viewpoint now seemed well chosen, the little TV-76mm providing a stunning view of the fountain despite it being a mile and a quarter away. The big tripod providing a solid platform for shooting video of the spattering lava.

Set up for photography at the edge of Kilauea Caldera
Set up for photography at the edge of Kilauea Caldera

The little ‘scope attracted attention from those around me, even more attention when it became clear that I would share the view with all who asked. The gasps of surprise when they saw the image were just fun. I needed no translator when the exclamations were in other languages, surprise and joy are universal.

As usual I also showed folks how to take photos with cell phones through the ‘scope, giving people an image or short video snippet to share or post on social media. The afocal method is easy and resulted in images of lava splattering instead of a red dot in the distance. I remember one lady checking the images on her phone after stepping away from the telescope, the smile on her face another reason it was worth lugging the heavy gear out to the viewpoint.

A couple freinds of mine showed up a bit later. They had taked the wiser action of getting a room in volcano rather than driving in the middle of the night. Next time I will probably get a room at KMC again. I do have to give Shayne credit for nudging me into this trip, I had been planning to do so and was waiting for the lava to rise into view nicely.

Doing a little pixel math using the image scale of my camera and optics combination I calculated that the lava would routinely jet 20m (65ft) above the vent, higher at times. Sometimes it would go straight up, other times the fount would lean out towards the lake. A steady flow of lava out the base of the vent adding to the growing lava lake slowly filling the yawning pit left by the 2018 eruption and caldera collapse.

I chatted with the photographer I had set next to, he had plenty of time to chat while his two cameras clicked away doing timelapse. Lance was based in Kona and had spent several days in the park shooting the eruption. His primary business is lava photography depending on access to the eruption for his livelyhood, glad that lava was again accessible, if even from 2km (1.2miles) away.

Kilauea Rainforest
The rainforest at Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

I would shoot for a while when the fountain performed, then put an eyepice back in to share the view or just enjoy it myself. As the light changed with the start of dawn I would repeat this cycle for the next few hours, finally packing up and departing the viewpoint around 8am.

After a relaxing breakfast at KMC I wandered back out into the park, in no hurry to leave. I headed for Thurston Lava Tube, it had been closed during my last few visits to the park, it was nice to see again. Unfortunatety the more natural lower section of the cave is still closed to the public.

A damp foggy drizzle had invaded the eastern end of the park, leaving the rainforest dripping. The trails at Thurstan and Kilauea Iki a pleasant stroll with the song of native birds overhead. I spent the rest of the morning enjoying the forest before heading for home around noon.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

3 thoughts on “Volcano Run”

  1. Great shot. Dad especially enjoyed the road segment photo. We’re glad you continue doing your trips. Mom

    1. I knew the photo was a little bit epic the moment I framed it in a camera, the dawn light throwing the terrian into high relief.

      You once drove (or at least rode) that little bit of pavement back at our original visit to the volcano a few decades ago. The entire Halemaumau parking lot, with room for fifty cars and a dozen tour buses, is further down into the crater.

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