Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Sand and Lava Day Trip!

I've still got a couple Hawaii blog posts in me!  While I posted about the trip to Kilauea and Halema'uma'u crater while we were still in Hawaii, I've got some nice pics along the way that are too good to miss.  In the meantime, at left is a panorama of the crater - unfortunately, blogger doesn't allow large image sizes to examine the picture in detail, but many small steam vents can be seen even outside the crater!

While we usually have a destination when we're driving, we've taken to stopping at nearly every scenic overlook.  We figure if it is good enough to make a sign and provide parking places to pull off, it must be a worthwhile stop - especially in Hawaii!  Our destination that Monday was Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, taking the "long" way around the south side of the island.  Melinda and Shannon hadn't yet been through Kailua-Kona, so we drove along the tourist shops and hotels that border the Pacific along Alii Drive.  After finally driving through most of the development, we headed up towards the main road again - Scenic View - time to stop!  I was taking a pic of the cruise ship in the harbor while something caught the eye of one of the girls.  Melinda is pointing to something she has spotted - a lizard!  Well, they just about tripped over themselves getting a picture, and when their excitement died, I took a turn, quietly mounting the macro lens as I asked where they were looking.  Oooh - a really pretty lizard - not the earthtoned ones we have in Arizona!  Such pretty eyes!
It is actually a a Gold Dust Day Gecko (Phelsuma laticauda), a native to Madagascar, but introduced into Hawaii.  This fellow was pretty shy - he was reluctant for me getting very close with the macro, but got a shot or two before hopping to another branch and disappearing.  While appearing lizard-like initially, in closeups they are pretty different - for one, look at the closeup of the photo at left (reproduced at full-rez at right) - the toes look flattened like they've got little suction cups.  At least the lizards I've had a chance to get closeups in AZ have little toenails like in this picture...
While we made a number of stops along the way, we did leave some for future trips.  We didn't make it to South Point, the southernmost tip of the island, which is the southernmost point in the United States.  We also passed up Papakolea Beach - one of only 2 green sand beaches in the world!  The other is in the Galapagos Islands - the green coloration of the sand from the mineral olivine from a cinder cone that is eroding into the beach. 
But we did stop at one of the most well-known black-sand beaches, Punalu'u Beach.  Like the white sand beaches (at least in Hawaii) caused by breakdown of shells and coral, the black sand is the result of the erosion of the black lava from the island's volcanoes.  The beach is shockingly dark, as I expected, I guess...  Almost as surprising were the numerous green sea turtles basking on the beach there.  In the short time we were there, at least 3 were basking on the beach, while several were seen struggling against the surf and rocks to come to shore.  While endangered, we saw several at nearly every beach we spent time with during our visit.  We hope this is a trend and they continue to recover.
Like I said, the sand is shockingly dark  shown here is a random visitor's foot against the sand while lounging and turtle-watching.  Of course, the human toes can be compared to evolutionary remnants of the green turtle toes at right...
It was a rocky, if not spectacular beach with beautiful palm trees and surf.  There were also some pavilions for family gatherings and picnics, and it would be great to plan get-togethers there if it wasn't over 2 hours from the western resorts...  With the prospect of a spectacular beach and turtles, it would be great to return for a visit...
Volcanoes is only a short distance from Punalu'u, about a half hour's drive or so.  A short visit at the visitor center, and a brief refreshment stop were necessary before heading out to the Jaggar Museum where the crater and current activity can be viewed.  On the way, we paused at one of the many steam vents - here Susan demonstrates the proper way to unwrinkle your travel clothes after a long day of sightseeing!  After a stop at the Jaggar (check the previous post for more pics), we toured the Thurston Lava Tube.  Lava tubes are natural caves formed by flows of molten lava during a volcanic eruption.  Flows generally get covered by hardening lava, and when the supply of lava stops, the flows sometimes drains out leaving a hollow cave structure.  Thurston is artificially lit, of course, and unfortunately we arrived the same time as a busload of tourists, so I had to wait for a chance of a picture without a crowd in it...  Andrew Cooper has several posts about lava tubes, his post about Emesine Cave is great!
Finally exiting the tube, we ascended back up to the parking lot through a tropical rain forest.  Interestingly, local climate is highly variable here, going from arid to rain forest sometimes over a couple hundred meters!  The girls were all waiting patiently for me to finish taking my pictures, and fortunately, though most tourists had passed, we found one visiting from Taiwan to take a group photo of us.
After stopping at Volcano village for some dinner, we returned after sunset to take some night time images.  The glowing emmisions lit up by the lava pool just out of our vision was spectacular.  With images taken during the daytime, and at night, I finally finished a time-lapse clip uploaded to Youtube.  Click on the player at left to play.  As always, full-frame at HD mode is always best.  What is interesting is that there are numerous vents, upwards of a dozen or so that can be seen in the clip well outside the inner crater.  Way cool!
We descended into Hilo and rain as we approached the eastern terminus of the Big Island.  We then turned back west and went over the Saddle Road, where it cleared as we ascended to the higher elevations.  As we passed the turnoff to Mauna Kea, I was thinking we still had nearly a half hour till the public viewing ended, but my riders strongly vetoed that idea!  We were back to our hotel by about 10:30pm after a long, but very satisfying day.  Can't wait to repeat that day trip!

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