Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

The Alaska Highway

“Get your motor running,Born to be wild
head out on the highway,
Looking for adventure
in whatever comes our way.”

(Steppenwolf, Born to Be Wild)

I don’t think they were singing about “the Alaska Highway”… but they should’ve been.

Our goal was Muncho Lake. To get there, we were taking the Alaska Highway and we were excited!  The Alaska Highway runs from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, AK, and passes through Whitehorse, YT.  (Whitehorse, our starting point, is about 2/3 of the way from Mile 0, at Dawson Creek.)

The Alaska Highway was completed in 1942, and was approximately 2700km (1700 miles) long, but is now 2232 kms (1387 miles) long, thanks to some rerouting and straightening of the highway, over the years.  Alaska HighwayIt’s original purpose was to connect Alaska to the “Lower 48”, but it didn’t make it through BC (although, some people consider it to be a portion of the Pan-American Highway, which goes all the way to Argentina.)

What shocked me the most is that this super famous highway has MILES of gravel. Google sites say that it’s paved over its entire length, and maybe that was true at some point, and maybe it’s in a state of pre-repair, but (at least when we were driving it) there are, in fact, miles of gravel road.

Our first stop, not including bathroom breaks, was the Continental Divide Lodge, in Swift River, Yukon.  It’s on Historic Mile 721 on the Alaska Highway.  (By the way, gives an almost mile by mile outline of what you might see along the way, and where there are places to stop… this is important, way out there on the open highway – where you might actually see no civilization for days…)Continental Divide Lodge

We didn’t stay there (we were just stopping for a bathroom break, and for everyone to just get out of the car…and to reload our snack supplies.)  However, the Lodge is open 7 days a week, 7am-8pm, May to September (weather and roads permitting.)

The Lodge offers a restaurant, a pub, a campground, free showers (if you are camping, which also have full-hookups) and $5 showers if you aren’t staying there, but really need a shower (again – long gaps between civilization), playgrounds, marshmallow roasts, dog walking, and laundry facilities.

It is actually AT the Continental Divide – the watersheds are the Yukon River (which eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean) and the Mackenzie River (which eventually empties into the Arctic Ocean.)
Sometime before we arrived at the Continental Divide Lodge (in the Yukon), we passed over the border into B.C… then back into Yukon…where we stayed until we reached Watson Lake, YT (Historic Mile Post  635).

Watson Lake is the “Gateway to the Yukon”, and has a population of around 1200.  It is the home of the Northern Lights Space and Science Centre.  Did you know that both Northern and Southern hemispheres both have the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)? Well, except…ummm….in the Southern hemisphere, they are called the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis)…Sign Post Forest

Watson Lake is also home to the just-as-spectacular (?) Sign Post Forest.  Started in 1942, a homesick U.S. Army G.I. nailed up a sign, pointing the way home.  In 1990, the 10,000th sign went up, and the last number I could find is 2002 at 49,777, and include signs from all over the world.Sign Post Forest

On Sunday, we’ll continue our journey from Watson Lake, on to Muncho Lake.

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“Yukon Ho!”

I planned to talk more about Hawaii, and the Green Sand Beach in particular,Somewhere over the Yukon but I have a bit of a complication (short-lived, hopefully), with my Hawaii photos…

So, since our great & wonderful friends, Richard and Shannan, (perhaps you’ve read about them already in my stories…) happen to be visiting us this weekend, I’ve decided to tell a story about their move from Alaska to Michigan…

You may have read my blog about going to visit them in Alaska, after they moved there from Michigan, and this blog is about their “turn-around” trip – 3 years later.

Shannan and I were discussing their upcoming move, and she was talking about how long it was, and how it’d be more fun if it was a “roadtrip” instead of a move. Also, they had two cars, they’d be driving the entire way in different vehicles.   I said “too bad we couldn’t all go on the roadtrip together – besides, we haven’t been to Yukon before” (and you know, we are trying to go to all of the states and provinces).  Suddenly, at the same moment, we had the same idea! Why wouldn’t we go!?  We were excited for this very spontaneous adventure!

So, we planned to fly up to Whitehorse YT and they’d pick us up at the airport!  Just to put things into a location, Whitehorse is 272 km (169 miles) almost directly north of Juneau AK and 804 km (499 miles) almost directly east of Anchorage.  (However, you can’t drive directly east/west – Google maps says it’s 704 miles (1133 kms), by road.)Daisy & Coco in the airport

Daisy & Coco (our miniatureDaisy & Coco on the plane dachshunds – perhaps you’ve read about them in previous blogs, too) came with us, too – after all, it’s a roadtrip!  This was the first (and probably the last) time they had flown… they hated it.  I’d talked to the vet and a pilot friend of mine and everyone said “don’t sedate them” but that they could have an herbal de-stresser.  (Apparently, sedating can cause panic if the dog doesn’t handle it well..?) I did give them the herbal remedy, and I’m sure it helped, but they stared at us from their little carriages the entire 3 hours! (They are small enough to fly with us in the cabin, rather than in the belly of the plane.)

I expected the land of the Yukon Territory to be similar to that of Alaska, as our view from the airplane, but it wasn’t at all! For one thing – it was “flat” (at least, compared to Alaska) -almost like rolling hills. Very beautiful landscape.  However, not exactly flat – just the part we flew over.

Wikipedia states that “the southwest is dominated by the Kluane icefields in Kluane National Park and Reserve, the largest non-polar icefields in the world. Kluane National Park also contains eight of Canada’s ten highest mountains, including the five highest, all in the Saint Elias Mountains. A number of glaciers flow out of the icefields, including the Logan Glacier, the Hubbard Glacier and the Kaskawulsh Glacier.” 

The Yukon Territory was first established in 1896, when it was divided out from NorthWest Territory, but had a population explosion in 1897, with the Klondike Gold Rush. (And, by the way, I just read:  the Yukon Territory became just Yukon, in 2002.  Oops! I did not know that.)

The original gold find prompted an estimated 100,000 prospectors to try their hand at looking for gold, but apparKlondikeently, only 30,000-40,000 of them actually managed to arrive! (Not sure why – I’m sure the information is there, I just didn’t look for it – I’m guessing terrible travelling conditions, cold weather, rival prospectors and local people prevented most.)  Of those who managed to make it, only about 4,000 actually found gold.

During that time, Robert Service moved in from England. He wasn’t looking for gold – he wanted to be a cattle rancher.  He loved the North and he embraced the winter, but he didn’t make his success through cattle ranching.  He did it through his poetry.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” 

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;”  (etc.)

Rumor has it that, in real life, Sam McGee was a banker who wouldn’t approve Mr. Service’s loan, so Sam became the subject of the infamous poem (and one of my favorites).

 We landed safely in Whitehorse, and the puppies were so happy to get off the plane and out of their crates, they didn’t even care that they were getting straight into a car with 2 kids and another dog! Peter and Richard went in one car (the one pulling the cargo trailer) with the baby, and Shannan and I took their other son, and all the dogs.

Richard and Shannan had rented a nice little place that Shannan found online about 5 miles outside of Whitehorse.  A 2 bedroom, full kitchen, full bathroom, large (enough) living room and a gigantic yard, perfectly suited for children and dogs and adults who’ve been cooped up!

The property includes an outdoor hot tub, and indoor sauna, walking trails, mountain views, and allow dogs! Very comfortable.  We could have stayed longer.  But we just stayed the one night and the next day, hit the road!

 Alaska Highway, Wednesday.

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Pahoa’s Mexican Food, Li Hing Mui, and the Chicken Guy

Going and coming to Kalapana, you must pass through (or right beside, depending on the exact road) Pahoa.Old Pahoa

When I was telling Amanda about Pahoa, I mentioned: 1) the best Mexican food on the island (Luquin’s), 2) the first time we were there, there was a brawl in the street of Old Pahoa, like “old West” style, with, it turns out, fireworks going off, but it sounded like gun-shots, and 3) there’s a guy who rides around on his bicycle, with a chicken on his shoulder.

There’s a lot more to Pahoa than that, but those are my highlights.

Luquin’s ~ If you have read my blog off and on from the beginning, you will know that Mexican food is an ongoing theme – a constant under-current.   I love Mexican food.  I mean ~ I’m not adventurous at all. I order the same exact thing wherever I go: a cheese enchilada, a beef enchilada, and soft shell (if available) beef taco.  I do switch it up with the sauce ~ choosing randomly (so as to throw chaos into the situation) between tomato, mole and verde sauces.

Lilikoi Mango Margarita, with li hing muiPeter switches things around, but always gets chili relleno (at every Mexican restaurant).

And, always, a margarita – house specialty, blended, if possible.  At Luquins, my favorite FAVORITE is lilikoi (passion fruit) mango combo, blended, with a Li hing mui rim.  Wikipedia says “Many bars in Hawaii also rim their glasses with li hing powder in addition to putting it in the drink.”   I wonder why it’s specific to Hawaii… SERIOUSLY! if you try it, you will LOVE IT! Love love love it.

Luquin’s always is exactly what we hope for! We are never disappointed.

We’ve also been to 2 other really good restaurants right on the main street in Old Pahoa, across the street from Luquins – one is Thai food, and the other is a fancier style restaurant – I forget the names of both places. However, we were told that the Thai restaurant rivals the Thai food in Volcano Village, and the cost is less expensive.  We’ve eaten there, and I remember it being good – I think that’s the place that has Trivia Pursuit cards at each table, in case dinner conversation wanes.  (You should still go to the one in Volcano Village, too, though.)
Enchilada Chili Relleno

Somewhere in Pahoa is the Black Rock Cafe, which is half bar (not even a pub, but more saloon-y), and half restaurant.   On the restaurant side (and maybe also the bar-side…?) has really good fish and chips, and I’ve never been disappointed with any of their food either.

There’s a pretty good grocery store just as you come into town (the Kea’au way), called Malama Market.  Perhaps it’s moreFarmer's Market expensive than shopping in Hilo, but it’s pretty convenient and has every possible thing you can think of! (Well, I’m not sure what all you can think of, but so far, I’ve found everything I’ve needed.)

Halfway between Pahoa and Kea’au you will find the Maku’u Farmer’s Market.  It’s one the largest Farmer’s Markets on the Island, but it’s only open on Sundays, and only from 8am to 2pm… And, to get the best of the choices, you have to get there early.  (Also, if you want a hotdog with “all the fixings”, you have to get there early, too.  I had mine on pink Punalu’u bread (more on Punalu’u bread later, probably.)

Kea’au also has a Farmer’s Market – it’s very small, but is open every day, forFarmers Market purchase your convenient fresh vegetable and fruit shopping.  I bought avocados, a bag full of rambutan (which I bought because I’d never seen such a thing and the vendor gave me an entire bag for $1), and a bunch of apple bananas for about $5.

Across the street from the Farmer’s Market is the Kea’au Shopping Center, which has everything in just 2 parking lots:

  • There’s a nice little grocery store there – Foodland. The prices are pretty good, and if you have a Maika’i card, you can often save about 1/4-1/3 the cost on most items.
  • There’s also a health food store there, called Kea’au Natural Foods, which has a lot of everything packed into a very small space.
  • Pizza Hut and McDonalds
  • A couple of restaurants
  • a laundromat
  • Ace Hardware (Peter’s favorite place in Kea’au)

Kea’au is on the main road going from Hilo to Volcano, and is at the turn-off to go to Pahoa.  It’s a larger town than Pahoa and has more options for shopping, etc., but isn’t near as quirky.

The first time we were in Pahoa, this man rode by on his bicycle with a chicken on his shoulder.  This time, I told everyone to “keep their eye out” for the “chicken guy”, but really didn’t expect to see him.   The next thing you know, Tom, the Chicken Guyin the parking lot of Malama Market, there goes the chicken guy!  The chicken was riding on the back of the bike this time.

Originally, apparently, Tom (the Chicken Guy) was on his way to a parade of some sort, and the chicken jumped on the back of his bike all by itself, and so started the tradition.  Since then, Tom has been around here and there with his chicken (including, apparently, the Burning Man festival/event in Nevada….)  He even now collects pictures that people take of him…

Sunday, I think we’ll talk about Punalu’u, South Point and the Green Sand Beach.


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Restoring the Coconut Grove ~ Kalapana and Kaimu

The first time we went to Kalapana, we were lost… I can’t remember where we were trying to go, but we were not only lost, but… let’s not call it “fighting”… but the attitude in the car was … “tense”…maybe it was just me…

There were 5 of us, and I, for one, was feeling “crowded”.  (Oh, that time was with Richard & Shannan, and their son, Evan – previously mentioned often in my stories.)

PahoehoeThen, we got to the end of the road – literally, the end of the road.  In 1990, the Kilauea eruption that started in 1984 reached the village of Kalapana in 1990. The residents tried to resist the lava, putting up sandbags and whatever else could be done to preserve their houses, but in the end… the lava won.  It was slow-moving lava (pahoehoe*) and everyone was safe – no lives lost, which is a huge relief!!  but the financial loss was huge.

At the end of the road (technically, at Kaimu), there was a cafe/diner place with milkshakes and burgers, an honor-system Awa Barhoney kiosk (jars of honey, a list of prices, and a jar to put your money in…no humans), and a bar, called “Uncle’s Awa Bar.”

It looked like a tiki bar from any Caribbean movie you’ve ever seen, so we went over and ordered a drink.   “A beer, please.”  “Oh, we don’t serve alcohol. Just awa.”  “What’s awa?”  (Pronounced, by the way, “ah-vah”.)

Well! THAT is a good question!   This shrub like plant is a member of the “pepper” family, and it’s roots (which can be eaten or drank in tea) are used for medicine and general relaxation.  Medicinally, it has been used to treat fevers, headaches, asthma and other respiratory issues…and can be used as a sedative or a muscle relaxant.

Planting CoconutsWe didn’t get that explanation at all – just: “It’s a drink that the ancient Hawaiians used to drink. You should have some.”

So, we did.  It tasted like sweet dirt.  It was nasty!  BUT, within seconds, my tongue started feeling like I’d had Novocaine, and all the tenseness from being trapped in the car was forgotten! Before we knew it, Uncle had sent us out, singing in the rain (did I mention it was raining?) to the shoreline with sprouted coconuts, to help “replant Kalapana.”
Our coconut trees, 2 yrs later
The picture of us sitting with our Coconut Trees is two years later.  I’m happy to report that they were still there..  I mean, they weren’t giant, but considering we planted them in shallow black sand, “protected” by a lava flow, where their main source of moisture is salt water sprayed from the ocean…

This time, we tried to find them again… it was difficult! The “forest” is tall!!  (Many people have written on their coconuts so they can find them, but I always forget to bring a pen…or crayon…)

I think this could be them, but like I said – It’s “overgrown” and I can’t be certain.  I am claiming them, though.

Kalapana is now buried under 50-75 feet (16-25 meters) of lava, about 500 acres of new land have been added, and there’s a brand new coastline… and a beautiful black sand beach – it’s not a good place to swim, but it’s a beautiful view and you can play in the sand (unless the tide is coming in…)

You can actually hike in to see the Pu’u O’o Vent and possible hot lava sightings from the Kalapana angle. Once you are there, ask someone. We haven’t done that hike yet.  Reviews say it takes 20 minutes to 2 hours to get to the lava… If, in fact, you were guaranteed to see lava, that maybe not too long!!

Reviews also say that there are hustlers who offer to lead you on a tour … Some say that they are worth it… maybe they are! We hired someone with a broken down truck to take us to the Green Sand Beach and THAT was worth it! (Topic of a later blog).   I guess it’s “Caveat Emptor”… “Buyer Beware.”   If I ever find out who’s who, I’ll let you know.

(By the way – I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do the hike, nor am I suggesting that you shouldn’t hire a guide…. I’m just saying I haven’t done it yet, so I don’t have a realistic suggestion… However, it is on my to-do list…maybe…)  (The Ranger at the Jaggar Museum Lookout said to beware that trespassing may be involved…)

Without hiking, and just from the “End of the Road”, you can see the Pu’u O’o Vent, and the steam from the lava river flowing down the mountain.  That’s pretty “worth it” anyway!

Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar is now open on Wednesdays and Fridays, with live music featuring local artists!  And, the ice cream shop, the Kalapana Village Cafe, has THE BEST macadamia nut chocolate Kona coffee Ice Cream!! (They might not have that exact flavor – I had so many scoops, they all melded together…and included all my favorites.)

See you Wednesday!

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s website explains “In an eruption with a high effusion rate – where a lot of lava is being
discharged at once – `a`a flows tend to form. If the rate of effusion is low, a pahoehoe flow is more likely to develop…”  So, I had to look up “effusion”, and in case you don’t know already, “Effusion” is “the process in which individual molecules flow through a hole without collisions between molecules. This occurs if the diameter of the hole is considerably smaller than the mean free path of the molecules.”   Yes. That makes sense and explains the difference.

Here’s what I know: “PahoehoePahoehoe lava” is smooth, and looks like thick frosting.  It isn’t great to walk on barefoot, but probably won’t cause your feet to bleed.  “A’a lava” is jagged, and hurts terrible to step on barefoot! You can remember which is which because when you step on A’a Lava, you will actually yell “Aaaaaaa! Aaaaaa!”

Wikipedia has some pretty good pictures, actually, with a good explanation. (Due to time issues, I can’t find my own picture of a’a lava, but will maybe add one later.),_Hawaii

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Lava Trees, Red Road and a Bengal Tiger

As I mentioned in my Introduction to The Big Island blog, we were travelling with friends (Chris and Amanda, and Taylor andPeacock Dad Jaycee (the kids)), and had lots to see and do!

One of the great things about travelling with children is that you get to do things you might not normally do, but have always wanted to do (like: camp at Jellystone Park… or visit the Jelly Belly Factory… or the Jolly Green Giant… or the zoo.)

I have passed the sign for the Pana’ewa Zoo, just outside of Hilo, a bzillion times, and every single time, I consider going, but never have.  YAY!! for 7 and 9 year olds who support that notion!

Peacock mom and babiesWe didn’t really expect much because it’s small, not advertised and free.  (Yes! It’s FREE!! But, it’s funded by donations, so do keep that in mind.)   Expecting “not much”, I took about 20 pictures of the peacock family that met us at the gate – a mommy and 4 or 5 babies meandering around.

However! We were there for hours! The zoo residents include different monkeys (a couple I’ve never even seen in books), different turtles, macaws, nenes and other birds, reptiles,  anteaters (which I can’t remember actually seeing before), some sort of deer (Axis), AND A BENGAL TIGER!!!  (Before you get all excited, we didn’t actually SEE the Bengal Tiger, but we were there in the morning, and his daily feeding time is 3:30, so maybe plan your visit around then…? We meant to go back later, but ran out of time.)
Crowned CraneAxis DeerGiant Anteater

(NOT seeing the Bengal Tiger, though, created HOURS of entertainment as Taylor and Jaycee speculated on its whereabouts.  Part of the speculation inspired the production of a off-Broadway show, in the pool*, of them trying to escape the approach of the on-the-loose Tiger…also, an on-the-loose elephant and an on-the-loose monkey.)Lava Tree

Another great thing is seeing things from kids’ viewpoint. Like: how the Lava Trees at Lava Tree State Monument go from being super interesting pieces of history to monster-creatures that have bugs living inside of them…and how, when you see the pictures they took of the “creatures”, there’s more pictures of them running away from them, than there are of the actual lava tree!

 These Lava Trees were formed in 1790, when Kilauea’s East Rift sent lava, burying Ohi’a** Trees.  The trees (which are filled with water) cooled the lava, but not before the lava burned the trees – they disintegrated into ash, but left behind hollowed-out lava molds, which often include imprints of the bark.

They are giant forms – apparently, the lava buried the Ohi’a Trees up to 11 feet!

Incidentally, this area is one of the best areas for listening to Coqui Frogs.  Coqui Frogs are tiny little tree frogs, originally from Puerto Rico (where they are revered) and accidentally brought to Hawaii (where they are hated.)  However, I love them. Actually love them! I’m not sure what they are hated, but I guess it’s because they aren’t native to Hawaii and that they are loud (really loud – they can reach up to 70-90 decibels, singing out their namesake song “Ko KEE! Ko Kee“).Coqui Frog

Peter and Jaycee and Taylor spent a few evenings out in the yard “hunting” coqui frogs – for photo opps, only, of course.  They are pretty cute little things.  (By the way, this picture shows how small the coquis are – I don’t have a giant hand!)

If you continue down Hwy 132 (Kapoho Road), and then onto Hwy 137 (Kapoho Kalapana Road), you are (as you might guess from the name) on your way to Kalapana, which is where we wanted to go next.

Kapoho Kalapana Road is also known as “Red Road”.  Once upon a time (not that long ago), it was red because the pavement was made from red cinder.  However, as time as gone by and road repairs have been required, it’s now completely black.  If there’s any red left, we missed it.  The first time we went on this road was … I forget – maybe 10 years ago? and at that time, it was still partially red.

Red Road will lead you passed quite a few sites at which to stop, including:

  • Ahalanui Park (the Hot Ponds) –  a free, natural pond, – “natural” inHot Ponds that it’s fed by rain water & ocean water, and heated geothermically.   It does have man-made walls, stairs going in, and life guard attendance.   (One of the life guards this past time we were there was climbing the coconut trees barefoot and bringing down coconuts, which he hacked open with a machete and gave us the yummy coconut milk.)
  • Isaac Hale State Park – this is a beautiful location where surfers and paddle-boarders brave getting thrown directly into a’a lava.   The first time we went was kind of uncomfortable (not very hospitable crowd), but we came back year after year anyway, and now “they’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” (Joni Mitchell) I’m not sure how I feel about that, and I’m really not sure how the locals feel about that, but it’s far more tourist-friendly now.Mackenzie State Park
  • MacKenzie State Park – another beautiful view and a nice picnic place.  The really high cliffs and crashing waves make it impossible to swim… In fact, I get nervous standing too close to the edge.  But the view is amazing and it’s close enough to Red Road to make the stop worthwhile!
  • Kehena Black Sand Beach –  my younger brother took us on our first tour down Red Road, and stopped along the side of the road, so we could walk down to the “best black sand swimming beach on the Island”, he said. He said, “it’s got such an amazing view, you have to bring your camera.”  Along a little wooded path, and down a worn lava rock sort-of-like-a-staircase, suddenly the beach appeared down below. In the meantime,  people kept passing us on the way out, and kind of giving us funny looks.  As we admired the waves crashing in, the rocks jutting out of the sea, I started noticing a man, way down below, scooping water in a bucket and tossing it onto the sand… as he came into focus, I realized why the people were eyeing me carrying my camera, and why my brother was now laughing hysterically – it’s a nude beach.  (Well, technically, “clothing optional”.)  Just so you know.
  • Finally, the end of the road (because a lava flow went over the top): Kalapana and Kaimu Beach Park.

More on Kalapana on Sunday.
….Inside our vrbo
* We stayed at a lovely VRBO right on Kaloli Point. It’s a 2+1 bedroom, 2 bathroom main house with a full kitchen, and patio garden doors which open up the wall to the pool deck. The pool is a salt water pool.   There’s also a detached 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom (with an outdoor lava rock shower) ohana suite (“Ohana” in Hawaiian means “family”, so it’s like a mother-in-law suite).Pool deck

** Ohi’a Trees are very majestic, not very pretty, trees, and endemic to Hawaii.  In fact, the red Lehua blossom is the Official Flower of the Big Island.  They can grow from sea-level up to 9000 feet, in rain forest conditions or on the edge of the volcano.  And, depending upon its conditions, can grow up to 20–25 m (66–82 ft) tall, and lives 100’s and 100’s of years.

Ohi'aLehua Blossom

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Volcano Village

It’s important to remember that the Volcano National Park and Volcano Village area are around 4500-5000 feet above sea-level and often COLD!!!!

One time, we stayed in a cabin there (which had no heat…or walls…well, there were walls, but they didn’t quite reach theGloves in Hawaii roof (the cabin was still a work in progress)…and the roof had a hole in it for the tree to grow through…loved the cabin! BUT it was COLD! It was so cold, I actually wore all the clothes I had in my suitcase, all at once, to bed. It didn’t snow, but it could have.
Cabin in VolcanoTree House

So, bring a sweater. And, a raincoat. (The first time we were there, the rain was so cold and drizzly, and I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and wasCold already acclimatized to the 80°s Fahrenheit (27° Celcius) temperatures from lower altitudes, I ended up wearing a plastic grocery bag on my head to keep the cold rain off.)

That’s not to say it’s always cold. But chances are good. And, even if it’s not cold, it’s still more chilly than down by the ocean.

Sometimes the rain is a relief, anyway. If you are prepared.

About 15 minutes from the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (going towards South Point) is the trail head for Ka’u Desert Trail. (There’s a much longer way to get there, too, through the park, but…it’s much longer…)

This Trail takes you to (and passed) foot prints, forever embedded in mud-ash.  Just every day footprints. We actually saw one footprint in the back yard area in one of the vrbo’s we stayed at, down by the shoreline (we think).
FootprintFootprint 1

We haven’t been on this trail yet (I had it on my to-do list this last trip, but ran out of time… However – that link tells all about it. Don’t panic when you read the first description – keep going till you get to the easier route.

In Volcano Village is one of the best Thai restaurants on the Island – Thai Thai.  People come from all over the Island just to have dinner there (and, since, as I mentioned, the Island is HUGE – this can mean drives up to 2 1/2 hours or more!) If you goWine Glass #1 to Volcano, you are just as likely to be asked if you went to Thai Thai as you are to be asked if you went to the Thurston Lava Tube.  It’s delicious food, an acceptable price, and mismatched wine glasses. You never know at what point you are going to go someplace, with high expectations and have them destroyed by popularity and conformity.  I will be so disappointed the day I go and my wine glass matches someone else’s. But for now – so far so good.Wine Glass Choice #2


You can stay right in the National Park – the Hawaii Volcano House has motel rooms and cabins available. It’s the oldest hotel in Hawaii (state or Island? not sure), established in 1846, but has been restored, and recently renovated.   It overlooks the Halema’uma’u Crater.

We’ve never stayed there, but I’m sure the view makes it all worthwhile!  We always rent homes from the (Vacation Rental By Owner) website. So far, we’ve had very successful stays, with no disappointments.

So far, in the Volcano area, we’ve stayed at the aforementioned cabin (not a vrbo), a house in the nearby jungle, and a house at the Volcano Golf Course.

The Golf Course is an 18-hole course (par 72)… I took golf lessons (from a golf genius here in Calgary) and so was anxious to go golfing here.  I decided I’d just do 9 holes, so as not to frustrate myself, the people with me (Peter and Richard, that particularMauna Kea, Ozinuka Astronomy Center time), and the people behind me.

It was so much fun, with such beautiful views (you can see both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the course), I decided to continue on for the 18! (Although, I must confess: I did really lost my concentration when the group of Nene’s* wandered through, with babies in tow… SOO CUTE!!)
Nene family

Visit, too, the Volcano Winery, for wine tasting and gift shopping.  They are open 10am-5pm, every single day, except Christmas.  (10am seems a tiny bit early for wine tasting, but at least you know it’s open if you forgot to buy someone’s gift!)
Wine TastingSample sizeVolcano Winery

And, Don’t forget the Volcano Farmer’s Market!  But, you have to be there at the crack of dawn – I mean, truly! it’s only open from 8am to 10pm…so… we slept through it.  The friends we were travelling with, though, sacrificed themselves and went – bringing home yummy samplings for us to try when we woke up!

It seems to me that they brought malasadas…which, I don’t know if that’s true, now, or just a sweet dream… Wait’ll we talk about malasadas!  They are even more popular than Thai Thai!

See you Wednesday!Don't Feed the Nene

* Nene are the Hawaiian State bird, and looks very similar to a Canada Goose. However (and I’m not sure what all the differences are), but the Nene can only be found in the state of Hawaii (and specifically on the islands of Hawaii (Big Island), Maui and Kaua’i.)  I thought that they couldn’t actually fly since I’ve only seen them running and walking along the ground, but apparently they can fly…they just don’t choose to do Nene Crossingit often.   The Nene is, it turns out, the World’s Rarest Goose… in 2004, it was estimated that there were (approximately) 800 in the wild…

There are signs everywhere that caution you to “watch for Nene crossing the road” and “don’t feed the Nene”.  PAY ATTENTION!

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Speaking of Volcanos, we spent the day in the Volcano area.Pu'u O'o

As mentioned, Kilauea is the longest continuous erupting volcano in the world, erupting steadily since 1983.  In 1983, it wiped out and buried Kalapana.  (I plan to talk about Kalapana on Sunday’s blog…or maybe Wednesday’s…)

The first time we went was in 1999, and we were able to walk out a couple of miles over the lava fields, from the end of the ChainActual Molten Lava of Craters Road, and see the red lava flowing down the mountain.  You can still do that, apparently, but it’s a longer walk (MUCH longer, by hours and miles), and you need to do a LOT of research to learn where to go and what to take to make the trip safely: enough water, proper shoes, snacks, first aid kits, overnight gear in case you don’t get back in time…)  We could’ve walked further out that night and gotten a better view, but I was all in a panic because we didn’t have flashlights…water…snacks… In fact, we ended up finding our way back by using light from those little snap bracelet things that you used to wear at concerts… (In my picture – the one with the bag on my head – the red glow in the background is lava…)

Anyway – it was cool – the lava stream (river?) was still making its way down the hill, so on occasion, we’d see the lava hit and surround a tree and explode like a candle lighting up! really cool.

Now, it’s more of a steady stream, I guess, and sometimes (often?) it’s more underground, so most of the show happens around the point it enters the ocean.  There are boat tours that take you around, to see that angle – but the rangers said that even then, you don’t get to see actual hot molten lava.  What she actually said was: “Forget what you THINK you SHOULD see and all of your preconceived notions, and be happy with what you DO see.”  I thought that was pretty good advice… for everything – not just lava.

The cost to get into Volcano National Park is $10 for your car, but this year, we happened to be there at National Park Week and Steam Bathgot in for free!

Once inside the park, there are hours worth of things to see, including random viewpoints along the way, steam vents which feel like a steam sauna when you stand in them, and the Jaggar Museum look out & gift shop.

Steam Vent

Halema'uma'uFrom that view-point, you get a really good view of the Halema’uma’u Lava Lake in the Kilauea Crater.  AND, if you come back at night, you might get any even BETTER VIEW!!!

Night view againNight view

Inside the museum, there are a lot of fascinating facts, accounts, and discoveries.

Ranger explains Pele's hairWe had walked up to the Museum from a lower parking lot and along the way found long shiny hair-like strings – like…Rapunzel’s hair. Well, the Ranger on site identified them (and had a display) as Pele’s Hair (which…DOES make more sense than Rapunzel’s hair) – tiny fibers of silica fused together into strings – melted strands of glass.
Pele's Hair 2

Also worth seeing is the Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku). A self guided tour, but with a lit pathway through the Tube.  A Lava Tube is formed when flowing lava hardens, forming walls and a ceiling.  Eventually, the lava stops flowing, and drains out, leaving a cave or a tube.  This one is about 600 feet long with a ceiling height of about 20 feet high ~ comfortable for walking and roomy.
Thurston Lava TubeThurston's Lava Tube

One trip, we went in after the Park had technically closed (the Park is open 24 hours, but the Visitor’s Center closes at 5pm and the Museum closes at 7:30pm.) The Tube, at night, is just like it is during the day – a dark tunnel with lights.

HOWEVER, walking to the tunnel (which is about 1/3 of a mile…20 minutes) at night when nobody else is around and it’s pitch dark is CREEPY!!! It is SO CREEPY, we had 2 teenage boys with us the first time who actually cuddled with their mommy on the way (on the pretense that they were protecting her.)  I mean – CREEPY! Big leaves falling in the jungle – croaking and creeking animals (which, by the way, are frogs, mostly – nothing dangerous…technically). BUT, in the middle of the night, cute little frogs and falling leaves transform into the boogie man (the Hawaiian’s have a “boogie-man” legend, but I forget what they call it – anyone know?) and wild ravenous animals.
Thurston Lava Tube at nightDark and creepy

IT WAS FUN!!!!  If you can handle it, you should try it. (Also, though, go during the day, too, because the walk is beautiful.

We also took a drive down the Chain of Craters Road – it is a chain of craters 😀 – we stopped at about 5 maybe – all worth seeing!!

CraterCrater 1

Road to...somewhereThe plan was to get to the end of the Road, to the place where the lava overtook the road… but we got side tracked by a really interesting 9 mile detour, so by the time we got to the end of the Chain of Craters Road, it was too dark… I mean, well – other people were going out, but they were equipped with backpacks, water, flashlights, picnic baskets, and hiking sticks….we had cameras.Pu'u O'o Vent

It was also too late to see the Petroglyphs, which were 0.7 miles from the road, according to the sign.   Next time, we’ll have to start there.

Pu'u O'o Vent

Speaking of “next time”, Sunday, we’ll talk more about the Volcano area.

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Hawaii, The BIG Island

I said we were going to talk about Hawaii in this blog, and I thought that wasYellow Hibiscus State Flower going to be “easy.”  BUT, I can’t figure out where to start!!!

Should I start with “Hawaii, the State”? “Hawaii, the Big Island, general information”?  I’ve decided to start with “Hawaii, this time around – Day 1.”

Going with people who’ve not previously been to Hawaii is always fun for me, because: we get to do things we did the first time we came, but maybe haven’t done since. OR, we get to do things we do every time, but they seem fresh and exciting, because they are fresh and exciting to someone!

This particular trip takes place on The Big Island of Hawaii. (Almost all of my trips to Hawaii (state) take place on Hawaii (Island), called “The Big Island” to avoid confusion.  Another point that confuses many people is that “The Big Island” is NOT Oahu. Hawaii (The Big Island) is 4,028.2 square miles (2,578,048 acres). Oahu, by comparison, is 727.3 square miles (465,472 acres.)

View from KonaIt’s about 95 miles from the North tip to South Point, 80 miles from east to west, and has 266 miles of coastline.

Take a look at the map.  Without reading labels, you should be able to pick out which island is the Biggest! That’s the one we are visiting.

It’s also the youngest. Compared to Oahu’s estimated age of around 3.4 to 2.2 million years old, Big Island is still a keiki (Hawaiian for “child”) at less than 700,000 years old… and still growing. (As we shall see in a later blog.)

The oldest volcano on The Big Island (there are 5 main volcanic mountains that make up the Island) is Kohala, the northern most mountain.  It is estimated to be about a million years old, but reached the surface of the waterKohala maybe? around 500,000 years ago, and the last estimated eruption was around 120,000 years ago. It’s 5,480 feet (1,670 meters) above sea level, and it’s about 5.8% of the land area of the Island.  It is considered “extinct”, which means that it will (supposedly) never erupt again.

Hualalai maybe?Mauna Kea is considered “dormant”, which means that it hasn’t erupted in the past 200 years (“historic” times), and probably won’t erupt again.

Mauna Kea last erupted around 4,500 years ago. It’s name means “White Mountain” and it often has snow on top.  You can even ski and snowboard up there!  I think some people even go sledding up there too.  I haven’t been up there yet, but it’s definitely on my “to-do” list…well, not to go skiing, I don’tSnowboard postcard think.. it’s REALLY high altitude and often has wind warnings, so timing is tricky.. Plus, I’m not great at skiing and worse at snowboarding… I could maybe sled.. (There’s also caution extended to people who SCUBA, because of the high elevation verses being under the water – something about “the bends”… I guess divers know the restrictions. If not, look it up before you try to SCUBA and summit….Apparently, even if you aren’t diving, altitude-sickness can still be a problem.)

Mauna Kea Mauna Kea is 13,796′ (4205 meter) above sea-level, and the ski hill is at the summit. In fact, Mauna Kea (measured from base to peak) is the tallest mountain on Earth, at 33,476 feet (10,203 meters)!!!! (Mount Everest is 29,035 feet (8,850 meters).. I probably won’t sled. It seems cold.  BUT, I’d like to see it.Mauna Kea

Also up on Mauna Kea is the Onizuka Center for Astronomy (also called Hale Pōhaku, which means “stone house”).  They have free stargazing every night! (Yes – this is definitely on my to-do list.)  The Center is at 9,300-foot (2,800 m) above sea-level, and it’s suggested/recommended to spend time there to acclimatize, before ascending further.

HualalaiHualalai is the Big Island’s oldest “active” volcano, meaning it has, at some point, in the past 200 years.  Hualalai’s last eruption was in 1801.

The oldest rocks of Hualalai date back about 128,000, but it’s estimated to have reached the ocean’s surface around 300,000 years ago.  It is 8,271 feet (2,521 meters) above sea-level.

An eruption is predicted for sometime in the future (in the next 100 years, I read), but is carefully monitored by the Hawaii Volcano Observatory… Hopefully, if anything happens, it’ll be a mild and peaceful eruption… like, a breaking through the surface and a trickling stream down the side…where nobody lives…heh.

Mauna Loa means “Long Mountain”.  This is a great name! It’s HUGE and has the title of being the “Earth’s Largest Volcano“!!  It makes up 50% of the total land base for the Big Island. It’s 60 miles long, 3o miles wide, and 13,681 feet above sea-level.  It’s below the ocean’s surface by about 5 kms AND THEN! Because it’s soooo huge and heavy, the sea floor has depressed another 8 kms!! So, technically, it’s summit is around 56,000 feet (17kms) above it’s base!!  Yikes!Mauna Loa 1Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa is estimated to be about 1,000,000 years old, but didn’t reach the ocean’s surface until maybe 400,000 years ago, and the oldest rocks are estimated to be in the 100,000 year range.   The last eruption was 1984, and is expected to erupt again…someday.

As discussed, volcano’s are categorized as “Extinct”, “Dormant”, and “Active”. Personally, I have a fourth category: “REALLY KilaueaActive” – those that are erupting right now! There’s probably an official term anyway, but I didn’t happen across it.

“Really Active” is Kilauea, possibly earning the title as “most active” in the world.   Although it looks like it’s coming from Mauna Loa, it is actually it’s own volcano.   “Kilauea” means “spewing”, which is appropriate since it’s been erupting non-stop since 1983.

It’s estimated to be between 300,000 and 600,000 years old, and having reached the ocean’s surface between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. The oldest rocks date to around 23,000 years old.  It is currently 4,190 feet (1,277 meters) above sea-level…the Pu’u O’o Vent (the current erupting point) is a “cinder-and-spatter cone” and lava from it flows through Lava Tubes into the ocean, so it isn’t really gaining height at all, BUT about 500 new acres of land have been added since 1983Pu'o O'o.

You can see the steam from Pu’u O’o as the lava comes down the mountain and a big plume where it reaches the ocean! Technically, you can hike to get a closer view, but it’s very strenuous and can be dangerous – so do aLOT of research and double check conditions with the Park Rangers at Volcano National Park.

You can also get a pretty good view of the Halema’uma’u Lava Lake right in the Kilauea Crater, from the Jaggar Museum in the Park – it’s kind of at an angle that you can see either steam or the red glow (depending upon the time Halema'uma'uof day), but not really any liquid lava.  They have a webcam, though, too, for an even better view.)

An article from October 2012 says that the lava in the Lake had surged about 50 feet (15 meters) and only had about “110 feet (33 m) to go until the lava reaches the top of the vent and floods the crater floor”!   (This link has an interesting report from October 2012, plus youtube video.)

Wednesday’s blog will be about Kilauea and Volcano National Park. (Oh yes. I’m going to try to get back to a Wednesday/Sunday routine.)

Before I go today, though – I just want to talk about one more active volcano – a “brand new” little up-and-comer – Lo ‘ihi.  I’m not sure when it first started erupting, but it reactivated in 1996.  It is currently about 931 meters tall on the north side, and 3,786 meters on the south side, since it’s growing on a slope.

Hawaii MountainsOK! See you Wednesday!

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