Hawaii – A Visit To A Volcano

WE are in the town of Hilo (he lo) this morning, on the island of Hawaii, about to visit Kilauea (ke-lou-a’a), one of the largest active volcanoes of the world. How rainy it is! The water comes down in torrents every few hours, and we go about our sight-seeing between the showers. Hilo lies on the eastern side of the island just under Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two mighty mountains against which the winds from the ocean blow laden with moisture. As a result, it is about the rainiest town under the American flag and is surrounded by a vegetation the greenest of green. A little river runs through the town, pure mountain water flows along both sides of its streets, and in the country outside there are creeks at every few miles. There are large sugar plantations close to the town, and cocoanut trees and fern trees, as well as bamboos and bananas scattered through it.

Hilo is, next to Honolulu, the chief city of the Hawaiian Islands. Its harbors will accommodate the largest ocean steamers, and it has considerable commerce. Its wide streets are lighted with electricity ; it has numerous telephones, good churches and schools, and large stores and hotels.

We find ourselves among friends the moment we land, and have no trouble in arranging for carriages for our trip through the mountains. We can see the top of Mauna Kea as we stand in the city. It is 13,800 feet above us, and is the highest of all mountains in this part of the Pacific Ocean, although its sister, Mauna Loa, is almost as high.

Mauna Kea is a volcano, but it died ages and ages ago. Mauna Loa is alive. It is a great fire mountain with veins of molten lava from which at times boiling rivers of lava flow down its sides, destroying everything in their path. Some of these rivers have come from the very top of the mountain, and others from the mighty crater of Kilauea, only about four thousand feet above the sea.

The top most crater has been in action many times. In 1880 it sent forth a deluge of white molten rock which flowed in a wide stream down the mountain from just above where we now are. It swept through the forest and did not stop until within a quarter of a mile of the harbor of Hilo. The lava hardened as it flowed, and we can see it now, cold and dead outside the town, a hideous black mass winding its way like a snake through the green. If we should go round the mountain, we should find other lava floods which have also come from Mauna Loa. There was one in 1852 just over Hilo, another in 1859 on the opposite side, and farther over still are the remains of the enormous flood of lava which it threw out in 1823.

When the crater at the summit is in eruption, it crowns Mauna Loa with a pillar of fire, which can be seen at Honolulu, two hundred miles away. The whole crater then be-comes a flaming sea. The lava rises and breaks through the sides in mighty geysers, deluging the country. This crater is almost three miles wide and about ten miles in circumference. It is so wonderful that our government has decreed that it and Kilauea, another crater which is further down the slope, shall be a public park. A good road has been built to Kilauea, and we can easily see this volcano and its great lake of fire.

We take automobiles, and dash out of Hilo, with our hats, necks, and even our motors decorated with flowers by our friends upon saying good-by. The first part of our journey is through sugar plantations, the fields of pale green reaching away for miles on each side. We then go through a jungle and on by coffee fields, where we see the ripe red berries through the trees on the sides of the road. There are hedges of ferns, banks of ferns, and ferns springing out from the trunks of trees. Now and then there is a break in the dense vegetation, and we have a fine view of the shore far below us with the blue Pacific Ocean rolling up on the beach.

The slope is quite gradual, but the air grows cooler as we rise, and when we reach the Volcano House on the edge of the crater, we find it almost as bracing as in our mountains at home. It is too late to explore the volcano, for there are cracks in the earth and we dare not walk about at night without a guide. We know we are near it by the strong smell of. burning sulphur, by the steam jets here and there bursting through the mountain, and by the clouds of fire hanging over the crater.

We are told, however, that we can not see more until morning, and hence go to bed. Our dreams are full of volcanoes. Now we are flying from molten rivers of lava, and now tottering on the edge of the crater, and now a slip has thrown us down into the fire. We fall with a thud, only to find that the edge of the bed was the rim of the volcano, and that we have rolled out on the floor.

We get up at daybreak to watch the sunrise, and then walk to the mighty black pit we have come so far to see. The steam oozes out of cracks all about us, the earth is hot to our feet, and here and there we can look down into a crack through which the white-hot lava is flowing.

At last we reach the rim of the crater, and stand there several hundred feet above the lava floor that surrounds the lake of melted lava which the natives have called “The House of Everlasting Burning.” We are on the edge of a pit almost eight miles in circumference. It is about three miles from where we are standing to the opposite side, and almost two miles across it in the other direction.

Be careful where you step ! The walls of the pit are steep, and if you should fall, you would roll five hundred feet before you struck those masses of lava below. See the sulphur in the earth all about us ! Smell the sulphurous smoke which the wind is blowing toward us from the burning lake. It almost takes away our breath, and we put our handkerchiefs to our noses to keep out the fumes.

Picking our way around the rim of the crater we reach a place where the slope is more gentle, and crawl down the sides to the floor of black lava. We tremble a little as we slowly walk over it, for there are cracks here and there through which we can see the fiery mass flowing, and into which we thrust our canes and bring them out burning.

How rough the floor is ! It is covered with lava rocks and chunks of lava of all shapes and sizes. It looks like a mass of black ice which has been broken and then tossed about upon a stormy sea and frozen again.

A dense, sulphurous smoke surrounds us. It gets into our lungs and makes them sore. Our throats pain us, and we gasp for pure air. We fan ourselves with our hats as our guide takes us carefully across the burning cracks to the flaming lake where the fiery molten mass is bubbling and boiling, now and then spitting up molten fire, reminding us of the geysers we saw in New Zealand. The face of the lake often changes. Sometimes a crust of black lava forms, only to be broken by some fresh force below, and perhaps thrown high up into the crater.

See, there is some lava going up now! It flies forth like liquid gold and falls outside the burning lake on the crust not far from our feet. We jump back, with our hearts in our throats, and watch the molten mass as it lies there on the crust. See, it is changing ! Its fiery gold is turning to copper. It grows darker and darker as it cools, and at last is as black as the crust upon which it lies. The guide tells us it is dangerous where we are standing, and leads us farther away.

A little later he takes his staff and slips down close to the lake and dips it into the lava, some of which sticks to it. He then brings the staff up, and, before it is cold, knocks off the lava and then presses a cent into it. He does this again and again until he has a piece of lava holding a penny for each of our party. The lava cools while we wait, and we shall each take our penny home to show to our friends.