On Monday evening, I looked out the front window and saw an unusually purple sky. I immediately went out to snap a few pictures, though the camera tried to adjust the exposure too much in most of them, making it really light. This one turned out very close to what I actually saw.

Since then, I’ve discovered (via Bad Astronomy) that it’s the result of volcanic eruptions in Alaska last month. The sulfur dioxide sprayed into the sky has been traveling around the globe, and made it to Southern California by September 1. More photos at SpaceWeather and kbaird.

Kilauea is often called the world’s most active volcano. It’s been erupting continuously since 1983 at vents several miles away from the caldera. The eruptions are still inside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, but the lava hasn’t stuck to the boundaries as it flows to the sea.

So late on an April afternoon, we started driving down Chain of Craters Road toward the ocean, hoping to see (from a safe distance) lava pouring into the ocean. The road is named because it connects a series of craters left behind by old vents. At first we stopped at all of them. They ranged from large craters like Keanakako‘i to fifty-foot-deep holes filled with rubble a dozen feet from the road. Soon we realized that would take way too much time, and stuck with the ones that looked particularly interesting.

I don’t recall which crater this one was at (probably either Puhimau or Pauahi), but there was a trail up to a wooden viewing platform. I stopped at one point along the trail and took this picture of a small tree on the edge of the crater.

Tree on crater's edge

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Let’s see, when we left off, we had nearly completed a circuit around the Kilauea caldera. Before driving down Chain of Craters road to the coast, we stopped at the Thurston Lava Tube. Update (2021): The park is now emphasizing the Hawaiian name for the cave, Nāhuku, but at the time we visited in 2005, all the labels we saw still called it Thurston Lava Tube.

Inside Thurston Lava Tube

Lava tubes are formed when smooth a’a lava flows through a channel, then crusts over. The still-molten lava underneath keeps flowing until the source stops, and it drains out, leaving a long tubelike cave.

We were lucky in that there were very few other tourists there at the time. (It was the first week of April, which isn’t exactly the height of Hawaii’s tourist season.) The Thurston tube is famous partly because of its size, and partly because it’s very easy to get to. It’s less than a quarter-mile walk from the road.

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Picking up the oft-delayed vacation photos series, here’s the first half of our trip out to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and the volcano Kilauea.

Kilauea is often referred to as the most active volcano in the world. To give you an idea why, its latest eruption started in 1983… and is still going!

We got to the park fairly late in the day, partly because we underestimated the amount of time it would take to drive there from Kailua, and partly because we stopped at various points of interest along the way. It was mid-afternoon by the time we got to the visitor’s center, where Katie stood transfixed by the lava videos and I checked out the maps.

We stopped for a late lunch at Volcano House, an old hotel built on the edge of the Kilauea Caldera. Check out the view!

Wide flat area with cliffs rising to the right, treetops in the foreground.

The crater Halema‘uma‘u, which contained a boiling lava lake from 1823–1924, is visible near the center. The southern slope of Mauna Loa rises in the background. The whole caldera is roughly elliptical in shape, and Volcano House is one end of the longer axis. I don’t remember exactly how far it is from one side to the other, but judging by the map I’d say it’s about 2×3 miles.

Off to the right, behind a tree in the panorama, are the steaming bluffs. Groundwater gets heated by the magma below the volcano and seeps out through cracks all over the caldera.
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