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Hawaiians Understand The True Meaning Of "Road Closed"

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Pele, the volcano goddess of Hawaii, has very definite ideas on traffic patterns. When she says a road is closed, nothing we puny humans do or say is going to change her mind.

During our discussion on the gently impending doom in Hawaii, landscape anthropologist Elizabeth Angell wrote in with photographs of last time the goddess was hungry for infrastructure. Angell took these photos of the literal end-of-the-road in April 2013 when she reached the point a lava flow engulfed Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Kilauea.


Reader Sinestro43 shared their story of going to the national park and its "Your ass, your problem" attitude towards tourists accepting the risk inherent in visiting an active lava flow:

The Big Island of Hawaii is one of my favorite places. I've hiked in to where lava was flowing, and that was really an amazing experience. The National Park has sort of a CYA stance where they make you watch a safety video... from their visitor's center, which is on wheels so that it can be moved if the lava flow decides to gobble up some more of the Chain of Craters Road.

Then, there were reflective yellow tags marking the route for about 1/4 of a mile, after that, you were on your own to get the two or three miles where the lava was flowing. Walking on cold lava like that is really surreal. It's like being on an ocean where the waves have frozen in place. Sometimes, you reach the crest of a lava wave to find a sheer drop into the next trough, other times, it would be a gently rolling descent.

All the while, you have to watch where you're stepping, while keeping watch that you don't get too close to the ocean since the lava often collapses into the sea. Also, there's a steady crunch under foot as you get to newer lava, and that reminds you that you really don't want to slip and fall because the crust is basically volcanic glass that will indeed cut you if you fall on it.

Then, when you reach the actual flowing lava... wow. You can feel the heat from a long way away, and it's mesmerizing to watch toes of lava dribble out, cool, then extend once more.

Hiking in during evening hours is fun and interesting, but walking back can be a hellish terror. Really recommend several strong flashlights because with the way the lava waves twist and turn, you can easily get disoriented and find yourself walking in circles, or towards the ocean. Took me about an hour to walk to the lava, then about 3 or 4 to walk out... but totally worth it.


The current lava flow threatening homes is moseying towards a subdivision of Pahoa. While "looming lava flow" sounds downright terrorizing for most, residents of the neighbourhood have a much more mellow outlook. Alfred Lee, a resident whose home is in the center of the projected flow path, chatted with West Hawaii Today about the situation:

Lee said he packed most of his belongings into a shipping container that sits on a trailer on his property. He plans to move it out just before lava inches onto his land. "We'll sit down and wait and watch," he said. "We might have a barbecue" on the lava, Lee joked. As he pointed up the hillside, he added, "When I see lava coming over there, then I'll think about moving."


While Lee is relaxed about the potential for Pele to reclaim his home and landscape his yard with fresh rock, he's a bit more tetchy about when it'll happen. While the flow was just over 2.5 kilometers uphill at the start of the week, it keeps surging, creeping, stalling, and otherwise mucking about with the flow rate, leading scientists to constantly revise the expected arrival date. Considering it took years for lava to inundate nearby Kalapana, Lee may be camping out with a mattress on the floor and all his belongings in a storage containers for a long, long time.


All photographs courtesy Elizabeth Angell, thank you! You can view webcams of the volcano here. Has anyone else visited Hawaii, or another active volcano?