|Ohia Lehua tree growing in the Volcano’s Caldera.|
The light rain passed, and the sun came out. The air was cool, fresh and vibrant as we made our way down the tree tunnel path. Every so often, we caught a peek of the Caldera, a giant crater formed by lava. Each century, the lava surfaces and reshapes the bowl. I was excited to see it. It was the closest I have ever come to an active volcano.
We took the Halema’uma’u trail, which was about 3 miles hike to the Caldera. The Caldera is known as the house of the Volcano Goddess, Pele. She had always been known to the Hawaii people as a powerful feminine force capable of creating the beautiful islands as well as being able to destroy towns in jealous fury.
My body felt vibrant as my girlfriend and I descended down the trail. A few hundred feet below our feet was actual flowing lava. The closer we came to that white, volcanic smoke that could be seen at the top of the trail, the closer we came to contact with lava. The hike made me feel invigorated. I’m sure the rich up of Ka’u coffee at the Cafe had something to do with it.
There it was again, the Caldera, peeking through the trees. We finally arrived at ground level. I was expecting the dense and hard lava rocks that I’m used to see on Hilo side of the Island. But the sound beneath our shoes was of breaking glass. The black chips of lava were pocked with bubbles. Gasoline swirls were baked into the black wafers. Ferns and trees grew up from the cracks, splashing green and red on the desolate black background.
Legend has it that Goddess Pele fell in love with a handsome young man named Ohia. She tried to seduce Ohia, but he was already in love with a women name Lehua. In a fit of envy, she transformed Ohia into a tree. That’s why the beautiful red blossoming tree found growing from black lava soil is called Ohia Lehua. We saw one of these trees growing right in the Caldera.
Intense streams of white clouds were being pumped to the surface through blow holes. Warning signs told us not to breathe in the super concentrated carbon dioxide gas. I wouldn’t even think of trying to get close to the super heated air. We felt nervous, knowing the power that welled beneath us. It was only 29 years earlier that the town of Kalapana was covered in streaming lava. Banks won’t even give you a mortgage if your house is too close to Kalapana. One house survived the lava flow, and the old man who lived there refused to move even after all the other houses became cinders. Everyone thought he was crazy. But he lived there without fail up until a week or two ago. Apparently, he changed his mind about leaving the house when the lava flow torched the back of his house while he exited the front of his house carrying a few personal items. At least he showed people that they were wrong for 29 years.
Due to recent eruptions and small earthquakes, they roped off the rest of the Caldera. That didn’t seem to stop a local jogger from jaunting past the warning signs. About 1-2 miles into the the center, there was a sweet spot where the lava burped up to the center. We could see it from the ridge and from the ground by the huge plum of ghost white smoke. In order to see more, we would need to take the helicopter ride to get the best view of that gooey red ooze. That would need to wait for another day. I was content, and surprised, by how close they let us come to the house of Pele.
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