Day 17: April 8, 2017
Volcano Park & South USA

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Although there were other things on my to-do list by the time the Big Island got a firm spot on on itinerary, the thing that was on it from the beginning was Volcano National Park. The park is closer to Hilo, where I landed and spent half of my time on the island, but I ended up driving from Kona where I spent the second half. Maybe I could have scheduled things better. Maybe not. I'd have probably driven most of the perimeter at some point no matter the sequence. The ninety mile drive was one of the most pleasant of the trip. Inland thick green foliage lined the comfortable yet entertaining curves. Interesting curves were also part of the scenic seaside sections and there were even a few long straight stretches. The pavement's good all the way.

I first stopped at the Visitor Center where I looked over the displays and watched a movie.

Then I was off on Crater Rim Drive and a stop to see some steam vents.

Nine years ago, Crater Rim Drive could be driven completely around the Kilauea Caldera. It has been closed just beyond Jaggar Museum since a little before the erupting vent in the Halema'uma'u crater grew from 125 feet to 525 feet in diameter. A viewing deck overlooks the crater. No flowing lava is visible from the deck at present but an impressive glow can be seen at night.

From the museum, I drove back past the visitor center to the remainder of Crater Rim Drive. Shortly beyond the center the Drive becomes a very pretty tunnel with dark green fern walls along both sides of the road.

I believe the ferns opened up a little before reaching the Thurston Lava Tube. During flows, lava can cool and harden on the surface while continuing to flow underneath. Sometimes the molten lava will completely drain from the enclosure and leave behind an empty tube. That's what happened at the Thurston Lava Tube and the result is a walkable rock tunnel. Very cool!

Crater Rim Drive is also closed at Chain of Craters Road which I turned onto. The sign in the first picture says "Nov. 1979 Lava Flow". The road passes through huge lava fields which often reach the ocean. The last picture was taken where the road ends. The plume of steam in the distance is the same one we flew over on Wednesday. It's kind of spooky to think that the lava hitting the water and making that steam is flowing through a tube similar to the one I walked through just a short time ago.

Before leaving the park, I had a late lunch (or very late breakfast} at the Volcano House. It's right across the street from the park visitor center and offers another view of the Halema’uma’u crater.

I had considered driving to South Point on the way east but decided to head straight to the park. I now drove south to the the end of the pavement then walked down to the cliffs where several Jeeps were parked (because they could) and lots of young people waited for someone else to jump (which did happen now and then). I considered testing my rented 4WD by driving into the "party area" but decided it seemed a little too silly. I walked back to the car with the intention of driving away.

The kids down by the cliffs had caught my eye when I arrived and I had parked with the cluster of cars next to the pavement. I now noticed some ruts heading further south. At Tom's suggestion, I had rented a Jeep Wrangler on Oahu and Maui and tried to rent one on Hawaii but none was available. I reserved something else. I had not actually used 4WD on either of the other islands but I was glad I had it. On both islands it let me pull over and park in several questionable spots and the high clearance sure came in handy once I got south of Hana on Maui. I liked having it so asked if anything was available when I went for the car in Hilo. There were still no Wranglers but there was a 4WD Nissan Pathfinder that I was given a decent price on. Only when I climbed into the car did I realize how big Pathfinders had become. Where the Wranglers seemed almost nimble, the Pathfinder seemed bulky. I doubt I'd have been very comfortable in it on the Hana drive.

But it was all justified in a few minutes. I switch into 4WD and bounced off southward. I reached the clearly marked boundary of an Hawaiian Burial Site and approached the shore. I saved the coordinates at what I guessed was my most southern reach and according to Google Maps I did OK. I might not have reached the absolute southernmost point in the United States but I got close. Thanks, Tom. Good advice. And it was fun, too.

In case there are problems with the link the coordinates are N18° 54.684' W155° 40.707' and there's a screen shot here.

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