After heading north from Montezuma Castle, newly armed with an America the Beautiful Pass, I headed for Sunset Crater National Monument. I knew I was running a bit short on daylight for making both Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments (they’re located on the same loop road).
Because I was short on time (and because Sprocket wasn’t allowed on the trails), I just hiked the really short A’a trail. It was super short but it did get down into the lava flow and was pretty darn cool.
The views across the expansive lava fields was really cool though. The landscape was definitely one worlds away from what I see in Colorado! Unfortunately, the summit of Sunset Crater is closed to the public (too much erosion was occurring so it is now off limits).
Shortly after passing by Sunset Crater, the view to the east opens up. There was a really nice overlook and Sprocket and I pulled over to take some photos in the stiff breeze. I love this old boy.
From there, we wound a little more east and then to the north to enter Wupatki National Monument.
After dropping Stacia and Andrea off at the airport I headed west immediately; it was time to get back to the mountains! I’d hoped to be able to hike New Mexico’s Sierra Grande, Union County high point but as I entered New Mexico the summer afternoon thunderstorm clouds began to gather.
Understanding that hiking it just wasn’t a good idea, I continued on. The storms had brought in some afternoon cooling so I decided to check out Capulin Volcanic National Monument along the way.
Since the visitors center was closed for renovation, I quickly perused the temporary gift shop and headed up the mountain. While the ranger at the top said that I could hike the rim trail, she did point out the gathering clouds “about 11 miles away” and asked that if it got much closer that I come down.
The rim trail was only a mile long so I knew it wouldn’t take me long to hike. Because I hadn’t had a chance to check out the visitors center, I was really excited to see the interpretive signs along the way. Capulin Volcano is only 60,000 years old!
It was a really different set of views than I’ve had in the past. I could see Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s state highpoint, off in the distance:
My views of Sierra Grande were excellent but the clouds continuing to gather around its summit confirmed to me that I’d made a good choice in taking a pass.
Back at the car, I grabbed Sprocket and walked him around the parking lot while inhaling a sandwich. My pup is one patient dude.
After our hike to the lava, we were both pretty tired so we spent most of the day relaxing in the sunshine. At four, Forrest asked me if I’d be willing to hike back out to see the lava by night. I was a bit hesitant at first but agreed—I’m definitely glad I did!
There was considerably more traffic at the flows in the evening with a couple more groups of independent hikers there and at least two tour groups. Being out at dusk was totally worth it though—just amazing to see the lava glow. I also really liked seeing how much further the lava had made it towards the ocean since we’d left in the morning.
After we hiked back to the car we were famished so we headed into Pahoa and pigged out on pizza. Nothing ever tastes so good as a good post hike meal!
If you go, be aware that the lava will eat your shoes. Forrest bought these when we left Missoula so had less than a month of wear on them and the lava left them looking like this:
After leaving Volcanoes National Park, we headed for the Hawaii County lava viewing area to get a better sense of where the lava was flowing and how we could see it. We’d learned at Jaggar Museum in the park that the lava was flowing and entering the ocean near the park boundary. The official word was that you had to join a guide service to go out on the lava.
At the viewing area, we spoke with the attendant who just happened to be a resident of the community at the end of the road. He told us that the county had hired people like him to tell us not to go, that we’d be trespassing on private property, and that the county had condemned all the recent flows and closed them to the public. The general word around the viewing area was that “those who are going to go, go. Otherwise, hire a guide.”
With the local guides charging about $100 (or more) to walk the two plus miles over the lava, we decided to go for it on our own. We headed out just after dawn by following a trail near the Kalapana Village Cafe towards the water. Upon reaching the ocean, we made a right and followed the coast towards a group of trees on a raised chunk of rock. After scrambling up onto the rock, we followed a path through the trees and along the water. Continuing further to the west, we left the vegetation just as the plume from the ocean entry was in sight.
Watching the lava enter the ocean and actually extend the land was particularly facinating to me. The ocean entry wasn’t the only show, however, there was a good sized lava flow to see (and play with). Seeing and hearing lava was an absolutely astounding experience. Forrest had been sure to grab a stick so he could play with the molten rock. There was no one else on the ground at the flow so we had everything all to ourselves.
After playing with the lava for a bit, we headed closer to the ocean entry for a better view.
Forrest also decided to boss the lava around a little bit:
We covered somewhere around four and a half miles on the lava. Going out and back plus our time at the flow took us somewhere in the ballpark of four and a half hours.
At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we stopped off at the visitors center to get a feel for what is in the park. Unfortunately due to increased volcanic activity most of the Crater Rim Drive has been closed since 2008 along with the trails in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. We watched the videos in the theater and began to get excited about seeing lava up close and personal (more on this coming soon).
Leaving the Visitors Center we headed for Jaggar Museum. Along the way, we stopped off to see the steam vents and the overlook in the crater. At the museum, the plume from Kilauea was slightly visible through the mist. Since the weather was rather damp, we opted to check out Chain of Craters Road before picking a hike for the day. Along the way, we stopped to walk through the lava tube and drive Hilina Pali Road.
At the end of Chain of Craters Road, we walked out to where the lava had flowed across the road in 2003. It was really impressive to see the volume of new rock that so easily disrupted our piddly road system. From the sea plain, it was also really impressive to look inland and see the older lava flows coming off the hills.
After our walk on the lava, we headed mauka (“towards the mountains”) to find ourselves a delicious plate lunch for dinner.