Travel: petroglyphs, Volcanos National Park, HI

Imagine you are standing on one of the most remote places in the world, about 2,500 miles from the mainland USA or Asia. You are 20 degrees north of the equator. The volcano above you is Kilauea, about 4000 feet up to the caldera which extends 11 miles around the base of what used to be one big ass mountain. This volcano has been active since 1987. At night you can see the molten lava moving toward the ocean. But as you drive toward the ocean in the daytime, winding along Chain of Craters Road, you come to a point where you can see huge plumes of steam rise up from where the lava hits the water.

I’m alone in my bright red rental car, listening to Eat A Peach. The Allman Brothers would have loved this view. I crank the music and head for the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs.

The petroglyphs are at the end of the Puna Coast Trail which runs, at some points, right along the ocean on the southern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Nobody is here. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but Volcanos National Park is huge: 333,000 acres of land, two active volcanos, and depending on your elevation, you could experience 11 of 13 possible climates, all in an afternoon. And with that said, I saw maybe 10 other cars at any one time.

The hike to the petroglyphs is an easy mile along the ancient Pu’u Loa Trail. You are surrounded by huge boulders, and fields of lava that has cooled and hardened into pumice before reaching the ocean. (Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1987, the longest series of eruptions in history–that we know of, and the continuous flow of lava that reaches the ocean, adds to the island’s size every day. The world is changing before your eyes!)

There are an estimated 20,000 images carved into the rocks here at Pu’u Loa. The ancient Hawaiians carved images of themselves, their families, their boats and weapons. The women brought umbilical stumps from the birth of their children, and left them inside the dimpled holes poked in the rock, covering them with stones, in exchange for their children’s longevity.


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