Tag Archives: Lava

Amaumau fern

The amaumau fern (Sadleria cyatheoides) is endemic to Hawaii and grows in a variety of areas from wet forests to recent lava flows. I saw these on the Powerline Trail, off of Saddle Road, where the elevation is above 5,000 feet.

These ferns are quite common, but on this day, the color of the new growth really caught my eye. New fiddles are orange to red, changing to green with age. In these photos, the various stages of growth can be seen. These ferns were low growing, but they can also take the form of a tree fern with an upright, trunk-like appearance.

Pinkhead smartweed

This week’s Friendly Friday challenge theme is ‘The Color Pink.’ See more responses here.

Pinkhead smartweed (Polygonum capitatum or Persicaria capitata) is a groundcover that hails from western China and the Himalayas. It’s variously known as pinkhead knotweed, pink knotweed, Japanese knotweed, pink-headed persicaria, or pink bubble persicaria. I use pinkhead smartweed for the very good reason that I like the name. It sounds like the name of someone pretentious, but slightly seedy, from the alleged upper crust of society.

In this bounty of names, a couple of elements stand out. One is ‘pink,’ the other is ‘weed.’ This is a very pink plant and, in Hawaii and elsewhere, an invasive weed. Drive eastbound over Saddle Road (officially Hawaii Route 200, the Daniel K. Inouye Highway) and, once you cross the saddle and begin your descent, this plant will become obvious very quickly. It lines the road on both sides for several miles with very little in the way of other plants competing for that space. This is because pinkhead smartweed will grow in poor ground and lava fields fit that description.

This is also a stretch of highway that, relatively recently, was converted from a narrow, winding road, that rental car companies routinely forbid their clients from driving on, to a wide, smooth thoroughfare, the only place on the island where you can legally go 60 mph, and where you can expect to receive a ticket if you go 80 mph like everybody else.

Redoing the road left verges of rock and gravel and very little else. Pinkhead smartweed was quick to move in and colonize this unpromising territory so that now the descent toward Hilo begins with pleasing pink borders.

The top photo shows the rugged kind of ground pinkhead smartweed can grow in. To the right, bees appreciate the flowers of this plant growing at an elevation over 5,000 feet. Below, the collapse of a lava tube has left a shady hole where pinkhead smartweed, an endemic amaumau fern, and an ohia tree have established a good foothold.

Powerline Trail

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Straight.’ See more offerings here.

Last week, I revisited the Powerline Trail off of Saddle Road. This trail, when combined with the Pu’u O’o Trail, makes a good long loop hike. I like hiking the Pu’u O’o Trail because it passes through several kipukas (patches of old forest that have been spared by lava flows) and those kipukas have lots of birds living in them.

The Powerline Trail is a bit less interesting. There are fewer kipukas and it’s a long, exposed hike in a straight line across the lava. The reason for this can be found in the name. It follows an old 4-wheel drive road that serviced a power line that ran across the lava fields. The line is gone, but the sawn-off stumps of power poles can be seen alongside the trail (to the right of the trail in the top photo, to the left in the bottom photo).

One advantage the Powerline Trail has over the Pu’u O’o Trail can be seen in the bottom photo. This was near the end of my hike in the mid-afternoon as clouds closed in. It’s not unusual for this part of the saddle to be shrouded in thick fog and, if you happen to be out hiking in those conditions, the straight and clear Powerline Trail is much easier to follow than the Pu’u O’o Trail which, crossing the lava fields, can be hard to follow when you can’t see the cairns that mark its route.

The trail, of course, isn’t perfectly straight (though I suspect the power line was). It bumps around lava upwellings and collapsed tubes. But most of the time, one just needs to look up to see, straight ahead in the distance, the faint pale thread of the trail topping a hill or emerging from a dip in the landscape.

Kilauea lava

Lava fountains flare up alongside the rim of the active vent in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater at the summit of Kilauea Volcano.
The walls of the crater illuminated by the lava.

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Mother Earth.’ See more offerings here.

The Big Island is home to Madame Pele, who in Hawaiian culture is the goddess of volcanoes. She is the creator of new land as well as a destroyer. These photos were taken on April 24, 2018. (An account of that visit, and more photos, can be found here.) On May 1, the lava in the lake began to drop. Within a week, it had dropped more than 700 feet and continued falling. Lava had also disappeared from Pu’u O’o, the other active vent on Kilauea.

The drop in lava levels was due to magma in the system moving down the east rift zone of the volcano where it emerged in a series of vents in Leilani Estates, a housing subdivision in the southeast part of the island. This new eruption lasted until late August, 2018, since when the volcano has been quiet.

While there has been no visible activity, below ground, magma has been moving through the system, notably into Kilauea’s summit chamber. It’s surely only a matter of time before Madame Pele makes her presence known again on one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

The early morning light shows the crater and land around Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. This is a scene that no longer exists. Since this photo was taken, not only is the vent no longer active, but the crater floor has collapsed numerous times and the walls have also subsided in places.

Puna Coast Trail: Apua Point

This is the third and final part of a three-part description of a hike along the Puna Coast Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (See part 1 here, part 2 here).

The last part of the trail before ʻĀpua Point crosses over the only stretch of ʻaʻā lava on the trail which, as can be seen in the photo at top right, is markedly more rough and jagged than pahoehoe lava. This ʻaʻā is part of a 1969 flow from the same eruption at Mana Ulu that produced the pahoehoe lava that most of the trail passes over. The Mauna Ulu eruption lasted from 1969 to 1974.

ʻĀpua Point is like a little oasis in a bleak landscape. Flows from the Mauna Ulu eruption reached the ocean on either side of the point, but the point itself was spared. The top photo is a panoramic view of the coast, stitched together (not well) from two photos, to show the view from ʻĀpua Point’s outhouse – actually a composting toilet. This toilet also represents the sum total of the facilities for anyone thinking of camping there.

ʻĀpua Point itself is a rocky coastline jutting into the ocean. But behind this wall of rock, a sandier area hosts fields of naupaka, sea purslane, and other plant life, as seen in the photo at bottom right. Also in the background of this photo, a passing shower runs along Hōlei Pali. As I mentioned in part one of this description, the trail can be hot, wet, and windy, but for my hike, I saw moderate breezes, some overcast skies, and just a few spritzing showers.

Swimming in the ocean along this coast is very dangerous because of high surf and strong currents. But at ʻĀpua Point there are shallow pools, suitable for soaking, that are protected from the surf by a border of rocks. There are also a few small sandy beaches such as the ones in the photo below.

Besides the composting toilet, there is one other structure on ʻĀpua Point. It’s a small shed with an open covered area beside it, surrounded by naupaka and a few palm trees. This covered area represents pretty much the only shade to be found on the entire hike. The shed is used by the Hawksbill Sea Turtle Recovery Project, which monitors and protects endangered hawksbill turtles which use this area for nesting. I believe the nesting season runs from May to September, so I might have to return sometime after that.

And speaking of returning, from here it was time to turn around and hike the 6.6 miles back to the car. The hike took me about 3 hours each way with, of course, numerous stops for photography and just to enjoy the views.

For more information about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go to nps.gov/havo/. For more information about the Puna Coast Trail, go to bigislandhikes.com/puna-coast-trail.

Puna Coast Trail: Along the coast

This is the second part of a three-part description of a hike along the Puna Coast Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (See part 1 here).

As the trail reaches the coast, it passes over an older flow that has a fair amount of vegetation on it. The bottom right photo shows the trail cutting through a swathe of naupaka, sourbush, and assorted grasses.

This area was, despite the threat of volcanic activity, well occupied by early Hawaiian people. Along the trail are several reminders of that including the structures below. The photo, below middle, shows the amazing abilities of plants to grow in even the most daunting locations. The roots are somewhere deep in the lava, from which the trunk of this noni snakes upward. The large, nobbly fruit can be seen on this plant. This fruit, when ripe, has a pungent aroma which supposedly smells like vomit!

The bottom photo shows an area of rocks and black sand on the coast, backed by an extensive field of naupaka. Beyond that, the trail passes close to a pair of sea arches seen in the top photo and the one at top right. This is a rugged coastline and, when the weather is rough, huge waves can crash up and over the lava. It’s also an unstable coast with rocks and sections of cliff liable to tumble into the ocean.

In the background of the top and bottom photos are the palm trees of ʻĀpua Point, which will be the focus of the third and final post about this trail, tomorrow.

For more information about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go to nps.gov/havo/. For more information about the Puna Coast Trail, go to bigislandhikes.com/puna-coast-trail.

Puna Coast Trail: From the trailhead toward the coast

Last month, I posted photos of colorful lava (here) that I saw on a hike I’d just done. In that post, I noted that ‘I’ll do a post about the trail once I’ve gone through the way-too-many photos I took that day!’ With all that’s been going on in the interim, processing those photos took a long time, but now I’m done. So here’s the first of three posts about the trail, not that you can follow in my footsteps right now because Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is currently closed.

As the name indicates, the Puna Coast Trail travels along the coast of the park, but it starts about a mile inland, across Chain of Craters Road from the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs trailhead. The trail is 11.3 miles long and ends at Halapē campground, but I only hiked as far as ʻĀpua Point, 6.6 miles along the trail. This rugged trail can be hot, windy, and wet so sturdy shoes or boots, a hat, sunscreen, and raingear are a must. There’s no fresh water on the trail so take plenty, as well as enough to eat.

The trail starts by crossing the 1972 flow from an eruption at Mana Ulu. In the top photo, lava from this flow surrounds a small area of older lava. The ferns growing in the cracks are Polypodium pellucidum, an endemic fern known in Hawaii as ae (pronounced Ah Ay). These ferns are among the first plants to grow in new lava fields. The faint outline of the trail can be seen extending from the middle left of the photo to the cairn on the horizon.

Top right: An upwelling in an old lava flow has cracked open to reveal a variety of colors within. In the background is Hōlei Pali. A pali is a steep slope or cliff. When a flow goes over a pali, it can often be seen, safely, from a distance away.

Center right: A trail-marking cairn on a section of older lava that has been somewhat revegetated. The noni (Morinda citrifolia) shrub beside the cairn is another early colonizer of lava flows being tolerant of the harsh conditions found there. Noni is a ‘canoe plant,’ having been introduced to Hawaii by the first Polynesians who arrived in their ocean going canoes.

Bottom right: Cairns mark the trail across the expanse of lava from the 1971 flow, where very little vegetation can be found. This first part of the trail angles down toward the ocean, which can be seen in the distance.

Below: Colorful smooth pahoehoe lava lies on top of ropey pahoehoe lava, from the same 1971 flow. The kind of lava can change quite quickly as conditions change in the flow itself and the terrain it travels through. This also shows the colors in different layers of lava as well as an ae fern getting a toehold.

Bottom: A little hill of pahoehoe lava showing its different forms all jumbled up. I almost included this photo in the earlier post since its colors, textures, and swirls were unexpected art for me.

Tomorrow, part two follows the hike along the coast itself.

For more information about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go to nps.gov/havo/. For more information about the Puna Coast Trail, go to bigislandhikes.com/puna-coast-trail.