Public gets easy view of lava flow
By Peter Sur
KALAPANA, Hawai'i — A broad, slow-moving flow has come within a few dozen feet of the county's public viewing area.
That lava is near this stretch of land is nothing new; the landscape is scarred with flows that have been coming down to the sea for some 20 years now.
But rarely is the lava within a few minutes' walking distance from the parking lot. It came so close that the county Civil Defense Agency last week moved back all of its support facilities to make room for the flow.
On Tuesday evening, gray smoke rose from a kipuka on the mauka side of the county viewing area, marking the spot where an invading tongue of lava was finishing the job it began a couple days earlier.
Directly in front of the viewing area — the former trailhead to the old viewing area, before the flow cut that path off Monday — was the creeping flow front, perhaps a hundred yards wide. Seen during the early afternoon, it appeared shiny and gray, and unmoving. But on occasion pressure from uphill caused the lava's thin crust to uplift and fracture. Orange rock oozed out of the cracks, advancing the flow by a few inches.
"Oh, wow," said Terri Odom, a visitor from California, as she peered at an outbreak through binoculars. "I wish I had a camera."
"It's just the most amazing thing we've ever seen," she said, a day after visiting the lava field from the western boundary, inside Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
Added Odom's companion, Bill Barry, "It's otherworldly."
Barring unfavorable conditions, the lava viewing area is open from 2 to 10 p.m. daily, with the last car allowed in at 8 p.m.
There is no charge to visitors, but a voluntary donation box is stationed at the trailhead.
Visitors can call the lava hot line at 961-8093 for daily updates on viewing hours, closures, if any, and potential hazards. They are advised to wear sturdy shoes and to carry a flashlight and bottled water.