In the dark belly of Earth
If you go to the Volcanoes National Park on Big Island, Hawaii, do not miss seeing the Thurston Lava Tube. It gives you that eerie feeling of being in a dark place, as dark as it gets inside of Mother Earth. And, who knows, it may even change your worldview. : )
But first lets get done with the basic science of lava tube. What are lava tubes? When lava flows down the side of a volcano, it comes in contact with air, and cools. The top of the lava stream soon starts to form a solid crust, while the lava lower down remains hot. Soon, this provides the inner hot lava a great conduit to flow long distances without getting cooled, since the outer crust acts as an insulator. Finally, when the lava flow stops, it drains out, leaving a hollow tube. Lava tubes can be a few feet long, or can extend miles. One of the lava tubes off the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii is estimated to be some 30 miles or more long.
The Thurston lava tube is shorter in comparison, extending a mere 500 feet or so, near the Kilauea volcano on Big Island. The trail into the lava tube starts from a parking lot off the Chain of Craters road in the Volcanoes National Park. The path is beautiful, as it passes through a rainforest.
Soon, you descend the trail to enter the tube. The lava tube is split into two parts. The first part, which is short, is lit by low intensity lighting, and is generally meant for the tourists to get a feel of what the inside of a lava tube looks like. The tube is rather wide at this place, perhaps even 15 ft or more. It zig-zags under the ground like a river, and provides rather interesting views of being in an winding tunnel.
There are pools of water at places, presumably from the omnipresent rain. There are also tree roots dangling from the ceiling at places. Overall, a nice walk underground. Way safer than New York subway, though.
Soon you need to come out of the first part of the tunnel. For most tourists, the trail ends here. There is a second part of the lava tube here, separated by a gate, and the mandatory warning sign. If you have good flashlights, and are keen for some adventure, you may as well brave the dark tunnel. When I say dark, I really mean dark. Very, very dark. As in the absence of all light.
But, of course, you have your own flashlight to show you the way. You can do one of two things at this time, like we did. First, you can stop, and just look back. It looks like a black wall. If thats not enough, you can turn off your flashlights, and soak in the darkness, and the stillness. Its eerie.
Somewhere inside we met up with some other people whose flashlight was not giving out enough light, so they wanted to know if they could go along with us. Surprising, or may be not, they were from San Francisco, California. They helped take a picture of us in the dark!
R had his powerful super-duper headlamp on, and investigated the lava rock wall. It was rough. The rough lava on the wall is called 'Nahuku' in Hawaiian.
There was a depression in the tunnel at some point, so we stopped and turned around at that place. I suspect some hundred feet more of the tunnel was left. A picture taken in the dark showed signs of some other people in the tube.
Finally, we got back to light. There were others near the entrance, contemplating the hike. I guess our faces, all lit up from our little adventure, inspired them to embrace the dark side too.
Once outside, you are surrounded, not by darkness, but by greenery. A lovely green rainforest awaits you outside.
Glad to be outside the lava tube. But will go back there again.