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Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
by “Papa” Gary
13 April 2009


Over the years we have visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park many times, including a wonderful four hour hike to a “secret” lava tube, led by one of the Park Rangers.  But, this trip was special because we took our beautiful granddaughters (Sarah and Emily) to see the lava flowing after dark!

Most visitors are not aware, but there is a Military Camp inside of the Park, on the edge of Kilauea Crater near the Jaggar Museum.  Kilauea Military Camp (KMC) occupies about 50 acres of the Park's 300,000+ acres, and was established in 1916, the same year as the park.  Originally a training ground for the National Guard and an Army "vacation and health recruiting station", it evolved as an internment and POW camp during World War II, then into a Joint Services Recreation Center since the 1950's.  KMC rents small, rustic cabins to military members and retirees, and has several “bunkrooms” used by local schools and youth groups like Scouts and 4-H.  It has a cafeteria, small store and other recreational facilities.  One cabin, not much larger than ours, housed General (later President) Eisenhower during his visit to the Park.

Night1 Night2 “Farmer” Gary doesn't remember because he was only 3 years old at the time, but he first visited “KMC” in 1971 when it was a very active “R&R” center for servicemen returning or on leave from Vietnam.  In those days the U.S. Navy submarine chefs provided the food and it was delicious.  Now, it is a standard Government civilian run cafeteria with service at the typical Hawaiian pace: SLOW!  But, KMC is still a great spot.  Our cabin was newly refurnished and had a fireplace for the chilly nights, at 4,000 ft. up the side of Mona Loa.  When we arrived, being good grandparents, we took the girls to the store to buy all of the junk food they could eat, and then went back to the cabin to put our feet up on the furniture and watch TV.

Our plan was to drive out of the park in the evening to a viewing area near Kupapa`u, south of Hilo, where the lava is flowing into the ocean.  Each evening, local Hawaiian Civil Defense volunteers open a small “dirt” road over the hardened lava flows to a parking area ¼ mile from the viewing area.  It is open from 5 to 10 PM so that visitors can see the lava glowing after dark.  Valerie bought the girls new flashlights before we left Kona Earth.  We also took rain coats, bottled water and good walking shoes.  The hike over the lava field is very rough, even though the lava there is the good stuff: “Pahoehoe” (like cracked cake frosting) not “A'a” (rough piles of basalt rock).  While Grandma and I carefully picked our way over the rough terrain, the girls skipped and hopped like it was a playground.

Although the viewing area is further back from the actual lava flow than on our previous trip, we could clearly see the huge plumes of steam lit by bright flashes of glowing lava as it poured into the sea.  By the time we hiked back to the car and drove up the mountain to KMC, it was after 9:00 PM, so we were very glad we did not have to drive another 2 ½ hours to Kona Earth coffee farm.  The next day we had a big breakfast, hiked into the Thurston Lava Tubes and then started the drive around the southern tip of the “Big Island”.  Along the way we stopped at Black Sand Beach to see the giant sea turtles and at the Punalu'u Bake Shop (the southern most bakery in the U.S.), for more treats and their famous sweet bread to take back to Valerie.

Our trip to Volcanoes N.P. was the highlight of our visit.  It was even more fun than boogey boarding and seeing whales at the beach or pruning coffee trees.  But any visit to Kona Earth coffee farm is beautiful, relaxing and fun.  Our last evening we built a bonfire and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over macadamia wood coals.

True Aloha!

KMC LavaTube Snacks
Grandma Turtle Beach
Bananas Papaya Orchids Emily

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