The Hawaiian Islands rose from the sea due to a series of volcanic eruptions. The upsurges that brought them into being must have been violent, for these islands stand in water more than three miles deep. Conical mountains on some of the bodies of land thrust up two and a half miles above sea level. All of the islands vary considerably in size. The larger pieces of land were not only formed by lava and ash, but also enlarged by coral growths.
Hawaii, the island that is furthest east, is also the largest. There are several volcanoes scattered over its surface of four thousand square miles, the greatest of which is Mauna Loa, or Long Mountain. Mauna Loa is 13,680 feet tall. The crater at its summit is affectionately nicknamed Mokuaweoweo.
Mauna Loa is still active. The rest periods between its eruptions are inconsistent, lasting from anywhere between several months or ten years. Its flows occupy more than two thousand square miles, over half of the area of the island.
Mauna Loa's flows extend from its snow encrusted summit to the ocean bottom, over thirty one thousand feet below its craggy flasks. Many of Mauna Loa's eruptions do not go beyond its crater, but others manage to cause huge splits and cracks in the mountainside and spew forth fiery, molten rock.
Such a breach occurred well up on the northeast ridge back in 1881, and the lava that gushed forth flowed down to the edge of the city of Hilo, more than 30 miles distant. Again in 1942, following a series of heavy earthquakes, burning, flaming lava squirted from a great crack in the mountain s shoulder in a series of fountains.
The lava ran to within 12 miles of Hilo.
In 1950 a mighty fissure 13 miles long opened up, and during 23 days more than a billion tons of lava issued from it. In some places it sped toward the sea in scorching rivers flowing six miles an hour, while one rivulet, years ago, is said to have traveled at a rate of 40 miles an hour.
Twenty three miles to the east of Mauna Loa is the volcano Kilauea. Its summit collapsed inwards, forming a shallow trough at the top. This trough is called the Halemaumau, The House of Everlasting Fire. Within it is one of the most fearful wonders in all of our national parks.
This is a fearsome lake of gurgling, blistering lava, 1750 degrees hot on its surface, which occasionally wells up and overflows onto the crater floor. At other times it is sucked back within the earth and sinks almost out of sight, like a slug of snot in a child s nose. Then the walls crumble into an avalanche down the walls of the yawning cavern, sometimes letting great quantities of water cascade into the depths.
When this happens, the volcano undergoes violent steam explosions, hurling forth tons of rock and dust. Such a blast heaped death and destruction upon a native army in 1790. Bare footprints in volcanic ash give testimony to this tragedy long ago.
There are other things to see and enjoy within the two sections of the park besides volcanoes and the results of volcanic action. Plants native to each of these islands are not found anywhere else in the world. In the Haleakala Crater grows the strange, rare silversword. It throws up a pincushion of long, daggerlike leaves that look as though they were formed of silver. From its center a flower stalk thrusts up 6 or more feet, and on it opens up a vast bloom made up of countless purple flowers.