Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crossing the Ka'u Desert

I am trying to look epic as a look back across the desert

I am slowly making my way through the various trails in the park. Last weekend, I trekked across the dry, hot Ka’u desert.

The 9-mile trail (one way) starts off of the highway. You technically do not have to enter the park (and pay) to access this trail. But if you want to see the entire trail and not double back, it is best to use two cars and park one at the end (inside the park), and park the other car on the highway.

About a mile in, you stumble across the fossilized footprints.

My foot in comparison to the ancient fossilized footprint.

The legend ( ) goes that King Keōua, who owned most of the Hilo side of the island set off to invade the rival tribe of Kamehameha. Rather than take the short route across a tumultuous a’a flow (which I can attest is a real pain to walk across), the group of warriors took the longer path across the desert.

An eruption at Kilauea’s summit a few miles away sent a mixture of rain and ash (muddy ash) through the desert. The warrior’s footprints were eternalized in the muddy ash deposit and clusters of prints which can still be seen throughout the desert.

Two different versions of the story say the footprints represent the warriors on their way to fight, and another version claims the footprints belong to the retreating Keōua tribe.

A later study by an HVO geologist showed that the footprints were smaller than what one would expect for warriors. Instead, they most likely belonged to women and children.

My roommate climbed up the full 5 foot hornito.

In addition to the footprints, a myriad of cool volcanic features paint the desert lan

dscape. Highlights included a hornito - a dome or raised ball created above a lava tube.

This feature is formed from a spot of degassing. The raised gases break through an underlying lava tube, carrying lava splatter with it. The end form is this neat updomed feature, that once solidified is awesome to climb on.

We also saw two huge pit craters. These are formed when a lava tube collapses or the ground above a magma chamber falls in. The twin craters appeared out of nowhere. A peak down into the craters revealed that the walls are covered in bird nests.

The twin pit craters sitting in the middle of the desert.

Half-way through the hike, the winds carried a few puffs of weak plume. The levels were not high enough to warrant a gas mask, but the bitter taste lingered in our mouth for a few miles.

Despite the lingering plume cloud, I give this hike five stars. In addition to the beautiful views and stunning geology, the trail is generally devoid of people. It makes for a peaceful walk to fully appreciate the natural beauty.

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