It was June of 2002 when I reached the Hawaiian Islands for the first time in my life. I had spent the first fifteen years of my academic career learning to teach and ignoring any kind of writing or research, but I finally decided to submit an abstract and give a presentation at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the Big Island. I anxiously watched the lava flow reports for months ahead of time, but little was happening with the volcano. It was essentially a time of simmering around the summit region of Pu'u O'o, and any chance of seeing active lava flows would require miles of hiking over practically impenetrable forest and rock exposures.
Then, in an incredible moment of good timing, the May 12th Mother's Day Flow began, and a huge river of lava began to make its way down the south flank of Kilauea. In a matter of weeks it was approaching the final pali (gigantic fault scarp/cliff) before reaching the coastal plain. On the day my flight landed in Hawai'i, the U.S. Geological Survey posted the picture you can see below (in case you have trouble with the perspective, the cliff in the photo is several hundred feet high. I was beside myself with anticipation. The lava was only a mile away from the end of the highway!
|Source: U.S. Geological Survey
I was in for a crushing disappointment, though. The advancing lava flow had started the biggest forest fire in Hawaii's history. The road providing access to the lava flow was closed for firefighting operations. I was devastated to say the least. Here I was, on the island for the first time in my life, the lava was easily accessible, and I wasn't going to get to see it...