“What time is it?” I muttered. Rich had been reading in bed for some time, and I felt certain I was entitled to several more hours sleep. “4:30” came the answer. Just as I was turning over, trying to regain my state of unconsciousness, Rich piped up again. “I have a crazy idea. You can say ‘no’ if you want. Let’s get up and go see the volcano now, while it’s still dark!” While I tried to form the word “no” on my lips, out came a timid “okay.” Rich leapt out of bed.
I suspect that his great sense of urgency was the on-again, off-again behavior of the Kilauea volcano. It began erupting late in the fall, then stopped. We were thrilled when it started up again just prior to our visit, but there was no guarantee how long that would last. Rich was still on a high from seeing the daytime lava dance and hated the thought of missing its nighttime glow. My muddled brain understood, but still struggled to gain enthusiasm.
Soon we were streaking through the night, roads devoid of traffic, high beams piercing the darkness. We had each packed warm layers just for this purpose, knowing the night air would be cold up high. I wore them all, minus a few useful items that I missed in the hurry to leave, and watched the thermometer dip.
As we drew near the park entrance, cars materialized out of nowhere. We were soon surrounded by folks on the same mission and the sunrise seekers. The parking lot was more packed than it had been mid-day. Gathering our things we hustled up to the overlook at the edge of the crater, but nothing prepared us for the view.
Down below, the gray oval we’d seen in daylight was now aglow with fiery lava. No more was it a black hole with one big fountain of lava and intermittent sprays here and there. It was a pulsating ring of fire. Rivers of lava defined its edges and crisscrossed the molten lake, alive with motion. Smoke and steam rising out of the ubiquitous vents surrounding the spectacle reflected the orange glow. The vast coverage of the seething lava blew away the impression from our daytime view. It was a scene that far outstripped our wildest imaginations – this was a real live volcano! Even my iPhone was able to capture a reasonable facsimile of the spectacle.
The same boiling, jumping hot spot still dominated the view, and the darkness crystalized the flying fire that it spewed. It looked bigger and more active than ever, particularly through Rich’s binoculars. Rich himself was on fire with his array of cameras, lenses and tiny tripod. He was deeply absorbed in his mission to capture still and video shots, in his element with a subject beyond compare. His resulting images are spectacular.
I left him to his craft while I ambled to a higher viewing spot to catch the sunrise. While it didn’t line up with the lava lake, the steam vents were still visible below the eastern glow in the sky.
By the time the sun made its appearance, we were both shaking with the cold. I could no longer hold the binoculars still. As the sunlight washed out the magical show, we happily headed back to the car and turned the heater up high. The thermometer read 48-degrees by then. But we got everything we came for, and more. It was a blazing postscript to our volcano experience.