After we left the lovely Kauai, it was time to go to the Big Island. Upon arriving by plane, it was obvious that this island was completely different than any other that we'd been to. The landing strip was in the middle of an old lava flow - the ground was completely black! We arrived in the evening and had a 2 hour drive to Volcanoes National Park, which is where we were staying, so we didn't have time to do anything when we got there.
The next morning, we began our exploring. We started out going to the Jaggar Museum at the park. We found this huge smoldering crater (which, now, is no longer smoldering, but shooting lava 50-feet into the air!). It was just unreal. First of all, it looked like we were on the moon. Second of all, just to know that there was all of this volcanic activity going on, literally right below our feet was unbelievable.
After checking that out, we went to the Thurston Lava Tube. There are lava tubes in New Mexico, but I'd never been there before (Grant had), so I wasn't really familiar with what a lava tube was. Here's a definition from Wikipedia to explain it:
"Lava tubes are natural conduits through which lava travels beneath the surface of a lava flow, expelled by a volcano during an eruption. They can be actively draining lava from a source, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long, cave-like channel."
Really, it didn't look any different than a cave, but just knowing that lava was once rushing through this area was really cool. The path getting there was really cool - there were ferns everywhere! I've never seen so many ferns!
There were two parts to the lava tube - one was lit, and the other was unlit, and you had to have flashlights to go through it. All of my family went through the lit part, but my parents stayed back with Kendall for the unlit part. There was a mom and her two little boys that went along with us. That alone, proved to be an adventure, since the little boys were telling my brother that he had to stay in the tube while we left him there (he didn't listen, by the way). At one point, we turned off our flashlights, and it was incredible how dark it was in there. Not one little bit of light to be found. Kind of scary! We walked until we literally couldn't walk anymore. The tube just kind of ends, and the ceiling gets so low, you would have to crawl on your belly to get through.
That evening, we went to this viewing area where we could watch lava actually flowing into the ocean. At one point, the paved road ended, and we were driving on an old lava flow. Again, we felt like we were on the moon. One of the funniest things I've seen was a "For Sale" sign for a house.
We finally got to the parking area, and we started walking.
Then we got to the viewing area. Words can't describe what we saw. Neither can pictures - they totally didn't turn out. But, I'm still putting some up just to prove that we were there. Thankfully, my brother had binoculars, so we were able to take turns and get a better look at the action. I won't even attempt to try to explain what I saw - it was just breathtaking. We stayed until it was dark watching an incredible display of a different kind of fireworks.
The next day, we made our way to a black sand beach. That was just cool - there's no other way to describe it. We were constantly picking up the "sand" and running it through our fingers. While we were there, we saw some Hawksbill turtles, which are endangered. Grant and Tony swam here, but it was kind of difficult without shoes, because it was so rocky there, so the rest of us just enjoyed the unique scenery. But, they had the experience of actually swimming with these turtles, so that made it worth the trouble for them.
Once we cleaned all the black sand off of us, we went back to the Park, and visited some of the steam vents. Again, it was unreal. The steam vents are these openings in the earth, and when water hits the rocks (which are heated by the volcanic activity), it creates steam.
The next day was our last on the Big Island. On our drive back to Kailua-Kona (which is where we were flying out of), we stopped at this City of Refuge - basically, it's a place where people who broke a law went to be absolved of their crime. Given the location of this place, I think I would break laws all the time! It was absolutely beautiful.
After that, we stopped at an out-of-the-way coffee farm, but I didn't get any pictures there. Everyone - except for Grant and myself - is a coffee drinker, so this was a place we had to stop at.
Once we made our way back to Kailua-Kona, we went to Bubba Gump's for an early dinner. I know, it's a chain, and why would we ever eat at a chain while we're on vacation in Hawaii, but I read a really good review of it in our travel book, and none of us had ever been to one before. We were all very happy with our dinner there. Plus, the patio that we sat on was literally right over the ocean, so you couldn't beat the view!
We hurried to the airport after dinner, and went to Honolulu before catching our flight back to LA.
So just like that, our trip came to an end. It was a trip of a lifetime, and it was so amazing to spend it with family.