Home >> Hawaii-and-its-volcanoes-1909 >> Pahoehoe And Aa to Volcanic Ash Of Hawaii >> The History of the_2

The History of the Exploration of Kilauea

forest, mile, volcano, growth and hilo


Kilauea, sometimes written Kirauea, is better known than Mauna Loa because it is more easily visited and has almost always afforded signs of volcanic activity. The altitude of its north bank at the Volcano House is given at 4,040 feet, and is easily reached by good carriage roads from Hilo on the northeast and the port of Honuapo on the southwest, being midway between these two villages. From Hilo there is also a steam railroad for three-fourths of the way, say twenty-five miles out of thirty-one. The ascent is gradual, at the rate of about one hundred and thirty feet to the mile, so that one does not realize that when standing on the brink of the caldera, he is really on the summit of a lofty mountain.

There seems to exist data for a belief in a very extensive pre historic flow from near Kilauea upon the Government road for over twenty miles southeasterly. At the higher elevations, from about the twenty-fifth to the thirtieth mile posts upon the Gov ernment road, the forest growth is wanting. The same is true of a broad strip of country makai of the trail used by travelers from Hilo to the volcano more than fifteen years ago. This trail, called the "worst road in the world," in my note books of 1883 and i886, seems to have been located just outside of the forest, that belt which covers most of the country between Hilo and the Volcano. It is a magnificent growth of ohia, tree ferns, vines and other plants, answering to the appellation of jungle. The climatal conditions are favorable to its continuity over the whole of the region between the present forest and Puna ; and it is our belief that the absence of vegetation is due to a large lava stream reaching from an older Kilauea to the lower limits of Olaa. There is a belt of the original growth between the caldera and the beginning of the scanty vegetation, from which immense trunks of the "Hawaiian mahogany" are now being obtained for commercial purposes.

A recent trip from the ninth mile post out of Hilo on the Vol cano road to Pohoiki (Rycroft's) confirmed these conclusions. Near the coast there is a dense growth of the Pandanus or lou hala. Higher up it is replaced by various shrubs, especially the guava. The flow of 1840 is still conspicuous by the sparse vege tation upon it, as sufficient time has not yet elapsed to allow the complete disintegration of the basalt into soil and the consequent growth of trees ; bushes appear upon the older lavas adjacent. The greater portion of this road between the flow of 1840 and the ninth mile post is situated upon a barren tract of pahoehoe, if possible more devoid of vegetation than the later stream, be cause less easily disintegrated. I found two small areas of the

original dense forest in the midst of this barren tract. One is a mile in diameter, east of Pahoa postoffice ; the other is much smaller, near the eighteenth mile post. Large ohias, tree ferns, ropy vines and various shrubs are as vigorous in these islands as in the upper forest, while the interspaces exhibit chiefly the pa hoehoe, barren and devoid of vegetation. They are like the out liers of sandstone isolated in a flat country, and supposed to have once covered the whole region. The natural conclusion here that the forest originally covered the whole of Puna and that a powerful flow of lava came from the barren tract east of Kilauea, burnt its way through the forest, leaving here and there islands of jungle. The general absence of vegetation would indicate that the date of the outflow is comparatively modern, recent enough to have been witnessed by the Hawaiians, and possibly preserved in legendary form.

The first known reference to this volcano in the writings of Europeans is that given by Vancouver in 1794. Under date of January i ith, he writes : "As we passed the district of Opoona, (on ship board) the weather being very clear and pleasant, we had a most excellent view of Mauna Roa's snowy summit, and the range of lower hills that extend toward the east end of Owyhee. From the tops of these, about the middle of the descending ridge, several columns of smoke were seen to ascend, which Ta maahmaah and the rest of our friends said were occasioned by the subterranean fires that frequently broke out in violent erup tions, causing among the natives such a multiplicity of superstiti ous notions as to give rise to a religious order of persons, who perform volcanic rites, consisting of various sacrifices of the dif ferent productions of the country, for the purpose of appeasing the wrath of the enraged demon." Menzies in his sketch of the ascent of Mauna Loa refers to the "Volcano," from which smoke and ashes proceeded, making the air thick and irritating to the eyes. This was between Puna luu and Kapapala and his experiences were such as have been repeated constantly ever since.

Before citing the account of the next visit to the volcano by an European, it will be well to state what has been learned from the native Hawaiian records, partly historic and partly legendary.