I slid my daughter, Harper, into the carrier on my chest. Marissa steadied a hand on her belly; the baby inside her cartwheeled without much consequence. Beneath us lava bubbled. We walked along the rim of the caldera, which, absent its trees, looked as though we were traveling Mars or the moon. In the distance, the active crater of Kilauea glowed unseen, and along the south coast, also unseen, the road was closed as lava poured down the mountain into the sea.
Hiking Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with a Baby
We were taking the rim trail clockwise at first, around the caldera, to head down into the Thurston Lava Tube, just one of the many natural attractions in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But the crowds there–as tourists descended from bus steps parked out front–deterred us. We quickly toured the cave and spun around, retreating into the fern-filled forest.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which, this year, celebrates its centenary as a national park, covers more than 520 square miles of land, the equivalent to about the size of Oahu. It has in its borders seven ecological zones, only short of desert and tundra. And for better or for worse, the park is accessible to all as visitors can see the highlights of the area by vehicle.
After fleeing the lava tube, we stayed on foot and took the rim trail in the other direction, passing steam vents–where more buses were parked–and admiring the flowers that grew like pioneers on this beautiful and ruined landscape. The caldera sat like a gaping mouth, as though it could ingest the whole island. My daughter slept against my chest. Marissa and I hiked toward the Jaggar Museum, which, despite a few placards, is more of an overlook for all to peer into the crater that spews fire at night. But it was daytime and the masses were in attendance nonetheless.
After our hike at the poisonous altitude, Marissa looked ill and if I hadn’t offered to run back for the car, she would have bravely made the trek back, as well. But since Harper was adamant about avoiding the baby carrier, I ran for our car, taking a different route past the sulphur crystals farther from the caldera. A sign warned that babies, pregnant people, and those with breathing issues should avoid the vents. Great, I thought, after I had just dragged my family on a hike through this health hazard.
After picking them up from the Jaggar Museum, we stopped in at the Volcano House for lunch. The waitress, who shunned pen and paper, tried with all her brain might to recall our order of two burgers, but got caught up on the difference between medium and medium-well. As we munched our burgers, we watched as she attempted to memorize the order for a table of eight, again refusing to write anything down. She repeated the order back once incorrectly and then a second time with multiple errors. By the ninth attempt, the father, rightfully so, looked set to explode.
We drove the hour-long Crater Rim Drive. The rain was heavy and the road deep in fog. There was nothing so impressive in the jungle and behind the traffic jam. Twice I pulled off to turn around, but then, at the last moment, decided against it, returning to the single-lane road. But then the rain stopped–the clouds stayed clinging the peak of the volcano–and the forest disappeared. All around us was black earth, as far as the eye could see. The old lava flow left very little in its wake and the return of life to the area was still in its infancy. We could all just disappear with one unpredicted hiccup. Harper cried in the backseat. We drove toward the sea.