The Big Island is a unique place to study earth sciences and nature. Near Keahole-Kona Airport, at Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), deep cold water is pumped to the surface to create electricity. The nutrient-rich water is also the basis for innovative aquaculture growing certified virus-free shrimp, edible seaweed, microalgaes, lobsters, abalone, and a whole range of products.

                At Kapoho, hot geothermal steam produces electricity. There are wind farms and biomass production of electricity too. Atop Mauna Kea some of the finest telescopes in the world make Hawaii a major center for astronomy research. All of these are exciting and interesting fields of study and the University of Hawaii at Hilo has been steadily building a reputation for its specialties and as one of the finest liberal arts small colleges in the nation. But for many of us, the most exciting area for amateur study is volcanology!

                Big Islanders literally live on the fastest growing part of the world! The Hawaiian Islands is in the middle of a large plate which floats over a hot spot that sends molten lava to the surface to form volcanoes.  As the plate moves new islands are formed while older islands weather away. If you look at a map, the Big Island is the largest, but also the youngest. Under the sea a new island is forming that will not surface for thousands of years.

Lava 3 pooling.jpg (31938 bytes)         Hawaii's volcanoes are considered relatively safe compared to other explosive types in other parts of the world. The current eruption has been going on for many years and seeing hot molten lava is an unforgettable sight! The surface of the lava crusts and hardens even as it hotter part flows away forming shiny black frozen patterns. 

Photo: John Alexander (Dolphin Bay Hotel)

                There are many ways to learn volcanology. Each day, thousands visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the main visitor center gives a great introduction. At the edge of Halemaumau Crater, the Jaggar Museum shares a facility with the Hawaii Volcano Observatory and tourism and science meet. Summit eruptions send swift fiery rivers of lava. As tubes are formed, the lava retains its temperatures and travels hot and fast for many miles. As it hits the flats it slows down. Huge steam clouds are visible for miles when molten lava hits the sea.  Exhibits explain and even when you know the scientific explanation of nature's awesome power, there's a wonderment and appreciation of the beauty!

               Large tour buses tease you with an hour or so with stops at the visitor center, Jaggar Museum, Sulphur Banks, Crater Rim Drive, and Thurston Lava Tube.  Those with rental cars can take in more with many stops off the main route to explore Devastation Trail, Chain of Craters Road, and to the end of the road covered by lava. With a spirit of adventure, it's possible to hike in closer. 

                BUT BE CAREFUL AND OBEY THE PARK RANGERS!  DON'T GO INTO RESTRICTED DANGEROUS AREAS! During a sunny summer day, the black lava fields are hot and you need heavy duty footwear and water.  At night, it can get quite cold and you'll need good flashlights to move around. New lava fields are not stable and over an acre can suddenly collapse into the sea!  People who don't respect the dangers die!


                I've always been fascinated by the beauty of lava and this is reflected in Fuku-Bonsai's Hawaiian Lava Plantings.  Visitors to Hawaii will hear of a curse and are strongly advised not to take home lava. Because I utilize lava in our creations, it's necessary for me to address this directly.

                When I first visited the Big Island, Myrtle's grandmother and family advised not to take lava from the National Park for several reasons. First, it's illegal as nothing, including lava rocks, should be taken from a national park. Secondly, the summit is the home of the Hawaiian goddess Pele; and out of respect, it's not proper to take anything from her home.   The spirit of Hawaii demands that we respect multi-cultural values.

                So I talked with the Hawaiian elders and historians.  No one really knows of any ancient prohibition regarding lava. There were numerous villages near the ocean "marked" by groves of coconut trees; and although no one lives there any more, it's considered very bad form to take stones from such places. Special stones smoothed by ocean waves carry a special spirit and reverence, but these were respected and not just left lying around. If you are digging in the hills and find such an ocean smoothed stone deeply buried, you're advised to leave it there, replace the soil, and treat it with respect.  

                At Fuku-Bonsai, in the tradition of Chinese "Spirit Rocks" and Japanese suiseki, we collect and display beautiful naturally sculptured lava. Our finest bonsai creations feature extraordinary rocks.  Just as Fuku-Bonsai has a policy of not selling collected naturally shaped trees, we don't sell individual rock specimens. 

                The lava used in our Hawaiian Lava Plantings are from the Kapoho area at the low elevation end of the eastern rift zone. Summit eruptions have a special reverence, but as time passes, eruptions move on down the rift zone. Near the end of an eruption cycle, the molten lava hits ground or sea water and the hot expanding steam sends frothy volcanic pumice high into the air.  This is the material that serves as the base of our sterile non-soil planting media. Cinder cones of welded splatter mark the end of the eruption.  Kapoho means "the waste" where Pele cleaned her plumbing system, and in Hawaii, such welded splatter is quarried for use as inexpensive fill material.

                So where did the bad luck curse come from? Historians know this can be traced back to the early days of the tourism industry.  Visitors have always been fascinated by the iridescent oily surface of fresh lava rocks and took pieces home. The sharp edges cut up the upholstery and the many small pieces that broke off were hard to clean. In spite of requests by drivers, many tourists just wouldn't listen and each group wanted to take home more.

                National park rules and our multi-cultural values prohibit taking fresh lava from the summit.   Tourists ignored these rules and values and so the "curse" was born. As other touring car drivers learned of the effective ruse, each driver embellished the curse. It became a part of the creative mischievous mystique of Hawaiian tourism. Today the curse is pervasive and a basic part of a tour guide's education.

                But there is a valid psychological basis for the curse, and this I believe.  Each of us should know right from wrong.  In Hawaii, everything has value, even rocks.   Rocks are someone's property, and even after learning of the "curse," a person may not feel any guilt about taking rocks. Think about it. Knowingly taking anything is stealing and stealing is wrong! If you need a piece of lava for educational or other purposes, if you ask permission, it's likely that the owner of the property will give you a piece with their blessing. We will.

                It's simple to brazenly defy the curse, but it's impossible to build a mental defense against knowingly having stolen Hawaiian lava. The curse is blamed for any bad luck.  The national park and many of us in Hawaii often receive cartons of lava with stories of a person's bad luck and a request to "return the lava." We do so with the hopes it will lift the curse so the person can go on to a better life. So to avoid the curse, don't steal lava!  


Lava 1 with John Alexander.jpg (28979 bytes)         The first time that I saw this photo, I couldn't believe it!  That's John Alexander who took these photos.  He tells me that his foot is really on a section of older lava that had already cooled, but it was still quite hot being that close!
Lava 2 cascading.jpg (40337 bytes)         When molten lava spills over an older ledge, it forms interesting patterns and older dense lava that have these patterns inspire exciting bonsai landscape designs! 
Lava 4 exploding.jpg (31957 bytes)         It takes a savvy gutsy photographer to take night photos like this one where hot gases in a molten lava pool creates explosive imagery! The lava photos in this section were taken by John Alexander and used with his permission.

               John Alexander and his family own and operate Dolphin Bay Hotel, a cozy 18 unit motel-type hotel with kitchen units and lots of parking tucked in a small jungle just four blocks north of downtown Hilo. It's a unpretentious place that's popular with guests from the mainland as well as Kona families coming over to enjoy Hilo activities. John enjoys visiting the lava flow, sharing the stories with his visitors, and has an awesome collection of spectacular photos. He loaned me these to share with the visitors to our website. Mahalo John!

                DOLPHIN BAY HOTEL
                    333 Iliahi Street, Hilo, Hawaii 96720
                     Phone (808) 935-1466.  FAX (808) 935-1523,


VolcanoFlowAug2002.jpg (44982 bytes)
      Photo courtesy of US Geological Survey; Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park,  August 10, 2002  

        In April of this year, the sixth major phase began in a very long continuous eruption cycle that began in January 1983.  This phase is producing amongst the most spectacular scenes and attracting visitors from all over the world!  Some of the Hilo hotels and the bed & breakfasts are filled, so be sure to call ahead and make reservations.  

     *** Go to LAVA BULLETIN:  August 2-14, 2002



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