Wednesday, April 17, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 5


Nature's peep show at Kalalau Overlook.


Luxury, adventures, detours

on island of Kauai...

and on the trip home


 Lava Lava happy hour was also for the birds

Reluctantly we bid farewell to Maui just after noon on a sunny Thursday, and by 1 p.m. we are stepping out into the sunshine of Kauai -- the last destination of our three-island adventure. Lihu'e airport sits along the island's eastern coast just off the main highway, and about six miles south of our lodging... the longest at five nights, and most expensive. Blame high season in the dead of winter for shelling out $1,478.49.

Reluctantly, though, we also admit that luxury is kind of nice.

The Kauai Shores Hotel looks at first glance like an average but large motel, with its multilevel buildings forming a rectangle around an open space about half the size of a football field that includes a pool and  heated whirlpool too large to call a hot tub.

In the main building's spacious open-air lobby, the extraordinarily pleasant front desk lady offers welcoming shell necklaces and the card keys to various rooms for inspection; we settle on paying for a plushy slight upgrade, ground level with a teeny patio and a view of bushes along a fence below a unit in the neighboring resort.

But what's not to like about a comfortable king bed and cocoanutty soaps, shampoos and lotions. With the patio sliding door open, there is a pleasant breeze and the sound of Pacific waves crashing onto the beach, about 50 yards away.
Beach Birds fly near the Lava Lava Club.

The back side of the main building houses the Lava Lava Club restaurant and bar, and we have the first of several happy hour feasts at its tables on and next to the sandy beach... watching flocks of local birds watching us and hoping for their fair share of crumbs. To keep them busy, the staff tosses bird seed around the nearby coconut trees. Generous pork sliders, tacos and bowls of chips and mango salsa are about $3 each... add a glass of wine, a tip, and this late  lunch or early dinner runs about 20 bucks

In the evening, meal and drink prices go up -- but there's live entertainment most nights, usually a Hawaiian singer/guitarist and a hula dancer. Tacky? Maybe. But we're here five nights, and get to unwind at least a little from the more intense explorations of the Big Island and Maui.

Kauai is called the "garden island," but February is not the best month for flowers. It is, however, one of 12 months in which rain can be a daily experience. At the mountain heights in the largely unpopulated center of the island, rainfall can total 400 inches in a year. 

There are basically three directions for travel from our beachfront base -- to the north, south and west --  and they produced three very different experiences.

 A lighthouse and a dead end

Inouye Lighthouse presides over Kauai's northern coast.
North, and turning westward: The highlight was Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where the 52-foot Daniel K. Inouye Lighthouse overlooks north shore waves crashing into lava-stone cliffs of a dormant volcano and slopes occupied by an assortment of seabirds.  Our annual national parks seniors pass -- purchased on the Big Island after we forgot to pack our lifetime passes -- came in handy, saving the $10 admission price. And since the pass covers a party of four, we invited an elderly couple from Minnesota to be our party guests... at least in passing the entrance gate.

The lighthouse was built in 1913, its construction materials brought to the site by ships and unloaded by crane. I'd guess that these days, materials would be flown in by helicopter and, despite that convenience and modern technology, construction would take at least twice as long.  

Further west along the coastal highway is Princeville, which sounds nice and seems to have a great coastal location on the map. If  you like expensive shopping and a golf course resort environment, this is right up your fairway. But not ours. We drove along a few of its streets around the golf course, and got back on the highway. 

But we didn't get as far as we had hoped. Maybe we should have done more homework. The highway ended after the little, artsy town of Hanalei -- closed to through traffic because of a landslide last spring, a local told us. Judging by the dotted notation on the AAA map, the inaccessible stretch of road is one of the most scenic on Kauai -- beaches, gardens and a coastal wilderness state park.  You just can't get there from here without a helicopter or a boat.

My cell photo of  raw McNuggets

There is, at least, a McDonald's near the bridge at Hanalei, where I took a quick iPhone picture of a feral chicken strutting near the outdoor tables. I posted it on Facebook immediately, with the caption "McNuggets on the loose." 

Nature's peep show

South and west: The island of Kauai has a grand canyon -- not as enormous as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but still quite spectacular. The drive there takes just over an hour along the connected main thoroughfares around the island -- Routes 56 (Kuhio Highway) and 50 (Kaumualii Highway) -- to reach the scenic and slower Route 550 (Waimea Canyon Drive).
A view of Waimea Canyon, with a distant waterfall.

As you might have guessed, the road follows the rim of Waimea Canyon, a gorge  that in some sections looks like a smaller Grand Canyon. There are lookout spots along the way, and even an old black lava flow with a gentle stream to explore.  And at the very end of the road, beyond the boundary of Waimea Canyon State Park, we reach the best sight of all at Kalalau Lookout. And it is full of clouds blowing in from the ocean.

So imagine folks walking from the parking lot to the viewing area, and finding a vision of blowing shades of gray. A little drizzle. Then a hint of sunshine beyond the gray, and the clouds turning lighter, almost like a diaphanous gown offering a tease of some spectacular beauty beyond. And then magically, the gown opens in the front, and the people begin shouting to companions who had seemingly given up, turned back toward the cars below:

"Ooooh! Ooooh! Quick, quick! There it is, come quick! Ooooh! Ooooh!..."

The open gown revealed views of a mountainous cliff, a gorge, and the stunning Kalalau Beach with waves rippling toward the sand of Kauai's northwestern coast. And then more clouds blew in from the Pacific, and the view was gone. Then it was back. Then it was gone.

"It's nature's Peep Show," I declared. "Somebody put in another quarter!"

It was mesmerizing, magically translucent, the blowing gown between us and the descending sun of late afternoon, with awesome beauty in between and more than a thousand feet below. 

Roadkill to remember

We didn't have time to explore much of South Kauai, so the next day we had to go back -- passing along the right side of the highway the unusual sight of a roadkill pig. In addition to roaming chickens and goats, Kauai has plenty of feral pigs, and this one was on its side, one hoof in sudden death giving an upraised gesture to swine heaven.

Our first stop was the quirky Spouting Horn, named for a hole in a lava rock outcropping that gives voice to crashing waves as a burst of air precedes a burst of water. The spouting horn, so to speak. A little like Yellowstone's Old Faithful, but noisier, not as high and a lot more frequent. And you can see it coming with the roll of the incoming Pacific waves. 

A little further west, past one of many small state parks along the coast, just past a small airport, we found our way to the salt ponds at Puolo Point.
Salt farm pools on Kauai.

 In case you never noticed, ocean water is salty. And here at the salt ponds is where generations of Hawaiians have been "farming" salt. The ponds are privately owned by local families -- a field of burial plot-size holes where their owners drill a few feet through beach sand, extract ocean water and then leave it in the pools to evaporate. What's left as the water dries away is Hawaiian salt.

The process was explained to us by one of the farmers -- an elderly chap from, of all places, Shamokin, Pa.  He's sort of a naturalized Hawaiian, having married into one of the salt pond families a few decades ago. His bride sat in their pickup truck while he was checking on their salt pools.

Heading back, we pass the pig again -- this time someone with a dark sense of humor (of which I have at times been accused) had attached a helium party balloon to the upraised hoof. I should have turned around and gone back for a picture, but we were in heavier traffic and fighting the clock in hopes of another happy hour feast. So Mr. or Ms. Piggy will just have to live on in memory. 

We missed happy hour by 20 minutes.
Westward, into the storm

We took a Sunday drive in search of waterfalls, heading west from the resort despite a dicey forecast of high winds and occasional downpours. After all, what could go wrong? Lots of rain should fuel lots of waterfalls. It'll be pretty.

The first hint of trouble was a detour -- southbound Kuhio Highway backed up for miles, but we found a small inland route in the direction of Wailua Falls and a botanical park. The road was not in the greatest shape, with lots of potholes and fallen tree branches to maneuver around. We reached the parking area for the botanical park, and it was mostly under water and surrounded by mushy and muddy turf. And the rain started coming down in torrents.
The only road out, blocked.

So we turned back the way we came, only to discover that the only passable road getting in was now blocked by a fallen tree and downed power lines. And there was no way out. Not the best of tourist moments, really. But we were impressed by the speed of the local utility crew, which arrived within about 20 minutes and spent the next hour dealing with power lines and tree limbs. A local resident trying to get out returned home to retrieve his chainsaw, and added some volunteer labor to speed up the work. And then, on the way back to the main highway, we found a viewing spot for a distant waterfall and, toward the island's eastern coast, a rainbow. 

Rainbow in view toward eastern coast.
(For the record, Mt. Waialeale, in the range near the island's center, is described as "the wettest spot on earth" with average annual rainfall of 460 inches. At least it doesn't snow there, although the storms that crossed Kauai brought snow that closed the mountain road to Maui's Haleakala and wind gusts clocked at close to 200 mph at the highest peaks on the Big Island.)

Our adventure the next day, retracing the main roads southward, was the McBryde national tropical botanical garden, where $30 buys a bus ride into a huge preserve of fauna -- especially trees. Oddly, we learn, most of the trees and plants in Hawaii are non-native, but perhaps not so surprising as just about anything will take root on the islands.

Breadfruit tree planted at McBryde in honor of Michelle Obama.
We wandered on foot just over an hour, and as rain began falling caught the bus back to the visitor center. Unfortunately, we did not have time -- and maybe not the weather -- to cough up a few more dollars  to check out the other tour at the adjoining property, Allerton Garden, which includes some huge specimens the brochure describes as "Jurassic Park trees," and the beachfront mansion of the Chicago millionaire bachelor who purchased 83 acres of the valley 80 years ago.

Coffee break

We were leaving Kauai late Tuesday afternoon, flying back to the Big Island for two more nights and then going home. With a hotel checkout at noon, we had enough time for one more adventure -- and, at least for me, some free coffee.

Back to the southern coast, perhaps half an hour from the airport, is the headquarters and visitor center of Kauai Coffee, which offers both guided and self-guided tours and tasting of more than a dozen variations ... dark, mild, flavored. We had time for the self-guided stroll through a garden of experimental coffee trees, and past displays showing what happens after beans are harvested.
Ummmm... free coffee!

 Never would have guessed that one tree, once a year, produces just about a pound of coffee beans. Fortunately, Kauai Coffee has a lot of trees in a coffee forest that stretches for miles.
I sampled several varieties (Bonnie, alas, is not a coffee drinker but at least likes the smell), a couple of which are carried back home at the local Safeway. Hard to believe the regular price in Pasadena, Maryland, for a 10-ounce bag, all the way from Kauai, is just $8.99. (Confession from Mr. Cheap: I bought one at Safeway that was on sale for $6.99, and even had a coupon attached that knocked off another dollar.) Prices vary for the various coffees at the visitor center gift shop, but the basic commercial blends there cost about $11.99 for a 10-ounce bag.

Last stop in Hawaii

By late afternoon, bags checked, we were boarding our final Hawaiian Air flight, heading back to the Big Island.
Our lodging this time was our only Air BnB of the trip, in the back bedroom of a large and lovely home of a most hospitable gay couple. One of our hosts offered to help tote our baggage up the steps to our porch, which offered a distant view of the ocean beyond a long green hillside dotted with other homes. We also took a stroll around the property, admiring a variety of fruit trees.
As we learned on the trip, just about anything will grow in this environment... and the garden included banana, orange, lime, avacado, papaya and guava trees. Our hosts offered a jar of guava preserves to take home.
Over wine on the main porch, we had a lengthy chat with our hosts sharing our life stories. They've been together about 20 years -- one of them previously having had children with his former wife, before deciding who he was, and the lifestyle he was really meant for. (She got to keep their old house... now worth more than a million bucks.)
A couple of tourists at the Waipio overlook.
We had time on the Big Island for one more big adventure, driving to the northernmost section at the urging of our Baltimore friend Margie who described the scenery there as the most beautiful she had ever experienced.
It meant re-tracing some of the drive from our first explorations of the island to reach the overlooks of the Waipio and Pololu valleys and coast -- vantage points separated by a drive of more than an hour from one cliff to the other. It was incredibly beautiful. But the best? That's hard to say after two weeks of Hawaii.

Best-laid plans go awry

The three-flight journey home was to begin about noon that Thursday from KOA. Emphasis on the word was.
Always check for email messages before heading to the airport. We didn't. We dropped off the rental car a little after 10 a.m. That was mistake number two.
The Alaska Airlines plane that was to begin our 17-hour journey -- to Sacramento, with transfers to San Diego and then Baltimore -- was still on the ground in California because of weather delays. The only alternative in  getting home was a cockamamie route flying at 4 p.m. to Portland, Oregon, with a five-hour layover for a dawn flight to Seattle, and another hour on the ground before the flight home to BWI. But even that didn't quite work out as scheduled.
So after six hours on the ground at the outdoor KOA air terminal, we tried to sleep in a nearly deserted airport in Oregon -- despite public address announcements echoing through the corridors every 30 minutes from the city police chief urging us to report unattended baggage or suspicious behavior. Every concession shop was closed for the night, but I managed to read the various newspapers left in piles outside the locked shop near our boarding gate.
 I was hungry and thought about stealing a $1.50 banana from the bowl at the nearby closed Starbucks stand, but that would be suspicious behavior -- not that there was anyone who would see it. Just the security cameras above the counter doubtless beaming the scenes from the empty airport to the very desk of that annoying police chief.
The flight out of Portland, despite being one of the first of the day, was an hour late. We had to run to the gate in Seattle, where our last flight of the journey had its last call for boarding.
Our luggage could not run as fast.
All credit to Alaska Airlines, however -- 24 hours after our arrival at the KOA terminal on the Big Island, we were on the tarmac at BWI. And when our stuffed suitcases did not emerge on the carousel, an airline employee tapped our receipt numbers into his electronic device and said they were in Los Angeles.
He bestowed upon us a credit of $75 for our next Alaska Airlines adventure, and the suitcases were delivered to our doorstep a day later -- intact, and the contents including jars of guava jam and passion fruit jelly unbroken.

Monday, February 25, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 4

Haleakala volcano summit at sunset (Photos by Bonnie Schupp)

From sea to summit,

the Island of Maui

was totally wowie!

Super start to a super visit

We flew from the Big Island to Maui on Super Bowl Sunday, and I wasn't expecting to see much of the big game -- especially since game time in Hawaii's time zone was in mid-afternoon.

Our first stop, for two nights, was a stay with fellow members of the international peace organization Servas, in which Bonnie and I have been members of the U.S. chapter for our nearly four decades together. Founded by idealists in 1949, and recognized by the United Nations, Servas International has some 15,000 member households in more than 100 nations and provides an organizational link for traveler members from across much of the planet to meet and stay for free with host members for a minimum of two nights. The goal is to foster friendships across borders and encourage peace on a personal basis... and allows for hosts to travel within their own countries as well.

Hawaii has just two host families, and only one of them was accepting visitors -- which in a popular tourist destination like Maui can overwhelm them with requests. So we felt fortunate to get an affirmative response from Barry and Renee, whose unusually-designed home is located on a hillside near the town of Kihei with a distant view of the Pacific Ocean. Barry built much of the structure, and they reside on its upper floor whose centerpiece is a huge round living room under a domed ceiling.

Renee arranged to meet us at a restaurant in the town of Haiku, where she was having lunch with a group of Friends (with a capital 'F') after their Sunday morning Quaker meeting. Barry was heading to what I anticipated as a small community arts center where the football game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams was to be shown on a large screen. We all headed there after lunch, and small it wasn't.
Halftime show, live

Barry was watching the game inside a large, and plush, air-conditioned movie theater, and I joined him while Bonnie and Renee headed to a center art gallery to view an exhibit. At halftime, I went outside to find them and encountered a crowd of hundreds seated at tables under an even-larger screen, and a Hawaiian band performing live music under the muted projection of the show from the football game venue in Atlanta. The outside crowd was a lot louder than the insiders during the second-half action.
A snippet of action

As the Patriots finally took command of the low-scoring game in the final minutes, Bonnie and I left ahead of the crowd to escape the packed parking lot and find our hosts' home about half an hour away.

 We spent part of the evening getting to know each other over a dinner of eggplant parmesan prepared by Renee, and shared on their deck overlooking the hillside of homes down to the Pacific. (Our hosts are vegetarians... but we endured just fine!) Retirees now, Renee and Barry first met two decades ago at the local university, where he was a counselor and she had been hired to teach literature. 
Renee and Barry

We made a quick drive to check out a monthly first-Sunday sunset celebration on a beach close to 10 miles away. We enjoyed our first Maui sunset from a wide strip of sand known as Big Beach, but never got to the continuing revel on the almost-adjoining Little Beach. We could hear the distant drumming, but getting there required a risky climb up a darkening dirt and lava rock path to reach the beach on the other side of a steep divide. Some folks were leaving, though, and as we walked back toward the parking area could not help but notice their throwback attire so reminiscent of the Hippie era  of the early 1970s.

Chirpers near the deck: Java sparrows and a lovebird
The next morning, we had more time to enjoy our surroundings -- the property of close to an acre full of tropical foliage and fruit trees, and the chirping of dozens of birds, mostly java sparrows, attracted by the bountiful feeders hanging next to the upper porch deck... barely out of reach of their interested cat and indifferent dog.  Gary and Renee used to live downstairs, and built the upper area for parents now gone. So the lower area is rented, and a separate cottage is home to their son, his partner and her young son.

 The parents had bought the property many years ago,  obviously a good investment. A neighboring house was on the market... its asking price recently reduced, but still more than $1.5 million.

Later in the day, we drove further south beyond Big Beach and past several pricey oceanfront resorts, to the end of oceanside Makena Road in Wailea, to check out the historic Keawala'i Congregational Church, built of lava stone and wood in 1856 -- which replaced a grass structure built two decades earlier.

The church was locked, but a gentleman doing paperwork in its office cottage -- the church music director -- opened its doors so we could get inside. The adjoining cemetery was fascinating -- many of the stones bearing photographs of the graves' occupants. Some of the remaining white blossoms of otherwise winter-bare plumeria trees had fluttered down and adorned the gravesites.

After photo session on the beach, a quickie near the church.
 A sign warns visitors that beach access is not allowed from the church grounds, but about 150 yards further at the end of the road  is a small, scenic public beach popular for weddings and romantic photo shoots... one of which had just ended.

Tricky drive at wildlife refuge
Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, along the road between the airport and Kihei, attracted our interest. But the migratory season seemed to have ended, and there was more mud to see and trying to avoid in walking around its ponds and salt marshes than birds to admire. Even the narrow road looked tricky, but fortunately the water flowing across it was only about hubcap deep.

So many beaches, so little time... naturally, our next stop would be another, at Ho'okipa Beach State Park -- one we had passed the day before on the road to Haiku, where windsurfers play in the waves. But the best thing we found there was a couple of sunbathers near the end of the sand strip, a giant sea turtle and an endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
Sunbathers at Ho'okipa beach
The lifeguard on duty had put out signs saying the seal was not sick or dead, only sleeping, and not to disturb, and used yellow warning tape to cordon off a wide perimeter around the animals.

That evening, we joined Renee for a long sunset walk along the curving paths of a sprawling luxury oceanfront condo, and treated for a carryout dinner for us to bring home and share on our last night together.

Blowing in the (chilly) wind

We moved that Tuesday afternoon to the Maui Seaside Hotel a short distance from the airport, which served as a comfortable base camp for two days of exploration of Maui highlights -- with emphasis on the high.

We drove on Wednesday many miles up a switchback road, hoping, despite increasing cloudiness, to see sunset from the 10,025-foot summit of the long-dormant Haleakala volcano. Bonnie, thanks to the recommendation last year of our friend Kathleen Rutledge in northeastern Colorado, had brought along her bottle of chlorophyll concentrate -- drinking a dose of 18 drops in small bottle of water to improve respiration in the oxygen-thinner air at high altitudes.

About 8,500 feet up, at a roadside viewpoint, I took a cell phone picture of Bonnie standing almost level with the tops of fluffy white clouds. It is one thing to be flying at and above cloud tops in an airplane, but standing there seems magical. (And a little chilly -- and about to get chillier.)
Disclaimer: I took this one.

We reached the parking lot perhaps 50 feet below the summit of Haleakala about 5:30 p.m., nearly an hour before sunset. We had sweatshirts, and I had my all-weather Baltimore Business Journal jacket, but with temperatures dropping toward the mid-40s and a brisk breeze, they were not enough to stand near the summit's edge for long -- and Bonnie realized she had left her down vest in her suitcase. I was offering up my jacket, and to stay in the warm car while Bonnie took photos up top, when a couple from northern Virginia who had parked in the next space came to the rescue. The husband-wife team of serious amateur photographers had brought a car trunk full of camera equipment and sweatshirts, and had extra hoodies to lend.

Haleakala is most famous among photographers for pictures at sunrise, so much so that the National Park Service requires reservations to enter the gates in the early hours before 7 a.m. Our new friends had reservations for sunrise a week earlier and never went, their hopes dampened by an all-day rain. I had asked the ranger at the admission gate about the likelihood of actually seeing sunset, and she allowed as how the sun always sets. (But seeing it can still be subject to the whims of weather.) 

The Haleakala crater is enormous, larger than any we'd seen on the Big Island, with multiple lava cones that have fortunately behaved since about the year 1790.

View from the summit
Despite the wandering clouds, sunset up there turned out spectacularly fine. Photographers and gawkers lined the edge of the summit as the sun dropped to the horizon, and an orange-reddish glow commandeered the sky.

Then came the amusement -- one of the funniest moments witnessed on any of our journeys. Minutes after the 6:25 p.m. sunset, an airport cab SUV arrived at the parking lot, and about half a dozen Chinese tourists jumped out and ran up the summit path carrying cameras. I can only imagine the cab fare they paid for the winding, hours-long ride to the top, only to just miss the most dramatic moments. 

(Worth noting, there was a sunset up there nearly a week later that no one got to witness. A storm system blew across the Hawaiian islands, and access to the road up Haleakala was closed -- because of snow and ice. Hey, this is Hawaii!)

We drove slowly down the volcano mountain in deepening darkness, but there were plenty of taillights to lead the way after the curtains came down on the solar spectacle.

The Road to Hana... and beyond

 On our final full day in Maui, we took on the challenge of the Road to Hana. There's a reason the "road" is named along with the town" -- because it's more about getting there than being there.

I didn't count them all, having been busy steering our rented Nissan Sentra, but an online Maui tours site says the road's 52 miles has 617 hairpin curves and 59 one-lane bridges. And throughout the slow-speed drive (the limit is 25 mph, with cautions and slower speeds for the never-ending curves) are distractions like roadside waterfalls, ocean views, parks and trails... and vendors offering the likes of barbeque, rice and veggies served on a banana leaf, and marvelous loaves of banana bread.
Banana leaf of plenty

At a glance, you figure it's just 52 miles and you can make it there and back in a couple of hours. It took us six hours to reach Hana, and the tough decision on whether to head back the same way or continue around the back side of Haleakala -- a route that includes an eight-mile stretch of rugged dirt, gravel and choppy asphalt pavement. And even the good sections aren't all that good.

Rough road beyond Hana
So, of course we kept on going. As we've long observed on drives along rough (and even nonexistent) roads, "That's what rental cars are for." 

We got back to the seaside hotel well after dark, the adventure having taken a bit more than nine hours to complete. We missed lots of sights along the way... including hiking trails, some of them quite muddy -- and we missed finding the grave of Charles Lindbergh. (Have to wonder, when he visited here in life, to this place that brought him peace, whether he drove or flew.)

It was time to wash and dry a load of clothing in the hotel laundry room -- a bargain at $1.50 for each machine, although the job needed two wash loads and two rounds of the dryer -- and repack for a noontime hop to our third island of the journey.

Next chapter teaser: Almost blown away on Kauai


Sunday, February 10, 2019

On the Road Again, Hawaii: Part 3

A volcano crater, blue sky and clouds on the Big Island (Bonnie Schupp photos)


Tops no longer blowing,

Big Island volcanoes

back in visitor business

Lava leaves its mark... for a very long time

When you think Hawaii and volcano in the same sentence these days, the immediate image that comes to mind is last year’s eruption of Kilauea that consumed nearby communities, forced some 2,000 residents to flee and sent ash and fumes skyward as molten lava flowed into the sea. It put a damper on local tourism, even giving Bonnie and me second thoughts about the where and when of visiting.

But it’s been calm there for months, and volcano country was the goal of our longest drive around the Big Island from our hotel in Kona on the last full day of our initial stay there – heading south, then east and northward along Route 11 for about 100 mostly scenic miles to the national park entrance. (Views of the Pacific Ocean are a constant distraction, of course.)

We had to stop at one beach, drawn in by the roadway sign – for the Punalu’u black sand beach. It is the result of countless centuries of ocean waves pounding lava rock into submission. It felt like ordinary sand, and many families were there enjoying the surf and sun. It is sand, but it just looks odd.
RIP Jack memorial at black sand beach

We found on the beach a memorial fashioned from lava rocks, with a small smooth stone that had the word “happy” on one side, and RIP Jack on the other.  Perhaps some of his ashes had been left there as well. Who knows? But it was beautiful and eloquent for this Jack, who must have loved this unique place.

During the drive, it became apparent to us that we both had forgotten to bring our lifetime senior park passes.

Admission to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is $25, but the nice ranger lady at the gate suggested buying an annual seniors pass for $20 – saving us money there and, later, at National Park Service attractions on Maui and Kauai.

Half or more of the park remains closed in the wake of the May eruption, but it still takes hours to explore open areas along the Chain of Craters Road more than 20 miles down to the ocean – following the track of lava flows from earlier eruptions looking like a sea of black rock or torn-up chunks of asphalt. The craters vary in size and shape, and there’s even one featuring echoes. Bonnie tried shouting, “I love you,” but the bounce-back a second later was slight. “Not loud enough,” I bellowed in response, amusing a few of the other tourists.

End of the crater road, where waves meet lava cliffs.
At the end of the road, Pacific waves crash beautifully against the rock cliffs as visitors try to take selfies with the best background views, including a lava arch. And one man was battling the wind trying to get a kite airborne. Its shape seemed appropriate to our adventures on the Big Island – an octopus.

Rather than driving back the way we came, we navigated further northward toward the town of Hilo and found dinner at a small Korean-American restaurant. Bonnie had a rice dish and I had my favorite on unfamiliar culinary turf: A hamburger. And it was pretty good. Then, in darkness, we drove for more than an hour across the island on a middle route known as the Saddle Road – rising across mountainous terrain, through mist, fog and rain, and back to sea level at Kona… pretty much exhausted.

The next morning took us back to the airport, returning our upgraded and relatively luxurious “full size” Nissan Altima and flying to our second island – Maui.
Up next: More beaches, scary roads and a better volcano!