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A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to score a trip to Honolulu to visit some IBM customers.  Woo hoo!  It was my first time there and it exceeded all of my expectations.  I have always wanted to go to the Volcanoes National Park, so I made that a top priority.

My first glimpse was of the islands from the plane on the way in.  The first image is I think the northwest tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. Next comes Diamond Head, the extinct volcano on the eastern tip of Oahu, then the Waikiki hotels and beach then the houses in the area just as we were landing in Honolulu.

People wonder how the islands could exist in the middle of the deep central Pacific Ocean - it's all about magma.  The islands were formed by a "hotspot", or weakness in the earth's crust. Magma was forced through the fault and solidified as it hit the cold water.  Millions of years of this caused enough rock to be formed to push up beyond the surface of the water, forming the islands. The really interesting thing is the chain of islands was formed by the earth's crust sliding to the northwest over the fault. The oldest island is Kauai and the newest island is the Big Island of Hawaii, with the newest land being created on the southeast coast of Hawaii at the Kilauea volcano..

Here is the view from my hotel, the Ilikai, which is on the western edge of Waikiki beach. I found it strange that a lot of the hotels are showing their age and definitely need to be renovated. It's tremendously expensive to do *anything* here, much less major work on a hotel, but considering the room rates, you'd think these hotels would have enough in the bank to cover the building cost and loss of revenue for the rooms.

I saw some of the famous sites around town, including the front of the Police headquarters building made famous by "Hawaii Five-0", and the back of the building made somewhat less famous by "Dog the Bounty Hunter".  If you're a Dog fan, this is the back door where he drops off all of his bad guys. The second picture is Honolulu Hardwoods.  I wanted to bring back some Koa wood, since it's endemic (exists naturally nowhere else in the world) to Hawaii.  I have no idea what to do with it now, but I figure it's an investment for the future.  I got 12 board-feet of Koa, two pieces of 8/4 x 12" x 3'.  I had it wrapped in bubblewrap and cardboard at the hotel and checked it in as luggage at the airport. I was in the middle of my trip when the "liquid bombs on a plane" scare came up, but nobody blinked at me checking two heavy pieces of wood...

After our meetings, we drove around the coast to Diamond Head and on to the north shore of Oahu.  The scenery is just as spectacular as I expected.

On Friday afternoon I flew over to the Big Island of Hawaii.  I checked into a hotel in Hilo, which is on the eastern edge of the island.

I then jumped back in the car and drove up to the world-class observatory complex on Mauna Kea.  The road is pretty much straight up from sea level to the visitor's center at 9000' in just under 30 miles.  I wasn't able to get up to the telescopes because you have to book ahead for the 4 wheel-drive trip from the visitor center up the remaining 4000 feet to the top.  I got there just as night fell, and enjoyed the views from the small telescopes set out on the patio, where the 30 or so visitirs could easily see Jupiter and 4 moons, and the discussions of planets and stars led by rangers and grad students. The first picture is the patio at the front of the visitor center, lit only with red light so your eyes will stay adjusted to the dark.  The second is a shaky shot of the moon as it rose over the peak...

I drove back down to the hotel and got a few hours sleep, then was up at dawn and driving to Mauna Loa.  Mauna Loa means "Long Mountain" and is the most active volcano in the world. It rises 56,000 feet above the ocean floor and is therefore the tallest mountain in the world - take that Mt. Everest! The Mauna Loa area encompasses the main Kilauea volcano crater, the Halemaumau caldera inside the main volcano, and the slope down to the ocean. First you see the view across the main crater - it's several miles across the flat crater to the other side. The scale of this must be seen to be believed.

Not only is it a long way across, it's a long way down.  Those two tiny dots right in the center of the left picture below are people! The other picture shows a steam vent, which are found all over the area, and can be identified by a specific type of fern that thrives in the high heat, high humidity and high sulfur level of the expelled gasses.

From the ridge you drive around the edge and approach the caldera - the crater within the crater created as a result of the most recent volcanic activity. I can believe this is what Hell looks like on a sunny day, complete with sulfur on the ground and in the air.  The last image is 3 pictures stitched together to show the whole caldera. The stitching process distorts the rim a little bit, but you get the idea.

As you continue around the caldera, you come across the area known as the Rift.  It's the location of a westerly lava flow that shows how quickly a lava flow is weathered into sand and starts to support plant life.

Heading down the road takes you to the lava plain where new land is made by lava flowing into the sea. The road used to be closer to the point where the lava hits the sea, but one day the flow forked and they were able to move the ranger shack back about 1/2 mile just in time.  When you drive as far as you can, you can take an easy walk to a shoreline viewing point, or take a hard 5 km hike across the twisted landscape to a few hundred meters away from the lava entry point.  This is about as close as you can get without breathing in hydrochloric acid and tiny glass shards. You can see the small yellow markers in the last picture which help people follow the suggested path.  You definitely don't want to twist an ankle in here or you'll have to be carried out.

Finally, I walked through an underground lava tube.  The tube is about 15' high and was created when flowing lava cooled more quickly around the edge than in the center.  The edge hardened while the center continued to flow but as the source lava flow stopped, it formed an empty tube. Below you can see the entrance and then inside the tube with lights installed.