Thirty Years of Eruptions at Kilauea Volcano

Eruption at Halemaumau Crater

Thirty years ago today, Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park began erupting along the eastern rift zone and it hasn’t stopped since. In that time, the Big Island volcano has destroyed nine miles of road and 200 structures but also created nearly 600 acres of land—the newest on Earth.

I’ve had the chance to visit Kilauea numerous times, and hiked across miles of lava fields to see the surface flows, and also headed out before dawn to witness the eruption at the volcano’s Halemaumau Crater—the dwelling place of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.

You go to Kilauea  for the chance to see steam clouds flashing orange and rising into the night sky as the lava flows into the ocean. But my most memorable moment at the park occurred early on a November morning just after a storm. The rising sun revealed the cloudless summit of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea, thirty miles away and covered with the winter’s first snow. So come for the fire. And stay for the ice.

Mauna Kea After the Storm

Mineral King: The Hike from Atwell Mill

Deer Creek

While drive-up access into the High Sierra remains the big draw at Mineral King, once you’ve made your way up the road, it’s definitely worth spending a bit of extra time to hike other trails in the area.

Atwell Mill

My favorite is the hike from Atwell Mill, where you can still see the rusted remnants of the old logging operation before the trail descends into the canyon of the East Fork of the Kaweah River.

The giant sequoias along the trail, which eventually leads to Hockett Meadows in the southern section of the park, don’t have the museum-like aspect of the famous groves in Sequoia National Park. Instead, they feel more integrated into the surrounding habitat, although the cinnamon color of the bark invariably jumps out from the darkness of the surrounding forest.

East Fork Kaweah River Cascade

The most impressive tree, if one can be singled out, is a giant sequoia just below the trail. Not only is it huge but the tree has obviously survived several major fires. Along the base of the sequoia, a burned out, cave-like alcove rises 20 feet or so into the trunk. It’s big enough that you can walk in, then look high up into the blackened interior of the tree.

Giant Sequoia Near Atwell Mill

End of the Season In Mineral King

With the first storm of the season rolling in, we took serpentine Mineral King Road through Sequoia National Park, hoping that the weather would hold. Forecasts called for snow down only to 9,000 feet, but this is one road you don’t want to drive in nasty conditions.

Kaweah River Bridge, 1923

The one-lane road crosses a 90-year-old bridge, and edges along the canyon of the East Fork of the Kaweah River for 25 miles. It climbs around 7,000 feet from the town of Three Rivers, and the obstacles along the way include long-horn cattle at the lower elevations, with black bear and mule deer as you reach the more remote high country. There are blind corners, steep drop-offs, and, with no warning, local Visalia boys racing downhill in pick-up trucks.

By the time we reached the end of the road, Mineral King Valley was completely socked in by fog. The high peaks were invisible, but after the drive we were eager to get out and hike, view or no view. About 20 minutes up the trail, the fog began to break up. The aspens along the valley floor glowed with the light and the mountains emerged, veiled by the mists.

Back in the 1960s, the Disney Company planned a major ski resort for Mineral King. Studies had shown that the valley’s snow conditions would make it one of the world’s premier ski resorts. But access was a problem. There was talk of an all-weather highway and, in the finest Disney tradition, even a monorail to bring visitors into the valley.

The Sierra Club fought those plans, and Disney finally abandoned its dream, defeated both by a rising environmental awareness in the country and the escalating costs of the project. It was the right choice. There are lots of places to ski. But only one Mineral King.


SoCal Sojourns: Mesa Peak Motorway

For all of the craziness of Southern California, I’m forever amazed at how easy it is to escape from the city for a little bit of natural therapy out in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Yesterday I hiked a section of the Backbone Trail starting in Malibu Creek State Park, and headed up the Mesa Peak Motorway.

It’s a good climb, about 1,500 feet in three miles, but the payoff includes views of 1,713-foot Brents Mountain (featured in the opening credits of MASH) and a look down into Malibu Canyon. Once atop the crest, the panorama takes in the full sweep of Santa Monica Bay from Point Dume in Malibu to Palos Verdes Peninsula, with Santa Catalina and Santa Barbara islands hugging the horizon.

The view was terrific, don’t get me wrong. But so too were the solitude and silence, a quiet so complete that I could hear a pair of white-tailed deer biting into leaves from 100 yards away in the forest, and the wind whistling through a raven’s feathers as he glided along the ridge.

Somewhere down below 15 million people were doing whatever it is that 15 million do with their time. All I know is that in the three hours I was out on the trail, not one of them managed to join me.

Snow in L.A.: How Low Will It Go?

Forecasts are calling for snow down to 1,000 feet (or even lower) in Southern California and the Santa Monica Mountains. To give you an idea, everything in this photo would get hit by snow—and another several hundred feet below too.

It has been a strange winter. After early rainfall soaked us with more than 20 inches of rain in Calabasas (our annual average is about 21 inches), by late December the storm track shifted. Then, in January, we went four weeks without rain.

But those December storms had been enough to cover the San Gabriel Mountains with snow and green up the local hills. And the toyon seem to be having a big year in the Santa Monicas, like the one below on Saddle Peak with Calabasas Peak in the distance.

We’ll see what happens over the next couple of days. Because the National Weather Service just doesn’t make statements like, “THIS STORM HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BRING SOME OF THE LOWEST SNOW LEVELS WE HAVE SEEN IN RECENT TIMES.”

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