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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: A Fiery World


The sun rises at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The sun rises at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This year, the U.S. National Park Service turns 100. American’s 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, formed the National Park Service in 1916 to “protect the wild and wonderful landscapes” in the United States. Today, the National Park Service protects over 400 parks and historical sites from coast to coast. Every week, VOA Learning English will profile one of the sites within the National Park Service.

Our national parks journey this week takes us to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and America’s 50th state. We are exploring the unique and fiery world that is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Most people would say that the tallest mountain on Earth is Mount Everest, near the border between Nepal and Tibet.

But there exists a mountain that is 300 meters taller than Mount Everest. Most of it is underwater, however. It begins at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and rises more than 17 kilometers from the ocean floor. Its name is Mauna Loa.

In the Hawaiian language, Mauna Loa means “Long Mountain.” Mauna Loa makes up more than half of the island of Hawaii, one of the eight major Hawaiian Islands.

Mauna Loa erupts in 1975

Mauna Loa erupts in 1975

​Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth. It last burst in 1984. Today, Mauna Loa is quiet. But volcano experts say it is only a matter of time before it bursts again.

Mauna Loa is one of two volcanoes within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The other is Kilauea. It is the most active volcano in the world. Red-hot liquid rock, or lava, has continuously flowed from Kilauea since 1983.

Most of the time, the lava appears to move peacefully toward the ocean. But it is not as peaceful as it seems from a distance. In 2014, the lava flowed through one small town on the island. It slowly covered the town, blocking and destroying roads.

A fountain of lava erupts from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano's Tuesday, July 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Tim Wright)

A fountain of lava erupts from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano's Tuesday, July 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Tim Wright)

Nothing can stop the lava of Kilauea.

When the lava reaches the ocean, its fierce heat produces steam. The lava is so hot that it continues to burn underwater. It cools and hardens over time, creating new land.

This volcanic action is what formed, and continues to form, the Hawaiian Islands.

Hikers walking along lava on the Puna Coast Trail

Hikers walking along lava on the Puna Coast Trail

Shaping the land

That volcanic action is one of many unusual features at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The park’s volcanic landscape is almost otherworldly. In fact, NASA uses the top of Mauna Loa to simulate life on Mars for researchers.

The national park has seven ecological areas, including woodlands, rainforests, and even snowy climates.

A hawksbill turtle at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

A hawksbill turtle at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

It is home to many native plants and animals. Many endangered species live within the park, such as the hawksbill turtle, the Hawaiian hawk and Hawaiian goose, or nene.

Hawaiian geese, or 'nene' in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaiian geese, or 'nene' in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Evidence of Hawaii’s native culture is preserved at the park. The park includes remains of the homes and other structures used by the ancient people of the islands.

There are also thousands of petroglyphs created thousands of years ago. Petroglyphs are images carved into rock. The images help explain the living conditions and traditions of the ancient Hawaiians.

Hawaiian legend places Mauna Loa at the center of the spiritual world. Pele is the goddess of the volcano. In one traditional story, Pele tries to win the love and attention of the husband of her sister, the sea goddess. Her sister becomes very angry, making powerful ocean waves and floods. Pele seeks a safe place to avoid the punishment. She finally arrives at Mauna Loa. It is so tall that the water cannot threaten her. The volcano goddess makes Mauna Loa her home.​

The U.S. National Parks Service works to protect these natural landscapes important to today’s Hawaiians and to their ancestors.

Visiting the volcanoes

More than 1.5 million people visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park each year.

Visitors can experience the park’s volcanoes in several ways. Some people fly over the volcanoes in airplanes or helicopters. This is a safe and popular way to watch Kilauea’s lava moving slowly toward the ocean.

Visitors can also explore Kilauea’s Crater Rim Drive. The crater is the round area that leads down to a volcano. The Crater Rim Drive is 18-kilometers around.

Adventure-seeking travelers may wish to climb to the top of the park’s other volcano, Mauna Loa. It is considered the world’s largest single mountain. The Mauna Loa Trail climbs almost 35 kilometers to the volcano’s summit. There is no shade or protection from the strong Hawaiian sun.

Most hikers can climb the trail in two days. Mauna Loa’s summit is almost always cold, and often snowy. Hikers can stay in a simple house at the top of the mountain before they begin the trip back down.

The park has shorter hikes, as well, including the 2-kilomoeter Pu’u Petroglyphs Trail. Visitors walk through lava fields filled with petroglyphs. The images document the life and culture of native Hawaiians.

The petroglyph boardwalk shows ancient drawings by indigenous Hawaiians

The petroglyph boardwalk shows ancient drawings by indigenous Hawaiians

The Devastation Trail winds through a part of the park that was destroyed by the 1959 eruption of the Kilauea Iki crater. During the burst, hot ash and huge pieces of volcanic rock, called pumice, fell on the area. The forested area, thick with trees, was burned. Today, plant life is returning.

The Devastation Trail is near another interesting site within the park: the Thurston Lava Tube. A 20-minute walk through a forest leads to a cave-like tube. The lava tube was discovered in 1913.

Visitors walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, or Nahuku in Hawaiian.

Visitors walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, or Nahuku in Hawaiian.

Today, visitors can walk through it. A path of lights marks the way.

But hundreds of years earlier, a fierce river of red lava rushed through the tube, another reminder of the ever-changing and violent nature of Hawaii’s volcanoes.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Caty Weaver.

Ashley Thompson wrote this report. It was based on materials from the VOA Learning English archive and the National Parks Service. Hai Do and Caty Weaver were the editors.

Have you been to Hawaii? Have you been to a volcano? Where? Leave a Comment and post on our Facebook page, thanks!

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Words in This Story

journey - n. an act of traveling from one place to another​

unique - adj. very special or unusual

lava - n. melted rock from a volcano​

simulate - v. to look, feel, or behave like (something)​

summit - n. the highest point of a mountain​

hike - n. a usually long walk especially for pleasure or exercise​

wind - v. to follow a series of curves and turns​

crater - n. the area on top of a volcano that is shaped like a bowl​

pumice - n. a gray stone that comes from volcanoes, is full of small holes, has a very light weight, and is used especially for smoothing and polishing things or for softening the skin​

tube - n. a long, hollow object

rush - v. to flow or move very quickly in a particular direction​

reminder - n. something that causes you to remember or to think about something​

This year, the U.S. National Park Service turns 100. America’s 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, formed the National Park Service in 1916 to “protect the wild and wonderful landscapes” in the United States.

Today, the National Park Service protects over 400 parks and historical sites from coast to coast. Every week, VOA Learning English will profile one of the sites within the National Park Service.

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