Go Play on the Volcano

When the conversation turns to events from our grade school years, my best friend has been known to remark, “We were the last generation of kids who got to have fun.” In those glorious days before video games and the internet took up residence in American homes, our fun was outdoors…and our parents were glad to have us out of the house. We survived deadly lawn darts, BB guns, bows & arrows, and our Evel Knievel tributes: building ramps out of scrap lumber and jumping over assorted junk with our Stingray bikes. Between bumper skiing to school on snowy days, hiking through the storm sewer system with flashlights, and playing for hours on end in abandoned factories, I’ve accumulated enough true stories of adventure, exploration and near-death experiences to make today’s helicopter parents scurry for the nearest Xanax bottle.

This particular stroll down memory lane was inspired by these decaying slides, which I recently rediscovered. I shot these photos in the summer of 1979 while in Hawaii, attending a high school field course in biology and geology. Yay, science!

Part of our study brought us to the Kīlauea summit caldera. I believe there were only two adults in our group—teachers—and I’m sure that their supervision was on par with the standards of the day. Nevertheless, I remember the hike as a bunch of students meandering over the caldera, striking out in multiple directions toward any lump of hardened lava that warranted closer inspection.

Cracks were prevalent all across the caldera’s surface; several of them were venting steam and volcanic gases. In some spots, the surface was warm enough that you could feel the heat right through your shoes…

Having made our way across the desolate black landscape, we walked right up to the rather crumbly-looking edge of Halemaʻumaʻu crater, where we stood peering down at the crater floor, hundreds of feet below. No railing or fencing between us and a long drop…

Looking at these photos, I can’t help but consider that our freewheeling ramble across the caldera would never be tolerated today. Indeed, from the contemporary images I’m seeing online, visitors are now restricted to dedicated trails and overlooks, with fencing in place to discourage anyone from approaching the crater’s edge.

Our visit in ’79 coincided with a quiet period for the volcano. Four years later, Kīlauea awoke and erupted pretty much non-stop for the next 35 years.

Other than spending our final day of the journey in Honolulu, we stayed on the Big Island, studying lava formations, petroglyphs and jungle flora, and observing marine life while snorkeling on reefs and exploring tide pools. It certainly was a fun adventure for a teenage science geek.

My only regret of the trip: I didn’t get to meet Jack Lord.

Kodak Kodachrome 35mm film