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

 

4 thoughts on “Go Play on the Volcano

  1. I survived a similar time frame, which also included swinging from a rop suspended by a tall tree overhanging the St. Joseph River. I’m sure it was polluted at the time. In the 1980s, I had a 1967 VW Beetle, that did well in snow. In addition, the rear bumper had an “override” safety feature, which amounted to a chrome pipe running the width of the car. It was nearly perfect sized hand hold for bumper skiing. One windter day, I noticed a group of slightly younger miscreant teens, those I was friendly with, loitering near the driveway. I was mindful of them backing down the driveway so as not to injure them, then they seemed to disappear. I began to drive forward, but the car didn’t move. I jumped out to investigate. I don’t like winter. When I arrived at the back of the VW, I found six kids hanging onto the bumper. They thought I was angry, and apologized to me. I told them to let me get the car under way and then grab on. All grins, they did just that. Some managed to hang on for nearly a block of rough pavement…

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