Chain of Craters Road continues on and crosses a fresh lava field of 1969. At the Kealakomo Lookout, there is a magnificent view down the Holei Pali over the coast below. The road descends the Pali in switchbacks. At the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs turnout, there is a short trail that leads to a lava field with a collection of petroglyphs. Most are simple dots engraved into the lava (perhaps they have a numerical significance), but there are some lovely designs like the one photographed. Depending on the sun angle, different glyphs are better visible/photographed at different times of the day.
This is a picture of Mauna Ulu ("Growing Mountain") from a roadside turnout, with offerings in the foreground. Mauna Ulu, a lava shield, was the center of eruptive activities during the 1969-73 eruption of the Kilauea East Rift Zone. Now dormant, you can still definitely see faint steam coming off of the summit even from the distance.
One often finds an offering to a volcano like this - some are made by Hawaiians to the goddess Pele; others are by people of Asian heritage, who believe that volcanoes are places where they can communicate with the soul of the departed.
Chain of Craters Road is a must-do drive in the Volcanos National Park! It branches off of the Crater Rim Road at its southeast corner and descends to the seashore in 38 miles, crossing different volcanic terrain.
The first part of the road goes through beautiful ohia woods, visiting this and that pit crater along the way. The woods are full of songbirds that are native to Hawai'i, such as the bright red apapane and the olive amakihi . When you listen to the birdsong echoing around the wall of a crater, you might think you are privy to a private concert of birds. It's lovely.
The 40-60 foot lava cliffs which you drive along near the end of the Chain of Craters Road are very impressive. Waves originating in the vast depths of the Pacific smash up against the cliffs. It is possible to hike west from the Chain of Craters Road along the Puna Coast Trail to old abandoned settlements of Keauhou and Halape - the latter destroyed by a tidal wave in times past. It is 9.7 miles to Keauhou and another 1.6 miles to Halape. There are primitive shelters at each with the possibility of water, though check at the Park Headquarters before setting out to make sure. Besides, you will need to obtain a backcountry permit, as well. More information on hiking towards Halape can be found at: http://www.nps.gov/havo/visitor/halape.htm
From Volcano House, this 50 mile roundtrip drops almost 4000 feet to the coast. It used to continue along the shore, providing another entry route into the Park from Hilo, but continual lava flows from the East Rift Zone have covered the road. Trails wander off the road to explore craters beyond. Several smaller calderas also lie right next to the road. At Kealkomo Overlook, there is a magnificent view towards the coast as the road begins a 1000 foot drop through the cliffs of Holei Pali. The road goes atop lava sea cliffs for several miles, thereafter, before abruptly stopping in the flowing lavas. Explore the road's end carefully. Lava hisses into the sea as island building continues. Nighttime is a special show, but be aware the road is a long and narrow one. For updates on where and how to see the lava: http://www.nps.gov/havo/visitor/lava.htm
I was in awe at seeing these lava flows. In some cases, the flowing lava has completely ingulfed the road on its way to the sea. Everything you see in this picture (other than ocean and sky) is old lava. Amazing.
When possible, rangers mark a trail out to the margins of active lava flows or to the coast to view lava as it enters the ocean. For most visitors this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center to check on current conditions.
A trail out to lava flows or viewing the lava entry would leave from the end of Chain of Craters Road. The end of the road is about 30 miles (50 km) from the visitor center and takes about 1 hour to drive each way. From the end of the road follow the marked trail to the viewing area. The trail is usually less then 1 mile (1.6 km) each way. It is extremely important to follow the instructions posted on signs. Most visitors injured in the coastal area of the park have disregarded clearly posted warning signs. When possible, visitors can look down the coastline to watch lava enter the ocean. The best time to view the lava entry is at sunset. After sunset, a flashlight is required to follow the trail back to the road. Altogether the driving, walking, and lava viewing will take a minimum of 4 hours.
Another great hike is out to Puu Huluhulu. a pre-historic spatter cone. Puu Oo is the vent for the current eruption and contains an active lava pond. The Napau Crater Trail leads to Puu Huluhulu. The trail starts from the Mauna Ulu parking lot, a few miles (km) down Chain of Craters Road. Puu Huluhulu is about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the parking lot. The round trip hike takes 1-2 hours. Puu Huluhulu is the only readily accessible area in the park where Puu Oo can be seen.
From the summit visitor center follow Crater Rim Drive clockwise to the well-marked turnoff for Chain of Craters Road. Chain of Craters Road descends 3,700 feet until it ends sharply at a lava flow. From there it's usually a relatively short hike to possibly see flowing, red-hot lava. On the way down the road you drive among the vast flows that spilled from the shield vent called Maunu Ulu; the lava expelled here from 1969 to 1974 would pave a highway around the Equator.
For about 4 miles [6 kilometers] as you head toward the coast, your route closely approximates the active East Rift Zone of Kilauea volcano. Scenic turnouts and short walks bring you to the rims of several impressive craters. This road was covered during the 1970s by a series of huge lava flows. You are driving on some of the newest ground on earth.
The climate becomes drier, and patches of forest in various stages of recovery appear, as you descend toward the sea. Sulphur fumes sweep down from active volcanic vents on the rift to the east. Stop at the turn-outs as they offer sweeping views of lava flows and white-capped waves pounding the black shoreline.
A steep descent of about 800 feet [243.8 m] marks Holei Pali, a cliff formed by vertical faulting; the huge coastal shelf is breaking away from the uplands and slowly sinking into the sea. The photo shows this area.
Reaching the lowlands, look for the Puu Loa Petroglyphs turnout where there are some 15,000 figures and symbols carved in lava by early Hawaiians.
The road ends abruptly at a 1995 lava flow. The fields of lava that stretch out along the coast from here to Kalapana, in Puna district, have sprung from the Pu'u O'o vent, which has been flowing continuously since 1983. The end of the road is the most convenient trailhead for setting out to where the world's newest land is being formed. Most often lava from the vent flows underground through established lava tubes to the coast, and rivers of molten lava streaming down the hillside is a rarer sight than some visitors expect.
From the end of the road, you can hike a short distance over the lava field along markers to see a relic like this one!