This Lava Tube is a good example of a tumulus. As magma flows through a lava tube, pressure is built up due to the difference in the rate the lava flows between the cooler crust of the tube and the more fluid lava below.
The pressure causes the top of the lava tube, its roof in essence, to mound or bulge. This mound or bulge can create a dome or hill. The lava tube described on this page is such a hill. The area this tube is in has many tumuli and you can easily see them in the distance. Each one, at one time, was a tube containing hot, flowing lava.
To find the Lava Tube take Highway 11 to Volcano and enter the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Once you pass the park gatehouse make the first left onto Crater Rim Drive. Continue on Crater Rim Drive 3 miles until the intersection with Chain of Craters Road. Turn left onto Chain of Craters Road and proceed approximately 14.9 miles. As you near 14.9, look along the road ahead to the left. You are looking for a 30 to 40 foot hill just off the road. If you look carefully you should see a hole in the top. As you whiz past the hill you will glimpse the lava tube entrance. Just past the hill is a paved pullout on the left. Park in the pullout and walk along the road back to the lava tube. Note that if you get to the Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Field you have missed the lava tube by about a mile.
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This feature is right off the road. Climbing a short rock hill is involved. All you will need is your camera.
Things To Be Careful Of
This is a fairly easy climb. Because you are on rough lava be sure to wear good shoes. Long pants would also help avoid any scrapes.
The footing is a bit loose, so be careful as you climb the tube. At the top are numerous skylights. Be careful at the edges of these, as they may be prone to further collapse.
What You Will See
This often overlooked lava tube is right on Chain of Craters Road as you approach the end of the road. Usually people are driving too fast, and excited about seeing red lava, to notice this easily accessible lava tube tumulus (see the Introduction for a definition of tumulus).
If you peer into the lava tube you can see that it snakes quit a ways to the back. The walls are smooth and you can see the 3/4 level where lava crested on average. A sign informs you that you cannot explore further without a permit.
Next, let us climb the tumulus. Facing the hill, you can climb up either to the right or the left. When we explored the hill John went up the right and I went up the left. We decided going up (and down) the left was the easier of the two ways.
The climb is not difficult nor is it very high. You are going up about 30 to 40 feet. However, you're climbing crumbling, uneven lava so there are plenty of things to trip over. Be careful as you are going up. Having gloves and long pants would help. We were, of course, in shorts and slippahs.
As you climb be on the lookout for Pele's Hair in the rocks you are climbing over. The hair will collect in nooks and corners where the wind has pushed it. The hair will appear to be about the width of a human hair, and fairly long - some strands up to 6 inches. They are stiff and the color of bright metallic gold (and light greens). The strands are very brittle and can break very easily and they are VERY sharp. Do not handle them.
Pele's Hair is created when lava goes into the air during a windy day. The wind takes the falling, molten lava and causes it to thin out and harden into a strand of golden rock as it falls to the ground. The hairs you can find on this tube were created when this tube was full of lava. The lava would have occasionally been spurting out of the skylights and into the wind. Try to avoid stepping on the strands, as that will break them.
When you get to the top of the lava tube you will find a very large opening. Peering into the opening you can easily see into the tube. You are looking into a skylight. Skylights are created when an unstable part of the roof of a lava tube collapses. This produces a hole in which the molten lava can be seen running. In general, a lava river runs about 3/4 up the side of a tube and you should see evidence of this along the sides of the tube.
Be careful along the edge of the skylight. You can't tell just how thin the rock you are standing on is. The rock along the edge of the skylight is prone to crumbing and you wouldn't want to fall into the tube.
The tube you are looking in obviously continues towards the ocean and out the tube entrance by the road. But if you look back you will see it continues towards the hills too. Keep walking back along the tube and you will find several more skylights. Some of them have Ti plants growing in them, undoubtedly planted as gifts. Note that some of the rocks near some of the skylights are covered in a smooth coating of lava. This indicates that at some time lava exploded into the air coating the rocks and producing the Pele's Hair.
Come down the tumulus the same way you went up. If you cross the road you will see that the tumulus continues below you, but is not nearly as interesting as much of it has collapsed.