The photo is atop the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve where I’ve been a volunteer planting Mamame tree seedlings to restore the mountain habitats. The Red Road is miles from Mauna Kea and more than 6,500 feet below it. Red Road is the route from the family farm near Kapoho, obliterated by lava in 1960, around the southern coast to Kalapana, Hawai’i. The island is familiarly called the Big Island by those who don’t know its proper name is Hawai’i.
Uncle Roberts’ place is in Kalapana — more about Uncle Roberts’ in a future blog post. Nearly thirty years ago Kalapana town was wiped away by ongoing lava flows that eventually hit the National Park’s visitor facility at the southern end of Chain of Craters Road.
In 2014, another lava flow emerged north of Kalapana and it flowed eastward for about half a year, headed for Pahoa, then the lava subsided. Some months later, a flow from the same pu’u (a modest sized volcanic hill) emerged but this time it flowed south to a spectacular exit on the southern coast about 6 miles west of former Kalapana. Anyone who owned a boat was ferrying tourists eager to see the flow steam into the Pacific.
On New Year’s 2017, that spectacular flow became what the television media described as a “fire hose” of lava. Many acres of earlier (hardened) lava flow collapsed into the ocean in early February 2017. Viewers were warned to leave by the dedicated vulcanologists at the HVO and no one was hurt.
The Red Road was made of red cinder pavement – crushed lava – and meandered across and through old lava plains on the southern coast to Kalapana, the last outpost near the current active lava flow. The Red Road was paved over with standard blue-black asphalt in 2013, according to Hawaii Magazine but it remains a single lane road with curves, dips, and swerves.
It can be a dangerous road during the tourist season because you just can’t be in a hurry on the Red Road and the sinuous hilly roadway makes every curve a blind curve. I’ve witnessed a big rental SUV nearly strike a pedestrian, driven by someone who didn’t understand Aloha driving style.