“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” — John Muir

John Muir was considered the “Father of National Parks,” a conservationist and pioneer of his time. Born in 1838, he lived 75 years fighting politicians, congress, lobbyists, and industry, saving our land for future generations to enjoy nature’s splendor. He gained such popularity through his conservation efforts that then-president Theodore Roosevelt sought out the woodsman for a few days of solitude camping out in beautiful Yosemite. Not only was Muir the founder of the Sierra Club, but he helped President Roosevelt establish the first National Monuments by Presidential Proclamation, and helped Yosemite become a National Park. One man’s passion for the wilderness turned into a lifetime commitment of preserving this beautiful land of ours. John Muir wasn’t the only conservationist to pave the way to our access to the majestic landscapes, but he surely is one to whom we owe a substantial debt of gratitude.

john muirWith my research on Muir, it got me to wonder about the beautiful landscapes of Hawaii. Pushed to become a park by Lorrin A. Thurston, grandson of the American Missionary Asa Thurston, Hawaii National Park (as it was then known) was established by President Wilson in 1916. Thurston owned The Honolulu Advertiser and paid for Congress and their wives to visit Haleakala and Kilauea. With endorsements from Muir and former president Roosevelt, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill that would create the nation’s eleventh National Park, and the first in a territory.

The park gathered the attention of such notables as Mark Twain, who described Kilauea Volcano thusly: “At night the red glare was visible a hundred miles at sea; and at a distance of forty miles fine print could be read at midnight…countless columns of smoke rose up and blended together in a tumbled canopy that hid the havens and glowed with a ruddy flush reflected from the fires below; here and there jets of lava sprung hundreds of feet into the air and burst into rocket-sprays that returned to earth in a crimson rain…”

lavaIn 2004, 88 years after its founding, I had the opportunity to visit the park myself. What I saw left me truly in awe of the creation of land that was being built before my own eyes. We spent four hours walking to and from the lava fields, making sure to take plenty of water and wearing proper hiking boots. The jagged lava would surely cut you open should you fall on the rock itself. Indeed, we did see an older gentleman take one particularly nasty spill, and had one mile more to hike out while applying pressure to his bleeding hand. Not necessarily the best way to spend your vacation in paradise.

There are two drive-in campgrounds at Kilauea National Park. The first, Namakanipaio Campground, is south of Hilo at 4,000 feet elevation. The campground has bathrooms, picnic tables, and barbeque pits. The campground does get cool at night, dropping in temperatures ranging from 30 to 50 degrees at night, so bring jeans to change into for those nights around the campfire (which are permitted only in the pits). Make sure you’ve got a good tent with a rain fly, as it rains frequently at this elevation.

The other drive-in campground is located at Hilina Pali Road, at 2,700 feet. There are only eight sites at this campground, two of which are wheelchair accessible. No dogs or fires are permitted at the site.

For the more adventurous, backcountry camping is permitted. All backcountry permits are free, but you must register with the park upon your arrival. Because of Hawaii’s ever-changing weather, it’s best to talk with a park ranger when you arrive to check the conditions of the mountains. There are seven backcountry camping areas. If you’re planning on camping on Mauna Loa, make sure that you check the weather forecast, as well as the park ranger, as high winds and snow are frequent in the rainy months.

These are strenuous hikes due just to the sheer magnitude of hiking on lava rocks. Make sure that you pack all essential equipment for any emergency situation: hiking boots (not shoes), emergency first-aid kits (don’t be like the man who split his hand on the lava), sun hats, and sunscreen. Don’t forget the most essential supply: water, water, and more water. I can’t stress this one enough. There no available streams, although some campgrounds have water-catchment tanks. Remember to pace yourself; it’s not a race, and you won’t receive any accolades to being the first person to reach the summit. Of course, follow this essential rule of camping: Pack out what you pack in, don’t be a litter bug. You are a guest in Pele’s park. Show kokua (respect) and she will, in return, watch over you.

With that, don’t miss Pele’s show of her fire and strength. Look for Pele’s hair, a geological term for volcanic glass that is strewn threw hardened lava in flecks of gold. Watching the lava flow at night is a spectacular sight, one you’ll never forget. Be safe, stay smart, be respectful, and enjoy the beautiful wonderments of what Hawaii has to offer. And remember to take a moment to thank the founding fathers of our National Parks for preserving nature for the generations before us, and for those to come.

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Photo (top): National Geographic