Sunday, November 5, 1967 — we were awakened at 6:30 a.m. when the phone rang. A friend’s voice said, “The Volcano is Erupting!” It didn’t take us long to get going! We jumped in the car and drove the 30 miles up the mountain to see “our” volcano, — the world’s only “drive-in” volcano.
At the park entrance I stopped the car in surprise to take a picture of a small hand-written sign in the middle of the road with an arrow — TO Eruption —–> The eruption was in the biggest of the craters, Halemaumau, home of Madam Pele, the goddess of the Volcano. The crater was 1/2 mile in diameter and 500 feet deep when the eruption started.
We parked and hurried to the viewing stand on the rim of the crater. The wooden platform was jammed with people, but Betty was able to wiggle to the front to take pictures.
What a sight! The bright orange molten lava was bubbling 50 to 100 feet high in several long streams of beautiful fountains. The whole crater had filled up with 80 feet of lava lake with a black crust that swirled as new fountains burst through. The sulfur smoke was almost overpowering when the wind blew at us. There was a constant hiss and powerful roar; like the breaking of waves on the beach. The roar was almost lost in the wind, but it increased our sense of awe at this fantastic show of Nature’s incredible power and beauty–almost indescribable.
And wind! We hadn’t expected the wind! Rock melts at 2,000 degrees, and the tremendous heat which we could feel blowing on our faces created a thermal area with wind was circling the crater at gusts up to 50 miles an hour. Sprinkle that liberally with ash, cinders, and smoke, so it was obvious why the rangers were wearing face masks and goggles.
A ranger with a bullhorn delighted us by announcing “Good morning, The Department of Interior is pleased to bring you this eruption this morning.” HA!
The ranger alerted us to wind devils (whirlwinds) coming and advised leaving. Betty and I were already started when a gust of wind blew us flat — Betty on the bottom so I had a soft landing. 🙂 I looked up to see a crowd of people running toward us on the path with coats over their heads. We were about to be trampled! God saved us by having the leader men in the crowd scoop us up and carry us to the parking lot. Whew!
One night we went up at midnight to miss the crowd — ha, about 100 other people had the same idea. The volcano erupting at night was incredibly beautiful with the same hypnotic magnetism as staring into a fire at dancing flames — but with the flame of molten lava fountaining on a constantly changing dance floor of black lava crust, spider webbed with flowing strands of fiery orange liquid rock. What a magnificent experience!
Back then, there were no barriers around the crater rim, and people were going right up to the edge to look down at the flames. When we left at 3:30 a.m. there were still crowds of people and camera tripods silhouetted against the bright orange light from the crater.