Curtain of Fire – Pāhoa, Hawaii - Atlas Obscura

Pāhoa, Hawaii

Curtain of Fire

An erupting wall of magma. 

When humans breathe, they release carbon dioxide gas that has built up inside them. The Kilauea volcano on the Island of Hawai’i is no different.

It is the world’s most active volcano. At its base, giant curtains of fire spew forth from fissure vents, creating a shifting wall of magma. Interestingly, the curtain of fire requires no explosive activity from the volcano itself. The cause of the fiery curtain is the expansion of gas within the vents and oddly enough, the weight of the lava.

Contrary to the commonly imagined steep-sloped science fair volcano, Kilauea is a shield volcano, meaning it has very shallow slopes. The shallow slopes that form Kilauea and the other volcanoes of Hawai’i Island are constructed as the heavy fluid lava flows away from the volcano, with the help of gravity. In Hawaiian, Kilauea literally translates to “much spreading.” As the lava constantly stretches under the pressure of its own weight, fractures form. It is from these fractures or fissure vents that, squeezed by the massive pressures of the lava itself, fiery curtains of magma erupt.

Know Before You Go

The volcano is constantly changing, every day. Check the National Park Service's website for Kilauea regular updates, and the USGS site for daily updates`i Volcanoes National Park is located on the island of Hawai`i. From Hilo: 30 miles southwest on Highway 11 (a 45 minute drive); from Kailua-Kona: 96 miles southeast on Highway 11 (2 to 2 1/2 hour drive), or 125 miles through Waimea and Hilo via highways 19 and 11 (2 1/2 to 3 hours).From the Jagger museum in Volcano National Park, you can view the Hale Ma'uma'u crater (Tip: get there before sundown and wait for darkness, when the weather is mostly clear. You'll witness beautiful shifting colors, and will see the crater in a different light after dark). You won't actually see a Curtain of Fire from here, but you will see the other-wordly glow of the unseen lava as it illuminates the plumes of smoke and gas, especially at night.However, you can see lava that has flowed out of Pu'u O'o crater up-close and personal. As of June 2016, the NPS has set up a viewing area, in the southern area of Volcanoes National Park. It's a hot, windy, long hike, but totally worth it! Follow Highway 130 to Kalapana, and keep going until you reach the end, where security personnel can tell you where to park, and current conditions. DO NOT GO without a gallon of water per person, sunscreen, and HIKING SHOES! Please respect the private property around you! Check out more here

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