A’a

Alex Clarke

I knew this holiday would be like one big field trip the moment it was dreamed up; what I didn’t know was quite how amazing this stuff would be in real life.

Of course no geology course would be complete without learning about volcanoes. I knew the concept behind flood basalts from studying them—what no textbook can show you though is any scale. The Craters of the Moon is vast! You can easily stand on the edge of the crater a look out as far as you can see and see nothing but black lava.

Pahoehoe lava

Despite my GCSEs and A-Levels, I still found myself unable to explain the features we saw, fortunately there we frequent boards explaining in layman’s terms (and a jolly good they were as well) the processes that formed it.

Cinder cone
Actually seeing the crater of the volcano was quite impressive, having seen many-a-video of Hawaii erupting I was able to imagine what it must have been like to witness the actual event.

One thing I did know from my lessons though (I’m glad four years counted for something!) was the difference between the smooth Pahoehoe (its a Hawaiian word) lava that we actually got to walk on and the sharp a’a (blame the Hawaiians for that word as well) lava that would have mangled my brand new walking boots if I was to attempt to walk on.

Atop the cinder cone
Lava tubes were also part of our syllabus but only touched on; they form when the outside of a lava flow cools and hardens while the inside is still hot and continues to flow out. I never thought I might actually get to walk in one though, but that's exactly what we did. If I'm going to honest, to a non-geologist they probably weren't that interesting—you could barely see in some of them—but knowing the significance they really were quite interesting.

Too interesting in fact, as we all ended up rather sunburnt and dehydrated. Well, at least we won't make the mistake of walking miles and miles over an old lava flow with no water again.

Feed the bears

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