In the Halema'uma'u crater, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park ranger Dean Gallagher explains the volcanic forces that created the landscape around Kilauea. The parks covers Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, both active volcanoes, and has been a tourist attraction since the 1840s. It now welcomes more than a million visitors every year.
Hawaii – Fact Check

A place for geological time travel

Photo by Bill Harby

Hawaii – Fact Check A place for geological time travel

The people who make their homes up here around Hawaii's Volcano village are a primordial soup of lop-sided left-brained scientists and right-brained artists along with fourth-generation farmers.

Bill Harby
Bill Harby Writer

They all live in remarkable harmony with each other, and are involved in all kinds of environmental and liberal community causes. For instance, when a real estate speculator from the Mainland US bought a rainforest parcel several years ago and proceeded to clear-cut the treasured native forest border-to-border before building a cookie-cutter house, anonymous villagers spray-painted the street in front with one giant word: SHAME! (In a sweet piece of poetic justice, it turned out the speculator had cleared the wrong lot, and had to tear down the house.)

The scientists – geologists, biologists, botanists – mostly work for the national park. Like Dean Gallagher. He’s an interpretive park ranger, which means his job – if you can call it that – is mostly to lead hikes onto the ropey, glassy black lava rock of Halema‘uma‘u crater and explain the geologic forces and evolutionary processes to visitors. Gallagher also plays Hawaiian nose flute, and his hobby is sub-miniature photography. Clearly, he’s not your everyday Joe. “Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is quite literally a chance for people to travel back in geological time,” he tells a group one day on the crater floor as the fat white plume of steam rises from Halema‘uma‘u to join the clouds.

Gallagher is a masterful interpreter of the natural history of this place. He is knowledgeable and articulate, and deeply invested in the ecology of this place. When describing the grim plight of the endangered ‘ua‘u Hawaiian petrel, a ground-dwelling bird whose colony on the volcano is being decimated by feral cats (30 nests recently down to three), his chin quivers, his voice gets husky. “This place transforms people,” says the ranger. “It’s this … birthplace.”

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