"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


The faint trail across Kilauea Iki in Volcanoes National Park. Credit: Hawaiigaga.com


On our recent visit to the Big Island of Hawai’i, my geology-loving husband was intrigued at the sight of tiny toy-like hikers crawling across the black floor of Kilauea Iki crater, as we stood with our three-year-old on the uppermost edge of a massive volcanic crater in Volcanoes National Park. Try to imagine it: several hundred feet deep, two and a half miles wide, and about half a mile wide, like Satan’s dirty bathtub with all the water gone. However, where we stood, Kilauea Iki Overlook on the Crater Rim Drive, a frenetic road for tourists to quickly gather the mind-blowing sights of this national park, it seemed like only special people got to hike here.
I admit, the thin grey trail across the caldera seemed pretty cool. Then my husband and I looked down at our daughter, playing with pebbles beside tourists snapping photos. 
“G-Beans,” we said, addressing her by nickname, “wanna go down there?”
Taking her lack of protestation as a positive sign (and boy were we delusional), we decided that yes, we’d enter Kilauea Iki the next morning. An informational placard at Kilauea Iki Overlook warned that the descent into the crater was 400 feet (122 m), the height of a 40-story skyscraper. For city folks, that's small potatoes.
      There was a recommended hike of four miles (6.4 km) that took one into the crater, across it, up the opposite side, and along the precipitous edge. It looked great, but we decided it was a hike intended for older kids and adults. 
      Ahh, my husband and I sighed. Just the other day we had driven halfway up Mauna Kea mountain to see the world-renowned astronomical observatories, only to be rebuffed by a ranger who said we couldn't take a child to the top because of the lack of oxygen. But in 12 years, sure, she could go. 

        Here we were, at another great exploratory opportunity on the Big Island. We stood in the shade of tropical trees, looking wistfully down. Perhaps because that blazing sun was out of our eyes, we could think straight. Our wits hadn't melted out of our brains. Yet. 
We decided that the next morning (note how we thought it would nice and cool in the morning, just like in San Francisco), our nuclear family would take the switchback trail dropping off the parking lot by Thurston Lava Tube, hang out on the crater floor for a few minutes, ogle the lava plateau, and go back up the way we came. Easy peezy. 
Would we cross the plateau with a three-year-old? It looked tempting, but no way, Jose.
We’re responsible parents. Sure we like hiking, but are we fifteen-year-olds in the bodies of thirty-eight-year-olds, capable of hijacking a toddler across a volcanic crater?

Pu'u Pua'i, ground zero of Kilauea Iki. Credit: wikipedia

The girl who blazed trails.
            The next morning, the ranger at the parking lot thought our kid could make the whole hike.
           “Sure, she can,” she hooted at my question about toddlers hiking across Kilauea Iki. “Just bring plenty of water.” 
            We grabbed hats, sunscreen, and a long-sleeved shirt for the kid. Long pants too (on her), our thought process simple: sun protection. We wore sandals, except the kid, who had closed-toe Mary Janes. A couple who had just finished their hike must’ve thought we were nuts, and they insisted on giving us their official trail guide.
            And so we dropped over the edge of the caldera.
The downhill trail was gorgeous—long switchbacks under a towering canopy of rain forest trees and foliage, full of fragrant kahili ginger and the sound of Hawaiian songbirds. Four hundred feet below the trailhead, we reached the crater floor.
Talk about out-of-this-world. We had never seen anything like this crater floor with its black, undulating surface with trickles of steam ghosting out of fissures here and there. Follow the ahu (“stacked rocks”), said our trail guide, and if you couldn’t find those you probably shouldn’t be down there, but the way was visible from the greyish gravel trail stretching across the crater, and a dozen numbered markers.
            Our daughter was in phenomenal spirits. She had walked—no, ran—the entire downhill trail on the side of the crater, and now she struck off across the wide black floor.
It was all fun and games on the crater floor--at first. 
Kilauea Iki erupting in '59. 
Credit: usgs.gov
“We were continually broiled by radiant heat from the fountain and flows and were bathed in strong, at times choking, sulfur dioxide fumes,” wrote D.H. Richter, a USGS scientist in 1959. Before then, Kilauea Iki was twice as deep (800 feet) and covered with trees.
According to our trail guide from the visitor center, one night in November of 1959, the earth began rumbling. A “curtain of lava” blazed out of a crack half a mile long in the crater wall. The crater filled with a “lake of lava,” 86 million tons of molten rock. 
In the end, three days before stopping, the final surge of lava went skyward, 1900 feet (580 m), the highest surge on record in the island, and five times higher than Pu’u Pua’i (“gushing cone” in Hawaiian), ground zero at Kilauea Iki.
Maybe a quarter mile across the lava field, our daughter began to protest. We carried her on our backs and shoulders, our legs moving quickly as we followed the stacked rocks. Her grumpy noises became full-fledged cries, and boy did we feel stupid. She wanted to walk, so we'd set her down. Then she'd want to be carried. So far, nothing really abnormal. 
Did I mention we forgot to bring a hat with a large brim for our daughter?
“Wear my hat, Genevieve,” one parent would say.
“No! I don’t wanna!”
“I’m putting this on you whether you like it or not.”
“No, waaaaaa!
Though you can't hear her, there is sound,
a big, sad sound.

Perhaps to make us feel better, the universe sent hikers with children, though traveling in the opposite direction, and those children were around five to fifteen years old. They gave our girl sympathetic looks and us stony glances. Their parents bared teeth in hot grins, sweat dripping down their middle-aged faces.
We still had to walk through the narrow point,
 then up and around the crater rim trail.

The sun shone and though it was early October, I think the temperature at the overlook was about eighty degrees Fahrenheit. But within the crater, surrounded by black lava and steam vents, the temperature soared.

The trail was undulating to flat as it beelined across the diabolical bathtub, but once we approached Pu’u Pua’i on the far end, the trail herked up and down. The hardened lava had been smooth for most of the walk, but now it was jagged and sharp. When our daughter wanted to walk, we had to carry her for fear she might slice her feet open on a tumble.
By the time we reached the far end of Kilauea Iki, we fully regretted having dragged G-Beans on this hike. We still had to take the sunny switchback up the far side of the caldera, and walk a mile or so on the Crater Rim Trail to the parking lot.
Our daughter was pissed and would not be appeased. Her fists pounded on the top of her father’s head, mashing his hat, and my hat (which was on her head in fits and bursts) often went sailing through the air.
JRR Tolkien's inspiration for Mordor?
A funny thing happened when we approached the end of the hike. Laughter, sweet childish laughter.
“Let me down! I wanna walk!”
“No, you’re too slow. We gotta get back before you melt.”
“No! Let me down!”
Upon her insistence, our girl was placed on her feet. We were under trees now, amongst the ferns and towering ohia lehua trees. Our daughter gave a smile, and went trotting forward, ready to tell the world that (one) this three-year-old had traversed the mighty Kilauea Iki crater, and (two) she had escaped her parents.
How our daughter felt, or Kilauea Iki in '59.
Credit: USGS.gov
What a lovely trail through the rainforest
on the edge of Kilauea Iki,
we were all thinking. 
ABOVE: On the caldera floor. Note Little One is having doubts
while Parents look stupidly eager. 

BELOW: Kitty's moment in the limelight. Note the dour expression
even on this stuffed animal. 

Look where we're gonna walk today. Now go!
The Sun, aka Eye of Sauron.
Credit: Onifaux, 2007
Respite in the shade of a lone ohia lehua tree. 
Our daughter: "No more pictures!"

A happier child looking back at the long way she came.

A total trooper by the trail's end.
                 Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island

MORDOR!!  Credit: New Line Cinema, 2004

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Urban Hike with a Haunted Harvest Festival--Oct. 28, 2012

Sorry for the last minute notice, but I want to invite you and yours to another good group walk with the kiddos, outdoors having a hoot the old fashioned way. This time, there’s a new and different kind of San Franciscan street fair happening at the end of our walk, the Visitacion Valley Haunted Harvest Festival!

When: Sunday October 28th, starting at 10 am—rain or shine!

Starting Point: Native Plant Garden in the Visitacion Valley Greenway (Tioga Avenue, between Delta and Rutland Streets) 

Ending Point: the Haunted Harvest Fair (Leland Avenue, b/t Bayshore Blvd and Raymond Street)

This will be a mellow walk, downhill, traveling through gardens and pollinator's corridors, culminating at the exciting, fun, and free Haunted Harvest Festival, a phenomenal event that your kid is gonna go gonzo for. 

When you’re ready to go home, just ramble back to where you began, at your leisure. The fair continues till 4 pm. 

What You’ll See & Do   

We’ll walk through the stunning Vis Valley Greenway. It’s is an award-winning series of six gardens arranged in a checkerboard-like pattern down the slope of the ridge that is McLaren Park. They’re a great example of how motivated people transform neglected lots into lush gardens and pollinator corridors.

We’ll stop for a snack around 10:45 and some hanging out/playing in the playground at the Children’s Garden (on the north side of Teddy Ave, between Rutland and Alpha Streets). If you happen to be running late, this is a great place to connect with the group.

We’ll continue on through the Herb Garden, Community Garden, and Hans Schiller Plaza to end at Leland Avenue for the street fair celebrating the season.

We’ll arrive at the Haunted Harvest Festival by 11:30. 

The toddler/kid costume parade is at 11:45, and the organizers of the fair hope your kid will be dressed up and want to strut his/her stuff across the stage! My kid will be doing it too (unless she has a tantrum).  :-)

Elsewhere at the festival, you’ll find:
--free trick or treat bags (filled with popcorn) for the first 600 children

--haunted houses
-- bouncy houses
--themed areas (a ship, a castle, and “skull island”)
--kids’ hands-on activities (art project table run by Scrap, face painting, crafts, etc.)
--live music and performances
--food trucks
--local arts and crafts
--a BMX show with a bicycle give-away
--and more

We would be so happy if you could join us, so please grab the kids and the costumes, and come out this Sunday. If you’re interested in taking a hike through McLaren Park before reaching the Vis Valley Greenway at 10, email me for details about meeting earlier. Hope you can join!

Jessica and Marshall
jericahahn (at) hotmail.com

For more info on the Greenway, please visit:

Learning to be an urban farmer in the Greenway with Anne Seeman, one of the VVG's founders
Where We'll Meet at 10 am--The top of the Native Plant Garden on Tioga Ave

Visitacion Valley Greenway

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Upcoming Event: Nature Quest on October 20th

Arrowhead Marsh photo courtesy Wikimedia.com

Join a "nature quest" at Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland this Saturday October 20th. It's free, outdoors, and bound to be fun for all. 

From 10 am to noon, your family will explore watery habitats, search for treasure, and learn from nature and naturalists on hand. 

All ages are welcome, though children ages 4 and older are especially encouraged. 

You'll find more information, a downloadable activity sheet for kids, and a precise map here: http://baynature.org/event/nature-quest-at-arrowhead-marsh/

This quest is the combined effort of Urbia Adventure League, a SF pair who transform walks in parks into nature quests; Bay Nature, the nonprofit nature magazine and website; Golden Gate Audubon; and East Bay Regional Parks.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012


On a mountain road in Ka'u


Ka'u District, Big Island
Hawai’i was a second home to me in the 1980s, as my mom scratched out a place for herself over the years. If the Big Island was likened to a diamond with Kona on the left and Hilo on the right, then the place I know best is the southern area, known on the Big Island as Ka’u District.

My mom and some of her friends bought land within a block of each other in a rural subdivision, Green Sands. There was no electricity, and water was hauled in after being collected at the Wai’ohinu Park spigots. Ka’alu’alu Road didn’t even have a road sign, I think; we just knew to turn off the main highway onto the road parallel to the drainage ditch between the towns of Wai’ohinu and Na’alehu.
Walking on South Point
One family arrived in a renovated school bus they had driven across the mainland and shipped over the Pacific. Another family came like mine, occasionally. Most people had kids, and by luck they were all around the same age. Neighbors were far enough apart that the woods of haole koa and Christmas berry became the children’s territory while the parents hand-cleared their chosen spots, strung up hammocks, and built shacks on stilts with corrugated tin roofs. Parents could say, “Go play outside” and have just about nothing to worry over.
Tutu's home

For years we just camped, then there was a 12x12 shack, and finally a barn-like house. We went from a porcelain toilet bowl in an outhouse made of beach mats to indoor plumbing.

Now as then, this was the epitome of the countryside for this city-slicker gal. The only concrete was keeping a post in place. Out here the dirt roads glitter with olivine crystals, a color that makes my husband think of apple flavored Jolly Ranchers. When night falls, a million stars sparkle, and even the Milky Way appears as a long, whitish smudge across the dome of the sky.
The Green Sands playground
Green Sands Beach

There are more people living around her now, naturally. More dogs, more roosters crowing at 3 a.m. But it’s still the deep countryside of Ka’u District, the southernmost district in all of the United States. This autumn, my husband and I brought our three-year-old out here. We were fortunate to be joined by Tutu, our daughter’s grandmother, who is now seventy.

The few jaunts I’ll be writing about are not exhaustive by any means--they are slivers of a great place to explore. Check back soon to read about some hikes on the Big Island. Mahalo!
on Punalu'u Beach
Ka'u horse

Dinner in Ka'u

Under the trees of Waiohinu Park

Hanging on the back porch

Foggy, a Ka'u cowboy

The best thrift store in Ka'u, located in Na'alehu
Tutu's hug

Waiohinu cuteness

Tutu's little shack
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