The Devastation Trail: Explore the 1959 Eruption of Kilauea Iki Crater

Just beyond Puu Puai is the trailhead to the aptly named Devastation Trail. This particular trail allows for a peek into the destruction of the 1959 eruption of Kilauea Iki crater. Prior to the 1959 eruption, the surrounding area was a lush forest, filled with ohia. The 1959 eruption destroyed all of this.

“Three months before the November 14 – December 20, 1959 eruption, the area was shaken by multiple earthquakes. At first the earthquakes were deep, originating about 55 km below the volcano, but later they became shallow. On November 14 there were 10 times as many earthquakes as the day before, and the intensity of the earthquakes also increased.By nightfall, the earthquakes stopped, and the eruption began. The fissure eruption produced fountains of lava which cascaded to the floor of the crater some 100 m below the erupting fissure. Forest fires were also noted. Over the next few days, the lava fountains became higher and higher, eventually reaching a height of more than 500 meters. Erupting pumice started building a new cinder cone that was later named ” Puʻu Puaʻi”, (gushing hill). A lava lake also developed on the crater floor.”

Throughout the trail you will notice tree molds, a memory of the ohia forest that once dominated this area. Tree molds are produced when trees are surrounded and burned by fluid molten lava. When the lava cools and drains away, a standing structure of the tree is left behind (lava tree). When the tree trunk is engulfed by the lava, a cylindrical hollow is made, this is the tree mold.

The short, half-mile walk along the Devastation Trail is as much eerie as it is eye-opening. The ghostly tree skeletons stand in sharp contrast to the barren land. If you look closely, you can see artifacts of Pele’s Hair in the ground. These thin, volcanic threads, are formed when “small particles of molten material are thrown into the air and spun out by the wind into long hair-like strands.”

The Devastation Trail is a short one-mile roundtrip hike. The first half-mile will bring you to a lookout point that will allow you to peak into Kilauea Iki Crater. From this lookout, you might be able to spot hikers on the faint, white trail.

Follow the sign to see the devastation. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Follow the sign to see the devastation. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Leave the berries for the nene! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Leave the berries for the nene! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Let's do this. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Let’s do this. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Barren landscape. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Barren landscape. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Follow the paved path. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Follow the paved path. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Lone ohia. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Lone ohia. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Kilauea Iki Lookout. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kilauea Iki Lookout. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This is the beginning of the Devastation Trail from the Puu Puai end. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This is the beginning of the Devastation Trail from the Puu Puai end. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Can you guess which Beatles song I'm thinking about. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

Can you guess which Beatles song I’m thinking about. Photo by Michelle Sagucio.

 

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Michelle Sagucio.

Total Distance: 1 mile roundtrip

Total Time: 30-45 minutes

Directions to Devastation Trail: After entering the main entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, turn left and follow the signs to the toward Thurston Lava Tube. The Devastation Trail parking lot and trailhead is located approximately 1/2 mile from Puʻu Puaʻi.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.