Kau Desert, Hawaii
The Ka'ū Desert is hot, scorched, quake-shaken, bubbling-up, new/dead land, made up of mostly old worn lava, some sand and gravel.
How to get to Kau Desert?
The desert lacks any vegetation due to the consistent northeast trade winds and the rain shadow created by the island's volcanoes. It is also spectacular that this dry and lifeless desert exists just four miles (six km) from a tropical rainforest.
The Kau desert extends across the south-eastern flank of Kilauea volcano is very large and with limited access.
The ocean is on one side and volcanic clifs on the other. Hikers must prepare well in order to cross it.
You have to drive around the Kilauea Caldera on the 11-mile clockwise drive, Crater Rim Road. Also, never forget to take a look into the simmering volcano at selected overlooks. The Jaggar Museum is on the north side of the caldera. You get a good view of the caldera from Uwekahuna Bluff. The Kau Desert is a moonscape on the west side of the caldera that reminds a traveler forcefully how diverse the climate can be in only a few miles distance.
Kau Desert and acid rain
Another wat --A Desert Crossing--If you follow Highway 11 counterclockwise from Kona to the Volcano, you'll get a preview of the Kau Desert, layer upon layer of lava flows, fine ash, and fallout. As you traverse the desert, you cross the Great Crack and the Southwest Rift Zone, a major fault zone that looks like a giant groove in the earth, before you reach Kilauea Volcano.
When you hike past the crater along the Halemaumau Trail, you will be surrounded by smoke and a sulfurous smell. You can make extensive hikes through the volcanic area, aided by maps available at the Kilauea Visitor Center or the Jaggar Museum.
Ka'u desert is in the rain shadow of Kilauea volcano and receives very little rain. Its barrenness also has very much to do with sulfur dioxide escaping the vents in the crater and blowing downwind.
Sulfer dioxide combines with water to form sulfuric acid which falls as acid rain (30-50 inches per year).
Nine miles from National Volcano Park and a hot and dry one mile walk across 800-900 year-old pahoehoe lava flows are preserved footprints of Hawaiian warriors.
These 200 year-old footprints were preserved in accretionary lapilli tuff from a hurricane-like blast of hot gases and ash, also called a base surge. Accretionary lapilli tuff is fine volcanic ash that into forms tiny balls as a result of eruptions that involve water.
The 1790 eruption, which produced this ash, was one of the most devastating explosions in Hawaiian history. The Ka'u Desert is the site where at least 80 Hawaiian warriors suffocated from volcanic ash getting into their lungs. The 1790 eruption occurred at the same time that warriors of Chief Keoua were traveling around Kilauea to Ka'u to oppose the dominant chief, Kamehameha. The footprints of these warriors are preserved in the ash.
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