Kilauea Volcano

Halema'uma'u Crater, Kilauea overlook

Halema’uma’u Crater, Kilauea overlook.

In Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can stand and watch the Kilauea Volcano violently spew molten lava. An active volcano on the island’s south eastern side, this hot spot called Kilauea, in one way or another, dominates the entire island.

 

The Big Island, larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, has five volcanoes. Three are currently active, one is dormant, and one is extinct. Of the three active volcanoes, Kilauea (pronounced kill-ah-way-ah) is the most active.

 

The other two active volcanoes on the Big Island: Mauna Loa and Hualalai (see map below).

 

Close-up, Halema'uma'u Crater at Kilauea Volcano

Close-up, Halema’uma’u Crater at Kilauea Volcano. The flames are lava.

There are many craters, vents, and lava tubes surrounding Kilauea.

 

Kilauea (meaning “spew” or “much spreading” in Hawaiian) is 300,000 to 600,000 years old; it emerged from under the sea approximately 100,000 years ago. The first well-documented eruption occurred in 1823, though verbal stories go back much farther. It continues to erupt to this day.

 

Lava Tube, Big Island

Lava Tube, Big Island. Open and lit for tours.

The current Kilauea lava explosions of today began on January 3, 1983. Amazingly, it has continued to erupt for 33 years. One of the longest-duration volcanic eruptions in the world, it has added 499 acres (202 ha) of land to the island.

 

Since 1983 towns and villages have been obliterated, 214 structures were buried, and nine miles of highway were decimated by lava 115 feet (35m) thick.

 

Historically, some years are explosive, other years are not. From 1823 to 1924 Halema’uma’u Crater (Hawaiian for “house of eternal fire”) was a lake of lava. Sometimes the crater was so full of molten lava that it overflowed, spilling rivers of fiery lava across the caldera.

 

Then in 1924, underground contact between magma and groundwater set off violent steam explosions. One explosion hurled an 8 ton (8,128 kg) boulder 1,000 feet (304 m) into the air.  More Kilauea info here.

 

In addition to the volcanic eruptions that burn down forests and smother struggling plant growth, this animated landscape of constant tectonic movement creates earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic fog.

 

Photo of Kilauea Halema'uma'u Crater in 1924

Photo of Kilauea Halema’uma’u Crater in 1924. From: The Big Island by Glen Grant et al.

To see the spurting geysers of red-hot lava, you can hire a helicopter. Less expensive, a visit to the Jaggar Museum; it provides ample information about Kilauea’s activities over the centuries, and good views of Halema’uma’u Crater.

 

View from Volcano House. Photo W.Nowicki. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Lodging at Volcano House, a historic lodge on the edge of Kilauea, is another way to see the volcano. Beautifully renovated, they hosted many famous guests including Mark Twain and president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

Hawaiian mythical legend embraces Pele, the goddess of fire. It is said that she resides inside the Halema’uma’u Crater.

 

Kilauea cone Pu’u’O’o, 1983. Photo: G.E. Ulrich, USGS. Courtesy Wikipedia

As we watched the hot lava flaring up, fuming, and spurting inside this crater, we saw an amazing fiery spectacle.

 

It is the most primal form of heat this planet has…and it’s alive and volatile and wildly beautiful.

 

Kilauea Iki Crater with hikers on trail

Kilauea Iki Crater with hikers on trail

Photo credit: Athena Alexander, unless otherwise specified

 

PS – I’m taking a break for a few weeks, returning in February with more stories and adventures to share. See you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five volcanoes of The Big Island. Courtesy Wikipedia

Map of Hawaii highlighting Hawaii (island).svg

Hawaiian Islands, The Big Island in red. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Answering Your Questions

Golden Gate GraveyardI have happily received emails and questions lately about the process of my novel writing. In response, I have written a brief page addressing how I determine aspects like the setting, plot, characters, and researching.

 

Visit the “Writing Novels” tab above to learn more about how I write mystery novels. You’re welcome to leave a comment if you want. If you have an additional question that didn’t get answered here, you can also contact me at my email address, via the “Contact” tab.

 

Keep the questions coming, and thank you for your interest.  Tell a friend!

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

 

Visiting Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is the most visited attraction in San Francisco, entertaining over 1.3 million visitors every year. The Los Angeles Times declared it the seventh most popular landmark in the world (06.16.15).

 

Every day one boat after another leaves Pier 33 loaded with Alcatraz-bound tourists who are curious to visit the famous prison, learn the notorious history. As a San Francisco resident I had already visited here, then returned one day in 2014 to study the setting for a scene in my novel.

 

How Alcatraz began. After gold was discovered in California in 1848, prospectors, businessmen, and families arrived here in droves. It was determined then that the increased value–millions of dollars worth of mined gold–created a need for defense and protection.

Alcatraz dock

Alcatraz dock

Thereafter it became a:

  1. Fortress and military installation (1853-1933) ;
  2. Federal Penitentiary (1933-1963)
  3. Native American protest occupation (1964, 1969-1971)
  4. U.S. National Park (1972-present)
Alcatraz cell block

Alcatraz cell block

Read more history, overview here.

 

Touring “The Rock” requires  reservations and involves a fun ten-minute boat ride on the San Francisco Bay.

 

More about touring here.

 

 

Visitors take a self-guided tour with audio tapes narrated by prison guards. You can stay at the island all day until the last boat departure, but most people stay a few hours.

 

Alcatraz cell

Alcatraz cell

In addition to being a tourist prison island, Alcatraz (the Spanish word for “pelican”) is also a prominent site for nesting birds; and has tide pools, sea mammals and other wildlife, even glowing millipedes.

 

The day we were there we saw Anna’s hummingbirds, a variety of sparrows, plenty of gulls and cormorants.

 

National Park Service nature info here.

Glowing millipedes on Alcatraz here.

 

The boat drops you off at the dock, a ranger gives you an overview of the facility and the rules. There’s a steep walk up to the prison, passing by old military gunnery, the water tower and guard towers, other old buildings, and gardens.

 

Alcatraz scaled model at Pier 33, Jet (in pink)scoping it out

Alcatraz scaled model at Pier 33. Jet (in sunglasses) scoping it out.

All the photos here are from that October day when I went to observe and take notes. Golden Gate Graveyard readers will recognize some of these sights from the Alcatraz scene.

 

Once you get up to the cell blocks, you can walk around inside the prison, see where prisoners showered, slept, and ate. Outside you view the warden’s half-burned house, the lighthouse, beautiful views of San Francisco and other sites.

 

Angel Island from Alcatraz

Angel Island from Alcatraz

Having written and researched a lot of history about San Francisco for this novel, I find two things especially fascinating:  over the years once-serious facilities, like Alcatraz, have turned into frolicking tourist attractions. And how curious it is to witness visitors’ intrigue and animation at this decrepit and defunct old prison.

 

The prison has been extensively featured in books (ahem), films, video games, TV series, and more. A popular new Alcatraz-related attraction is the Escape Alcatraz Drop Ride at the San Francisco Dungeon. It is a stomach-dropping ride simulating an attempted escape.

 

Alcatraz Control Room

Alcatraz Control Room

All modern-day Alcatraz folklore stems from the inescapability of this maximum security prison. It was long touted as the place from which no man ever left alive.

 

But is that true? Over 50 years after three prisoners escaped and their bodies were never found, there is still speculation and “Search for the Truth” documentaries. I recently watched a 1979 film starring Clint Eastwood called “Escape from Alcatraz.” It’s pretty good, shows life on The Rock and is based on the actual escape.

 

For an old prison that hasn’t seen a prisoner in over half a century, Alcatraz sure is a lively place. I’m happy it makes for good fiction.

 

Alcatraz view of San Francisco

Alcatraz view of San Francisco

 

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

Golden Gate GraveyardIf you haven’t bought Golden Gate Graveyard yet, it is available in paperback ($20) or digital format ($6.99). Buy a copy for yourself or a friend…but whatever you do:  stay legal.

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Celebrating Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year the Delta and Central Valley of northern California come alive when thousands of sandhill cranes settle here for the winter. My recent post highlighted the migrating ducks; here is a post, with pleasure, on the cranes.

 

Originally named for their migration through the sand hills and dunes of Nebraska, they fly here from the northern part of the continent every winter. See map and links below.

 

Sandhill Cranes, California

Sandhill Cranes, California

The sandhill cranes are mesmerizing to observe with their distinctive bugling calls, animated mating dances, graceful foraging, and stately appearance. A social bird, they travel in large flocks as a form of protection.

 

Approximately four feet tall (1.21 m) with a wingspan of over seven feet (2.13 m), the long-legged Grus canadensis is an omnivore. They eat insects, roots of aquatic plants, rodents, amphibians, snails, reptiles, berries, and cultivated grains.

 

Sandhill Cranes near Cosumnes River Preserve, CA

Sandhill Cranes near Cosumnes River Preserve, CA

With one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird, sandhill cranes date back 2.5 million years. Over-hunted in the Gold Rush days, and listed as threatened in 1983, the population has made a recent comeback.

 

Wikipedia overview.

 

Sandhill Cranes in rice field

Sandhill Cranes in rice field

 

 

Winter in northern California is typically cool in the 40s F. (4 C ) with frequent rain storms. The cranes forage in shallow wetlands, a habitat that is diminishing across America. In addition, some states allow hunting of sandhill cranes, though not in California. So here they have a haven where it is safe to traverse the wet fields and open skies in search of meals.

 

Sandhill Cranes; parent on right, juvenile on left

Sandhill Cranes; parent on right, juvenile on left

 

The Nature Conservancy has worked cooperatively with farmers for many years toward attracting the cranes for winter “stopovers.”

 

This worldwide non-profit organization pays California rice farmers to keep their fields flooded and to leave rice straw acreage in place, providing suitable crane roosting and foraging habitat. While it is not a huge moneymaker, the farmers respect the land as crane habitat.

 

In the spring the cranes will return to their breeding grounds in the northern parts of  North America and northeastern Siberia, usually producing two eggs per season. With a lifespan of 20-30 years, cranes mate for life.

 

Sandhill cranes, California

Sandhill cranes, California

I have spent over two decades traipsing around these back roads, watching for this bird that I am so happy to greet every winter. I have watched many people (birders and not) at refuges and along the country roads–they are enthralled with the cranes, stop and watch the spectacle of these flocks.

 

How can you not be transformed by thousands of cranes congregating in a field?

The sound of a large flock of sandhill cranes by Bobby Wilcox

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Sandhill Cranes, Lodi, Calif.

Sandhill Cranes, Lodi, Calif.

 

 

 

Where to look for sandhill cranes in northern California:

Consumnes River Preserve

Isenberg Sandhill Crane Preserve

 

Sandhill Crane Range Map

Sandhill Crane Range Map. Courtesy allaboutbirds.org

 

Our Migrating Ducks

Cinnamon Teal, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Calif. Male in front, female in back.

Cinnamon Teal, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Calif. Male in front, female in back.

Fall and spring bird migrations are exciting natural phenomenon that occur every year in all parts of the world, as it has been for millenium. Additionally, amid milder climates of the Central Valley in California, the migrating birds reside here in agricultural fields and refuge ponds for the winter.

 

American Wigeon, male

American Wigeon, male

From November through January there are hundreds of thousands of wintering birds here that we don’t see at other times of the year, especially ducks and geese, but also cranes and other bird varieties. The migratory route in California is called the Pacific Flyway, and the birds travel here from numerous northern locations.

 

Northern Pintail, Colusa Nat'l. Wildlife Refuge, Calif.

Northern Pintail, Colusa Nat’l. Wildlife Refuge, Calif.

Photographed here are a few of the ducks that we are lucky to have visit for the winter. By mid-February they will almost all be gone.

 

Buffleheads, SNWR; male, left; female, right

Buffleheads, SNWR; male, left; female, right

Ducks such as mallards and coots are here year-round, so they are not pictured here.

 

There are four migratory routes in North America and additional migratory routes in the eastern hemisphere. See maps below.

Pintails, Sacramento NWR

Pintails, Sacramento NWR

More info:

Pacific Flyway

North American migration routes

General Bird Migration

 

When they arrive and when they depart varies every year, depending on many factors, especially climate. The bird species also vary from year to year. Sometimes there are larger populations than other years, depending on how successful and/or brutal the year has been.

 

Northern Shoveler, California

Northern Shoveler, California

Like anything in nature, there are a large amount of variables and nothing is predictable. For me, that’s the true joy of nature.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

Image result for bird migration flyways

World Bird Migration Flyways. Courtesy WysInfo.com

 

U.S. Waterfowl Flyways. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

While birding in California’s Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge recently, we came upon this Loggerhead Shrike. This five-photo series demonstrates the shrike’s success in the span of one minute.

 

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

They hunt like a raptor, even have a hooked bill for impaling prey; but are classified as songbirds. While the bill resembles a raptor’s, they do not have talons. A shrike can, however, kill and carry an animal as big as itself.

 

You will find them mostly in open areas. They perch from an elevated height, assess and hunt from their perch, then swoop down and attack with a jab at the neck. Sounds like a raptor, doesn’t it?

 

sacto_shrike_consumingIn California year-round and endemic to North America, they are about the size of an American Robin. See map below. Wikipedia info here.

 

Lanius ludovicianus have a large and variable diet including large insects, rodents, small birds, bats, amphibians, and reptiles. Also dubbed the “butcher bird,” they will kill bigger prey by skewering  them onto a sharp thorn or barbed wire. They use their sharp bill for severing vertebrae.

 

sacto_shrike_swallowing

Down the hatch

Sometimes shrikes store their cache and return later (like a leopard). They are one of the few birds who can eat poisonous monarch butterflies by impaling them, and then waiting a few days for the toxins to break down.

 

It was raining and we were on an auto tour in a fierce winter storm.

 

We don’t get to see them too often, and in fact their population has been declining by 3% every year since 1966 (allaboutbirds.org).  Scientists have many speculations, including pesticides ingested by the insect diet. Whenever one does appear, we wait and watch and consider ourselves very lucky.

 

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

In driving rain and temperatures in the mid-30s (2 C), how did this warrior find a preying mantis? The preying mantis was probably immobilized by the near-freezing temperature…I’m glad I wasn’t.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Loggerhead Shrike Range Map

allaboutbirds.org

 

 

 

Outdoor Ice Skating in California

Embarcadero ice rink, San Francisco, Ferry bldg. on right

Embarcadero ice rink, San Francisco, Ferry Bldg. on right

Outdoor skating in sunny California — how does that work?

 

I went to San Francisco’s Embarcadero rink last week, to check it out. For years I had heard friends talk about it, but I was skeptical, having grown up in Wisconsin where freezing temperatures were always part of the package.

 

Ice skating in San Francisco includes mild temperatures, sunshine, and palm trees. The rink is portable, installed every November for the holiday season. Aluminum segments measuring 3×30 feet are assembled, accompanied by tents offering skate rentals and storage lockers.

 

There is a company who specializes in temporary outdoor skating rinks, they service cities around the world. Then sometime after New Years Day it all comes down until next November.

 

San Francisco

San Francisco in winter – hats, scarves, and gloves optional

For $11 per person, it offers excitement, exercise, and a few wobbles and tumbles at no extra charge.

 

San Francisco Embarcadero Ice Rink photos and info.

 

It so popular that skaters have to make reservations, are committed to a timed session. Music is pumped in and a Zamboni smoothes the ice in between sessions.

 

In Wisconsin, we skated on huge expanses of frozen lakes and ponds; and quickly figured out where the smoothest ice was. Every winter my father also rolled out plastic sheets and transformed our dormant vegetable garden into the neighborhood ice rink.

 

So to me the outdoor rinks in California seem odd; but the Zamboni, after all, was invented in California.

 

The Model A Zamboni

The first Zamboni. Courtesy Zamboni Ice Resurfacers.

The ice-smoothing machine was invented in the Los Angeles area by two brothers and their cousin, the Zambonis, in 1940. They used the Ford Model A as a prototype.

 

Ice melts in warm weather, but the magical Zamboni comes along and scrapes the chips and fills in the gaps. It’s a real science, making ice, read about it here.

 

Personally, I had enough of cold weather to last me a lifetime. It was fun as a kid, but then I grew up; drove my first car across an ice patch into a concrete wall, lost a million mittens, and was always freezing. So when I got old enough, I moved to California.

 

Still, the snow is pristine and hushing, and creates some of the most lovely vistas. I still find it beautiful to look at.

 

I like to watch the ice skaters circling the rink, I like to look at beautiful photos of snow, and I like traveling to the tropics. It’s a wonderful world, having these options.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

Here are a few places I go for beautiful snow adventures:

adventure69degreesnorth.com – Inger and Tor ski Banff, Canada

alittlebitoutoffocus.comMike lives in the Alps

madlyinlovewithlife.com – Jeannie delights in Alberta, Canada

oldplaidcamper.com – Plaidcamper often hikes in wintry Canada wilderness

port4u.net – Sherry captures the beauty in NYC

traveltalesoflife.com – Sue cross-country skis in Canada

 

Golden Gate GraveyardIn case you want more of San Francisco, I know a good book written by someone I know. Oh yeah, me.

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