The Lava Tube

Lava tubes bring bad news. Just ask the former residents of Kalapana. But from a metaphorical perspective, a lava tube isn’t just something that destroys your home, lays waste to your land and the roads around it for miles. It can be used to hide secrets. Big secrets. Secrets your government doesn’t want you to know about. Whooooooooooooooooo …..

Sorry about that. Got carried away for a second. Moving on:

A secret government lair.

Behold Kaumana Caves. This cavern, now part of a county park, was created during the Mauna Loa eruption of 1880-1881, which threatened the village of Hilo. The river of pahoehoe lava moving downhill solidified and crusted over. Rock, it turns out, is an excellent insulator, allowing the solid lava to continue to move downhill much farther than it would have without the protection of a lava tube. Given an uninterrupted, steady supply, these tubes will extend themselves for miles, all the way from the vent to the ocean. When the supply is interrupted, the molten lava drains out, leaving a cavity that is mostly hidden from the world.

The lava is such a good insulator that it may take years for it to cool. And when it does, it becomes home to some of Hawaii’s strangest citizens.

This page has more information about troglobites, the eyeless relatives of insects that have spent all their lives in the darkest recesses of the island. The information on this page comes courtesy of Robert Pacheco, who happens to be a member of the Board of Land and Natural Resources … a repeat winner of our Lava Tube award.

Because lava tubes are so good at hiding things, the ancient Hawaiians used them to hide the bones of their ancestors. They probably also used the tubes to hide themselves during outbreaks of war.

In the 1960s, with the imminent threat of nuclear war, the Civil Defense figured that Oahu with its many military bases was a prime target for attack. So our county Civil Defense chief, Myron O. Isherwood, went around the island to inspect lava tubes and their capacity for sheltering thousands of civilians from the fallout. Fortunately, this never came to pass.

There are many lava tubes around the Big Island, but only two of them are on public land. One of them is Kaumana Caves. The other, more famous one is Nahuku in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, more commonly known as Thurston Lava Tube, after the publisher of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.

The Big Island is home to the longest lava tube in the world. Kazumura Cave, at 40 miles, runs from Kilauea volcano near the extinct Ailaau vent to Hawaiian Paradise Park. Though this is cave runs under private property, for the right price you can check it out yourself.

Scientists have found evidence of lava tubes on the moon and on Mars, and they speculate that these would be ideal places for a manned colony to protect humans from the harmful effects of solar radiation and cosmic rays.

The point of all this is that if the government wants to hide something so that nobody will ever find it, they put it in a lava tube. If you want their secrets to be exposed to public scrutiny, bring a torch of light. Please join the Big Island Press Club on March 16, the birthday of James Madison, when we name the recipients of the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light awards, given to the entity, agency or person who exemplifies the best and worst ideals of the Sunshine Law for the previous year.

Who do you think will win the Lava Tube?