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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers pause to look over the summit from Mauna Loa from the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii Graphic From Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

A view from the summit of Hualalai to Mauna Loa Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Volcanoes of Hawaii Island

The Hawaiian Archipelago, part of the Hawaiian Island-Emperor Seamount chain, is the most isolated island group earth and is comprised entirely of volcanic islands and their fringing reefs.  The archipelago was formed as one of the Earth’s great tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate, moved steadily northwest over a stationary plume of molten material welling up from the Earth’s mantle, called a “hot spot”.

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Fumes bellow from skylights in an active lava tube on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Photo by Kelly Kuchman

Creating a chain of volcanic islands that, today, stretches from the Aleutian Islands to the Big Island of Hawaii, this hotspot gave rise to at least 129 separate volcanoes in the past 86 million years.  There are 19 islands and atolls, and dozens of separate islets, seamounts, reefs and shoals in the Hawaiian Island portion of this chain, stretching from Kure Atoll to Hawaii Island (please go here for a complete discussion of the geologic history of the Hawaiian Islands).

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Halema'uma'u Crater and Eruption on Kilauea, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawai’i is the youngest island in the Archipelago and first began forming about a million years ago as volcanic vents opened above the mantle “hot spot” on the ocean bottom and molten lava began pouring onto the sea floor. Over the centuries, the making of the Big Island as we know it today eventually entailed the growth and conjoining of six separate volcanoes, building all the way up from the seafloor, some 18,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.  These volcanoes, from northwest to southeast, are named Mahukona, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and become younger as one moves north to south.

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Lava Flowing Into the Sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Mahukona Volcano, just off the Big Island’s northwest coast, was the first volcano to start forming. Now submerged beneath the surface of the ocean because it is sinking into the Earth’s crust under its own vast weight, Mahukona is no longer visible.  As the Pacific Plate slowly continued moving northwestward over the hotspot, the location of the rising magma moved relatively southeastward, and through time the rest of the Big Island volcanoes formed along that path.

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Kohala Mountain from the slopes of Mauna Kea Photo by Donald B MacGowan

After Mahukona, Kohala Volcano, the precursor to today’s Kohala Mountain, erupted next.  As Kohala Volcano emerged from the sea and joined with Mahukona, a much larger Big Island began forming. With continued movement of the Pacific Plate, the center of volcanism migrated on to Mauna Kea and Hualalai, the middle-aged volcanoes, and finally on to Mauna Loa and Kilauea, which are the youngest volcanoes on the island.  Over the geologically short time of several hundred thousand years, these volcanoes erupted thousands of thin flows which spread over, and built upon, older flows; each volcano growing until it finally emerged from the sea. As time went on, lava flows from one volcano began to overlap flows from other, nearby volcanoes and eventually the peaks coalesced into a single island, the Big Island.

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Lava from Kilauea flows into the sea at La'epuki, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

In geologically recent times, a new volcano, Lo’ihi, began forming about 18 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island.  In time, Loihi may join its mass with that of Kilauea, again changing the size and shape of the Big Island.  It is estimated that Lo’ihi, whose summit lies approximately 3,178 feet below the surface of the ocean today, will begin to protrude above the surface in about 10,000 years.

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Hualalai Volcano from Saddle Road, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Currently, the remnants of Mahukona and Kohala volcanoes are completely extinct; Hualalai and Mauna Kea are considered dormant and Mauna Loa, Kilauea and Loihi are still very active.   This means that eruptions of Mahukona and Kohala are not at all likely. Eruptions of Mauna Kea and Hualalai are probable at some time in the future, though the major phase of mountain building is over for these volcanoes.  Movement of the Pacific Plate has moved both Hualalai and Mauna Kea off the hot spot so only remnants of liquid magma reside beneath them. These late-stage, mature Hawaiian volcanoes experience violent, explosive eruptions which are spectacular but comparatively small, volume-wise.  Late-stage Hawaiian volcanic eruptions are characterized by crater-forming explosions, tephra-cone building and ash ejecting events.

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Mauna Loa from Bird Park in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Mauna Loa and Kilauea are both considered active volcanoes. Although inflation and dilation events are common on the summit of Mauna Loa, it has not erupted since 1984; Mauna Loa could, however, erupt at any time.  Since 1833 when accurate records began to be kept, there have been 33 eruptions of Mauna Loa, making it one of the most active volcanoes on earth.  Its name means “long mountain”, and Mauna Loa is capable of erupting huge amounts of lava in a very short time, dwarfing the current output of Kilauea.  The most massive mountain on earth, this prolific effusion of molten rock accounts for Mauna Loa’s vast bulk.

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Kilauea eruption in Halema'uma'u Crater at night, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Kilauea, once believed to be a mere satellite vent on Mauna Loa, is known to be a separate and distinct volcano with its own, geologically separate magma chamber and subterranean plumbing. Nearly half a million years old, Kilauea’s most recent eruption has been continuous since 1983 making it currently the world’s most active volcano. Indeed, between 1983 and 2009 about 700 acres of new land were produced by lava flows from Kilauea.  Articles on how to see the active lava flows on Kilauea can be found here and here. A detailed guide to enjoying Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, featuring Kilauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes can be found here.

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Kilauea buried the town of Kalapana in the early 1990s and formed Kaimu Black, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Because the time-scale of human experience is virtually instantaneous compared to the aeons-long march of geologic history, there is continuing human drama, a tension, between short-sighted humans attempting to establish roads, villages and towns, and the ongoing geologic processes of the landscapes they choose to inhabit.  In very recent decades, the towns of Kapoho, Kalapana and Kaimu have been inundated, destroyed and buried by Kilauea Volcano (please see a related article on the death and rebirth of Kalapana, here).  As more people move to Hawaii, more such drama is inevitable.

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Mauna Loa floats above the fields of Kohala, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The evolution of Hawaiian volcanoes continues even after the major phase of eruptive activity subsides. There are great differences, obvious to even the most casual observer, between the elongated, fluted ridge-like shape of Kohala Mountain and the lower angled slopes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  Likewise, steep-sided Mauna Kea has a greatly different physical aspect than does gently-sloped, shield-shaped Mauna Loa.  These differences are accounted for by the differences in their relative ages, and thus eruptive and erosive stages.

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The steeper, crater-poked slopes of Hualalai indicate it has moved on to the later stages of volcanism Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Remembering that the angle of repose of Hawaiian lava is about 6 degrees, the shield-shaped, gentle slopes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea reflect the fact that they are quite young and are still in the shield-building stage, being built-up by successive flows of highly fluid lava.  The much steeper flanks of Hualalai and Mauna Kea volcanoes are due to the late-stage, explosive eruptions, to erosion and to ashfall which piles up much more steeply than the flowing lava.  The fluted ridges of Kohala volcano result from the deep dissection of the once shield-shaped slopes of the original volcano by streams and surface flow of water.  The distinctive steep valleys and great cliffs seen on the north and east sides of Kohala Volcano result from later process of normal faulting and giant landslides (see further discussion in an article about Waipi’o Valley, here).

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Glacial cirques and moraines along the Mauna Kea summit ridge, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Another process, operative in the geologically recent past, has served to shape the slopes of the volcanoes of the Big Island, at least those which are or great height.  Glaciers covered the summit of Mauna Kea (and possibly Mauna Loa) three times between 200,000 and 13,000 years ago, leaving behind many glacial features such as cirques, u-shaped valleys and scoured bedrock; surviving into the present is a remnant rock glacier near the summit of Mauna Kea (a related article on the summit of Mauna Kea and the Hawaiian Snow Goddess, Poliahu, can be found here; details on exploring Mauna Kea can be found here).  Any evidence on Mauna Loa of ice-age glaciers has been covered by recent eruptions.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kohala Volcano is subsiding, cut by enormous valleys and giant cliff-forming landslides, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Simultaneously with the ongoing eruptions and island building, due to their enormous mass, the great volcanoes of the Hawaiian Chain begin to subside into the oceanic crust.  After the majority of eruptions cease, with cooling and with a great amount of time, they eventually disappear beneath the surface of the sea completely, as Mahukona Volcano already has.

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Originally carved above sea level, these 500-year old petroglyphs at Keauhou today are awash due to subsidence of Hualalai Volcano: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Today, the Big Island of Hawai’i comprises more than twice the area of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.  It’s size is not anomalous, however, considering the geologic history of the archipelago. All the other Hawaiian Islands experienced the same pattern of volcanic eruption, growth and coalescence, as well as the gradual subsidence and submersion that Hawaii Island has, and thus at one time may have been as large as the Big Island.  Indeed, geologists have demonstrated that Maui at one time formed a single landmass, known as Maui Nui or “Big Maui”, with the islands of Lana’i, Moloka’i, and Kaho’olawe.  Continued subsidence submerged the larger landmass, leaving the four, smaller islands above the ocean surface. Ultimately, this will happen to the Big Island, as well.

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Looking from Mauna Kea summit to Mauna Loa, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The relentless movement of the Pacific Plate carries it, with the all the islands piggy-backed, inexorably northward to the Aleutian Trench, where it is subducted underneath the North American Plate, melted, and recycled as volcanic material in the Aleutian Island volcanoes.  The Emperor Seamounts are currently undergoing such destruction, and, the evolution of the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain is such that, eventually this fate also awaits the Big Island…but not for tens of millions of years.

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Magical Sunset at the lava ocean entry at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Given the ephemeral nature of this precious island, this geologic certainty should serve to make us love and treasure the Big Island more deeply, as well as to spur us to protect and preserve it more completely.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Silent sunset descends upon Hawaii Island at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Near the summit of Kohala Mountain, Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Full moon over Mauna Kea, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Visitors Watch the Halema'uma'u eruption of Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Aerial view of Pu'u O'o Vent on Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photo by Shannon Walker

The Geologic History of the Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands, part of a much longer chain of oceanic islands and seamounts called the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain, is comprised of 8 principal islands and 124 islets, shoals, atolls, seamounts and banks, all volcanic in origin.  The Hawaiian Islands proper extend from Kure Atoll in the mid-Pacific, trending southeast to Hawaii Island (the Big Island) and Lo’ihi submarine volcano.  The eight major islands of the Hawaiian chain are named, from northwest to southeast, Ni’ihau, Kauai, O`ahu, Moloka`i, Lana`i, Kaho`olawe, Maui, and Hawai`i. Unraveling the geologic history of the Hawaiian Islands provides a fascinating glimpse into structures and process occurring deep within our Earth.  To understand how the Hawaiian Islands were formed, let’s review a bit about the nature of our planet.

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Kilauea Lava Stream, Hawaii Photo courtesy of Big Island Air

Layered like an onion, our seeming solid earth is actually a heaving mass composed of various solid, partially-molten, semi-plastic and liquid layers.  The solid crust (or lithosphere), which covers the entire surface of the earth, seems strong and robust but is, in fact, quite thin and malleable.  About the same thickness relative to the rest of the planet as an onion skin is to an onion, the Earth’s silica-rich crust more or less floats upon a much thicker, partially molten, more iron and magnesium-rich, semi-plastic layer of much hotter material called the “mantle”.  Below the mantle are the liquid outer core and the solid inner core of the Earth.

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Halema'uma'u Crater and eruption on Kilauea, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Earth’s crust comes in basically two varieties, oceanic crust which is quite thin (only 5-7 km thick) and continental crust, which is much thicker than oceanic crust (up to 200 km thick).  Oceanic crust is composed almost wholly of an effusive volcanic rock type called “basalt”, its intrusive volcanic, subsurface equivalent called “gabbro” and a thin covering of sediment. The continental crust, which underlies the seven continents and the more massive islands, and upon which most human activity takes place, on the other hand, is composed not only of basalt and gabbro, but all the other rock types as well.  Continental crust is much less dense than oceanic crust, being much more silica-rich, and therefore is more buoyant on the mantle.  This, in part, accounts for its relative thickness and higher elevation compared to the denser, thinner oceanic crust.

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Lava from Kilauea flows into the sea at La'epuki, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Earth’s crust is further divided-up into various distinct pieces, called “tectonic plates”, all moving relative to each other. Plates are composed almost wholly of either oceanic or continental crustal material. These plates “float” on the semi-plastic mantle, and are carried along by currents on the mantle’s surface. Mantle currents are caused by various physical process of heat transport within the mantle.   Think of a pot of boiling soup; the point of the boil in the soup is analogous to the heat transfer in the mantle and the skim of chilled soup riding around on the surface is analogous to the moving tectonic plates carried on top of the mantle.

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Hikers pause to look over at the summit of Mauna Loa From the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Interactions along the edges of these plates, whether slipping past each other (such as along the San Andreas Fault), one riding up over another (such as beneath the Himalayan Mountains), or one being subducted beneath the other (such as along the western edge of North America), accounts for much of the earthquake, mountain-building and volcanic activity seen on the surface of the earth, and plate margins are certainly the most geologically active places on earth.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kilauea eruption in Halema'uma'u Crater at night Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Occasionally, exceptions to this generality occur, and the Hawaiian Islands are one such spectacular exception. To understand the forces and process which shape the Hawaiian Islands, we must look a little closer at the origin and movement of the crust and the structure of the mantle.  Happily, we need only concern ourselves with oceanic crust in general and the Pacific Plate in particular, as well as one, singular feature of the mantle.

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Skylight at Kupaianaha Vent, Kilauea Volcano Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Oceanic crust is continually created by volcanic action along giant ridges which run generally north-south down the middle of the ocean basins.  The hot liquid magma at the ridges is much less dense than the surrounding, cold crustal rocks, and so “floats” these ridges and the still hot, newly-formed oceanic crust, up above the surrounding ocean basin, thus forming the ridge.  As volcanic eruptions along these ridges add hot, new material to the edge of the oceanic plates, the mass of new material drives the older oceanic crust away from the ridge, down both sides of it.  As the new material cools and becomes less dense, it sinks and further drives the crust away from the ridges.

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Lava Flowing Into the Sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Called “Mid-Ocean Ridge Spreading”, this process can be likened to a conveyor belt where new crust is created at the mid-ocean ridge, and is driven along by buoyancy and gravity, farther and farther away from the ridge until the plate’s leading edge interacts in some way with another tectonic plate.  Thus we see that the floors of the ocean basins, all around the world, are in constant, relative motion.  The Pacific Plate, upon which the Hawaiian Islands are built, has been moving at a rate of about 3.9 inches per year to the northwest, relative to other plate motions, for about the last 42 million years.

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Sunset on Haleakala from Kiholo, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

But what causes the enormous volcanoes that comprise the Hawaiian Archipelago to form in the middle of the ocean basin?  As mentioned above, the mantle is far from uniform either compositionally, thermally or in terms of the processes controlling its internal motions.  There are places on the earth where, for a variety of reasons, hot and buoyant mantle plumes rise above the general surface of the mantle, into the crust, carrying great amounts of heat and semi-liquid material quite near the earth’s surface.  Called “Hot Spots”, extreme volcanism can result from these thermal plumes.  The volcanic fields at Yellowstone in North America are one such example of this “hot spot magmatism”; the Hawaiian Islands are yet another.

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The heavily-dissected mountains of Kauai completely obscure the original shield shape of the volcano Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The Hawaiian Hot Spot has caused the creation of at least 129 volcanoes on the ocean floor, the center of volcanism on the Pacific Plate continually migrating across the plate as it travels over the hot spot. Of these 129 volcanoes, 123 are extinct, three are dormant and three are active.  At first, the trend of volcanoes was almost due north-south.  Then, somewhere between 41 and 43 million years ago the relative motion between the Pacific Plate and the hot spot changed, becoming more northwesterly; this caused a sharp bend in the line of island-forming volcanoes.

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Aerial view of Pu'u O'o vent on Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Although all were formed by the same, continuing tectono-volcanic processes, two island groups are named from this bent line of islands, atolls and seamounts.  North of the bend are the Emperor Seamounts, a long chain of islands, seamounts, atolls and reefs trending steeply southeast to northwest between Abbot Seamount in the mid-Pacific and Meiji Seamount near the Aleutian Trench.  South of the bend are the Hawaiian Islands, trending from the active volcanism at the Big Island and Loihi Volcano today, gently northwest to Kure Atoll in the mid-Pacific. Movement of the Pacific Plate over the hotspot is such that Midway and Kure Atolls were where the Big Island is now, directly over the hot spot, about 30 million years ago.

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The steep sides of Mt. Rainier in Washington result from its relatively high-silica, viscous lava Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The chemical composition of the Hawaiian magmas plays a central role in determining the physical form of the Hawaiian Islands.  All crustal rocks are formed of minerals composed of aluminum and silicon oxides with varying amounts of iron, magnesium, sodium, calcium, potassium and other elements stirred in.  In lava, silica tends to polymerize and greatly increase the viscosity of the melt—thus silica-rich lavas are fairly “sticky”, forming slow moving lava flows that pile-up into steep volcanoes which are typified by explosive eruptions. Silica-poor melts, on the other hand, because they are not so polymerized, form very fluid lavas that flow quickly and easily, forming gently-sloped volcanoes typified by relatively quiescent eruptions.  Remember the key words here are: “relatively quiescent”.

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Mauna Loa floats above the fields of Kohala, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

One glance at the profile of the Hawaiian volcanoes is enough to convince us that the lavas must be very silica poor, since they are very gently-sloped and the eruptions relatively peaceable; certainly civilized enough so that the casual viewer may approach them quite closely in relative safety.  Compare these with the very steep-sided, highly explosive eruptions of volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens, which is comprised of lava much more intermediate in silica composition, or the smoking hole in the ground that is the Yellowstone volcanic field, left by a massively explosive, very silica rich (and very, very viscous) lava erupting.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Layered basalts in Waimea Canyon on Kauai show the structure of the Island, flow upon flow: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The rocks formed when the lava from Hawaiian volcanoes hardens are called “basalt”.  Although you hear the term “lava rock” used by laymen, it is a nonsensical word geologically and the registered trademark of a commercial product.  Commonly misapplied, it makes even less sense than the equivalent of using the term “water solid” instead of “ice”. The name “basalt” denotes both the silica-poor composition, as well as the fact that it was erupted onto, and it has cooled at, the Earth’s surface.  When lavas cool within a magma chamber before being erupted onto the surface, they are called an “intrusive volcanic” rock; intrusive volcanic rocks formed from lavas of basalt-like composition are called “gabbros”.  There are a few rocks in the Hawaiian islands of differing composition and texture than basalt and gabbro, but they are unimportant to this discussion.

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The classic, low-angle shield shape of Mauna Loa seen from Hilo, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The angle of repose, which is controlled by the viscosity of the melt, is about 6 degrees for Hawaiian basalts. Melt viscosity is a function of its temperature, silica content and fluid composition.   Hawaiian basalts are very fluid because of the low silica content and high eruptive temperature (in excess of 1100 degrees C); this low viscosity accounts for low angle, “shield shape” of Hawaiian volcanoes.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kohala Volcano is dissected by several major fault-bounded valleys, further obscuring its original shield shape Photo by Donald B MacGowan

As soon as the Hawaiian volcano forms, other forces begin to act upon it, affecting the general “shield shape” of the volcano: tides and waves attack the edges, rivers and streams begin to dissect the shield into ridges.  As time goes on, erosion from surface water flow produces fluting along those ridges.  Great landslides produce enormous cliffs; faulting produces huge valleys and collapse produces enormous craters and calderas.  Further, the later stage of Hawaiian volcanism is typified by increasing violence, which makes deep explosion craters, steep-sided cinder cones and steeply sloped, but easily eroded, ash deposits.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Stream erosion dissects the shield volcanoes into valley and knife-like ridges Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To look at the volcanoes of Hawaii starting in the southeast at Kilauea and Mauna Loa and moving northwest, one can see this evolution quite clearly.  Kilauea and Mauna Loa, being quite young, are still broad and shallow-sloped, basically the classic shield-shape.  Mauna Kea and Hualalai are obviously more mature, showing steeper slopes, a reflection of greater ashfall and greater erosion, as well as pocked with explosion craters and cinder cones.  Moving father along, Kohala Mountain is so deeply eroded and festooned with long, fluted ridges as well as cut by enormous canyons, that it is almost unrecognizable as a shield volcano.  And so it continues as one proceeds north through the older islands and the more highly eroded mountains; the original shield shape of the volcanoes become more and more obscured by deeper and deeper erosion.  By the time one gets to the famous and spectacular Na Pali Cliffs of Kaua’i, all that is left of the original volcano are the deeply fluted, now almost knife-like, ridges.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ancient Petroglyph, Keauhou Historic District, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The great mass of these volcanoes causes them to begin to sink back into the mantle.  This is evident on even relatively young volcanoes.  For instance, on the slopes of Hualalai Volcano on the Big Island, along the shore at Keauhou, numerous petroglyphs commemorating the famous victory of King Lonoikamakahiki of Hawaii over King Kamalalawalu of Maui were carved in the rock around the end of the 16th century.  Although when they were originally carved they stood above sea level, in the intervening four centuries, the island has sunk sufficiently that they are now mostly awash in the sea and submerged at high tide.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Glacial cirque and terminal moraine on Mauna Kea, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Another process, operative in the geologically recent past, has served to shape the slopes of the Hawaiian volcanoes, at least those which are or great height.  Glaciers covered the summit of Mauna Kea (and possibly Mauna Loa and Haleakala) three times between 200,000 and 13,000 years ago, leaving behind many glacial features such as cirques, u-shaped valleys and scoured bedrock; surviving into the present is a remnant rock glacier near the summit of Mauna Kea.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Valleys and Ridges of the Famous Na Pali Coast, Kauai Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The complex interaction of volcano growth, coalescing of various volcanoes forming a single island and the eventual subsidence of the volcanoes into the crust determines the shape and size of the individual Hawaiian Islands through time.  Today, the youngest islands are largest and the oldest islands, generally, are the smallest…this trend continues throughout the Hawaii Island/Emperor Seamount chain.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava flows from Kilauea to the sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

In the case of the Big Island, even though the first volcano to form, Mahukona, has completely subsided below sea level, the Big Island still comprises more than twice the area of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined, due to the large number of volcanic peaks forming it. However, through their history, all the Hawaiian Islands will experience the same pattern of growth, coalescence, subsidence and submersion, and so may have been much larger at one time.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Haleakala from Kohala, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Maui, today comprised only of the remnant peaks of Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains, at one time formed a single giant landmass with the islands of Lana’i, Moloka’i, and Kaho’olawe.  As the continual northwest movement of the Pacific Plate carried Maui away from the Hawaiian hot spot, continued subsidence submerged the larger landmass, known as Maui Nui, or “Big Maui”, into the oceanic crust, leaving only these four, very much smaller, islands above the surface today.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Superstition to Science, Pu'u Weiku Summit, Mauna Kea Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

In fact, Kaua’i, Ni’ihau and O’ahu all represent the tiny remnants of once much larger landmasses that are actively subsiding into the oceanic crust.  Tracing the Hawaiian Archipelago to the northwest, and thus to very much older islands, we see this evolution continue as the great volcanoes are completely submerged below the surface leaving only the fringing coral reefs and a tiny remnant island above sea level, such as we see at Laysan Atoll and Midway Island. Continuing along through the chain to the Emperor Seamounts, not even that much is left as all traces of these islands, once proud and beautiful like the Hawaiian Islands today, become totally submerged beneath the surface of the ocean.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Alpen Glow on Hualalai Volcano and Sunset on Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Add to this mental picture the fact that the Pacific Plate relentlessly drives northwestward, carrying all the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain with it, northward to the Aleutian Trench, where it is subducted and destroyed beneath the North American Plate.  Eventually, in the far-distant future, this fate awaits all these beautiful, precious islands.  Such is the ephemeral nature of the Hawaiian Islands, and this vision of their very delicate and temporary nature should make us respect and wonder at their splendor and beauty, all the more.  And increase our desire to protect and preserve them.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The steeper, crater-poked slopes of Hualalai indicate it has moved on to the later stages of volcanism Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Watching Lava Pour Into the Sea at Waikupanaha, Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts   the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and   WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or   www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava ocean entry, Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava enters the sea, Hawaii: Graphic From Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

Lava Viewing at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hiking to the lava flows, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Can you believe this? It’s absolutely outstanding and amazing! You can actually walk right up to flowing lava here; see a volcano erupt before your eyes and the molten rock pour into the sea. This has to be one of the four or five most exciting, amazing, wonderful, mystical experiences on earth…you must not miss this!

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Pu'u O'o Vent on Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Shannon Walker

Mauna Loa is active but not currently erupting. The summit area is slowly inflating, filling with magma and the flanks are subject to frequent minor earthquakes, but no obvious activity is apparent to the visitor. Kilauea, the most active volcano on Earth, started its current eruptive phase in 1983, the longest eruption in history. Since then it has ejected almost 3 billion cubic meters of lava. Flowing from various vents in the rift, most notably Pu’u O’o and Kupaianaha, in streams and tubes at over 1000 degrees Celsius, much of the lava makes its way into the sea in fiery, steamy explosions or the incredible incongruity of glowing hot lava pouring directly into the sea with little more apparent than a mere bubbling of the water.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Helicopter and Volcanic Explosion Plume, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Since the flow of lava over the moonscape plains and into the roiling sea can be seen nowhere else on earth, it is certainly the most exciting, unique and moving highlight of any trip to Hawai’i. People stand at the edge of the flow and weep at the majesty and mystery of the earth remaking itself; it is wondrous, remarkable and unforgettable. Although surface flows and breakouts are frequent and common, there is no guarantee that over any given trip to the Big Island they will be visible or easily accessible to the casual visitor. Before planning a hike to see the lava, check with the Rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for information on the hike length and location of surface flows and a review of safety information. Eruption information is available from the Park Service at 808.985.6000.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hikers going to see the flowing lava past the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Over the months and years, the lava river issuing from Pu’u O’o winds its way back and forth across the lava plain of about 9 miles breadth, sometimes flowing into the sea within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, sometime outside the eastern margin of the Park on County of Hawaii land, sometimes ponding behind the low lava hills for weeks at a time without entering the ocean at all. When you check with the rangers about flow conditions, they can tell you the best way to approach these flows.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Volcanic explosions as seen from the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

If the flows are toward the more western margin and within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the best approach is to drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road in the Park and then hike in. This hike can be of a few minutes, or a few hours, duration, depending upon how far away the lava ocean entry is. Talk to the rangers beforehand so you can come prepared. The hike is over an uneven, rough surface, hot during the day, even when it rains, cold at night and navigation can sometimes be counterintuitive. When lava is flowing in the park, parking can be monstrous at the end of Chain of Craters Road; please go here for more details about visiting the end of the road.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hiking to the lava ocean entry, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The trail at first is marked with cairns and reflectors, but after a few hundred meters you are on your own to navigate the basalt wilderness. The good news is, even if the hike is a couple hours duration, when the lava flow is in the National Park, you are allowed to walk right up to it; this is not true if the lava is flowing in the more eastern margin, onto County of Hawaii land. In this case, viewing is from a County of Hawaii-maintained viewing platform at Waikupanaha. Information on viewing the lava flows from County of Hawaii land is available here and from the County of Hawaii at 808.961.8093.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Rain squalls are common at lava ocean entries in Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you approach the lava flows from the west or the east, bring at least 2 quarts of water, a flashlight for hiking out in the dark, camera, food, first aid kit and a light rain jacket; wear a sun hat, sturdy hiking shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt–those rocks are sharp! Sun glasses and sunscreen are a must here; in fact, they are so important in tropical Hawaii, we ask you please go here and here for information on skin and eye protection. Over the years, we have found a stout hiking stick and an umbrella to be of good use as well. Since photos and video are most spectacular at night, it is wise to bring a camera tripod.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Littoral explosion plume, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The lava seems to glow with only a dull petulance during the day and may be less than inspiring until nightfall brings it alive and the madly glowing, fiery goddess within is revealed. Thus knowledgeable hikers plan their hike to commence in the afternoon, reaching their destination at dusk, and then hike back in the dark. Check your flashlights before you leave the car and replace weak batteries. Remember that you are hiking on a highly active volcano, if flowing streams of lava strand you, no rescue is practical or possible; plan, take care and pay strict attention accordingly.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hiking to the lava flows, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Obviously, the lava is lethally hot and sometimes flowing mere inches below seeming solid ground; a stick or ski pole used as a probe helps you determine what is dangerous ground and what is merely “hot and squishy” but otherwise safe to walk on. This is also why you should wear boots, not running shoes or sandals—it only takes having your sneakers catch fire once to drive this point home. When in hot terrain, never stop moving your feet. Even when you are standing still to photograph, walk in place or you may find your shoes afire.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Warning signs at the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are other dangers to hiking on the lava plain that might not be obvious to the casual visitor. The steam clouds generated by the lava entering the sea contain fine, glassy particulate material as well as sulfuric and hydrochloric acids in concentration high enough to aggravate the very young and old, expectant mothers and people with respiratory and cardiac conditions. Over the past 20 years, a few adventurous people venturing too close to vents or the sea entries have asphyxiated from toxic gasses.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Volcanic fumes, end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The ocean near the lava entries is superheated and waves lapping on inviting black sand beaches can be scalding hot. One brave (foolhardy?) surfer wanted to be filmed surfing in front of the lava flows and was badly scalded for his efforts. Where explosive, the meeting of molten rock and sea can explode large, searing hot rocks hundreds of feet in the air and throw boiling water, splashing everywhere.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava flowing just below the surface burns vegetation at the surface, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Methane explosions occur with no notice, dozens if not a hundred feet ahead of flows, flinging huge blocks hundreds of feet. Unstable benches that build up into the sea, and upon which the unwary hike and pause to photograph the scenery, are prone to collapse, carrying all into the sea. Such collapses can cause local tidal waves which scour the landscape clean of everything as they pass. Thin lava crusts can hide lava tubes, caves, hollows and holes into which hikers occasionally fall and are caught.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Skylights along a lava tube on Kilauea Hawaii: Photo by Kelly Kuchman

A volcano is a naturally highly seismically active area and earthquakes are common (there are over 1200 measurable earthquakes a week on the Big Island). Less common, but certainly a constant threat, are local tsunamis generated by these earthquakes. The Park Service has roughly marked the trail to the lava; follow it closely, turning around frequently to acquaint yourself with landmarks for the hike back.

Be sure to take extra film or memory cards for your camera and remember to wipe down all cameras, eyeglasses, binoculars, optics and electronics after your visit; the salt and volcano effluent-laden atmosphere is highly corrosive. Batteries may be drained faster than expected due to the high heat near the lava; bring extra for cameras and flashlights.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kupaianaha Vent on Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Despite the inherent dangers of hiking over liquid rock, steaming and unstable ground along the ever-restless sea, very few hikers are injured here, even fewer are killed. This is only because people enter the goddess’s home with a sense of awe and great caution, and the Rangers are very good about instilling fear and trepidation into the hearts of those who think themselves otherwise immune to the mortal dangers presented here. If you go, remain cautious and vigilant, plan for adversity, think ahead and pay attention. The rewards for this are a moving and amazing experience few ever have, a memory of mystery, awe and wonder to treasure always.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava Stream, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

If you are planning on viewing the lava at night, be sure to remember that there may be no open gas stations or restaurants when you depart the Park until you reach either Kona or Hilo…plan accordingly, think ahead. Stay safe…stay awesome.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Littoral explosion plume from the end of Chain of Craters Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava ocean entry, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.
All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lava ocean entry, Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

Astronomical Observatories on the Summit of Mauna Kea from Pu'u Koholo: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Astronomical Observatories on the Summit of Mauna Kea from Pu'u Kohola: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Even choosing which beach you want to spend time on, or where you want to hike can be an exercise in confusion and conflicting advice.  Clearly, visitors to Hawaii could use help making quality decisions about how best to spend their time.

Huddle of Telescopes on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Huddle of Telescopes on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

From Mauna Kea Summit to Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

From Mauna Kea Summit to Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Tour Guide Hawaii is excited and proud to announce the release of their new GPS/WiFi enabled App for iPhone and iPod that helps you navigate your trip to Hawaii with hours of informative, location-aware video and information. Although our video guide will lead you to dozens of unusual, untamed and unspoiled spots, let’s look at couple hikes you might otherwise miss if you did not have Tour Guide Hawaii’s new App.

Donnie’s Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea Summit Hikers: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Kea Summit Hikers: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Today, I’d like to take you to the top of Mauna Kea. At 13, 796 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea’s summit is the highest point in the State of Hawaii; since its base lies at 19000 feet below sea level, its has a base-to-summit height of 33,000 feet, making it the tallest mountain on earth. It’s also one of my most favorite places on earth.

Mauna Kea Icy Summit Warning: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Kea Icy Summit Warning: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Kea began forming on the sea floor about one million years ago. Its name means “White Mountain” in the Hawaiian language and it is snowcapped much of the winter, and the summit is covered with permafrost 35 feet deep. During the ice ages, Mauna Kea’s summit was glaciated 3 times, starting about 200000 years ago and ending only 11000 years ago. One can see the U-shaped valleys and cirques, striated bedrock, glacial tills covering the summit area and remnants of ice-damned lava flows from those times. There are even the remains of extinct rock glaciers near the summit.

Eric Carr, Master Cameraman, Filming on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Eric Carr, Master Cameraman, Filming on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Visitor’s Center and summit are reached via a road which turns off Saddle Road at about 6600 feet elevation near the 28 mile marker and tortuously stumbles its way up the south side of Mauna Kea to the Visitor Information Station at about 9300 feet. The road, though steep, is paved to the Visitor’s Center. Above that, the road is graded dirt for about 5 miles, returning to asphalt paving for the final sprint to the rim of the summit crater. Road conditions for the summit road are available at 808.935.6263.

Mauna Kea Moon From the Visitor's Information Station: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Mauna Kea Moon From the Visitor's Information Station: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The visitor’s center is open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. 365 days a year. Informational multimedia presentations, souvenirs, and some food items are available here, as well as clean restrooms and drinking water. Every evening after dark the center allows visitors to stargaze through several telescopes and informational talks by visiting scientists are occasionally scheduled. Saturday and Sunday Center staff lead escorted summit field trips, but visitors must provide their own vehicle. Call 808.961.2180 for information. It is suggested that summit-bound visitors stop at the Visitor’s Center for at least half an hour before heading to the summit so they can acclimate.

Above the Visitor Information Station there are no public accommodations, no water or food and no gasoline service; the observatory buildings are closed to the public and usually locked. There are neither public telephones nor restrooms, only port-a-potties. An emergency phone is located in the entrance to the U of H 2.2 meter Telescope building.

Mauna Kea Summit Road: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Kea Summit Road: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving the summit road to the very top of Mauna Kea is neither as dangerous as the car rental companies want you to believe, nor as casual as many Big Island residents will tell you. True, the summit road is unpaved most of the way, it is steep and winding with limited view planes; the road is extremely hazardous when wet or icy, which is often, and it’s subject to frequent dense clouds, snow, rain and fog obscuring all vision. Also, balmy summer conditions may turn into lethal winter rages in minutes with little or no warning.

Cinder Cones and a Radio Telescope on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Cinder Cones and a Radio Telescope on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

However, the road is generously wide, routinely graded and poses no real threat to the cautious driver. The safe driver can expect to reach the summit in about ½ an hour after leaving the Visitor Information Station. Remember, it’s not the roughness of the road that will impede your car; it’s the elevation that will starve it for oxygen. To be safe, take as much time winding your way back down the mountain as you took coming up, using the lowest gear to save wear on brakes. Check your car rental agreement–many forbid you to drive this road. If you go anyway, your insurance is void, and you do so at considerable financial risk. Remember, people DO crater their cars on occasion.

The Weather Can Change in an Instant on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Weather Can Change in an Instant on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

If the weather turns frightful, simply head down immediately. Relax, be calm and drive carefully; you can be confident that, even if you have to slow to 10 miles per hour in places, you’ll be down to the safety of the Visitor’s Center in a mere 40 minutes or so.

Superstition to Science; An Ancient Hawaiian Temple Shares The Summit With The Most Modern Astronomical Obsdervatories on Pu'u Weiku Summit, Mauna Kea Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Superstition to Science; An Ancient Hawaiian Temple Shares The Summit With The Most Modern Astronomical Obsdervatories on Pu'u Weiku Summit, Mauna Kea Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The summit of Mauna Kea, hosting the largest assemblage of astronomical instruments and telescopes in the world, is truly an amazing place; a seductive juxtaposition of icy heights raised up from steaming tropical jungle; the age-old altars of sacred Hawai’ian gods alongside edifices of the most modern of sciences; of frigid landscapes carved during ancient ice-ages alongside fiery volcanic landforms; all wrapped around a fabulous trip with a wee rumor of danger, just for spice! Beautiful, awe-inspiring, 360 degree views of the entire Big Island also include the islands of Maui, Kaho’olawe and Lana’i on clear days. The glow from Kilauea Volcano can be seen on clear nights. Although daytime temperatures during the summer can peak in the 60s, it is generally cold-to-frigid, frequently wet and very windy on the summit. Plan and dress accordingly.

View from Mauna Kea Summit to Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

View from Mauna Kea Summit to Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The summit area is also culturally and religiously important to the native Hawai’ians, hosting many religious Heiau, an obsidian adze quarry and numerous other archaeological sites. Remember this landscape, and the archeological sites upon them, are sacred; take nothing but photographs, don’t even leave footprints. Some ruminations on the Hawaiian Snow Goddess, Poliahu, and personal reflections about the summit of Mauna Kea can be found here.

Mauna Kea Summit Trail: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Mauna Kea Summit Trail: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Parking is limited, but the hike from the top of the road to the actual summit is a must for any who have ventured this far and are in good shape. A stone altar and a USGS survey point mark the actual summit of the mountain, about a 15 minute walk up a cinder trail from the top of the road. A trail leading around the summit crater takes about 30 minutes to trek and traverses some very wild country with amazing views. Be sure to bring plenty of drinking water and hydrate frequently to help stave off altitude sickness. Do not leave the safety of the parking lot if you are feeling ill or the weather is at all chancy—in fact, in deteriorating or poor weather, or at the onset of queasiness, one should leave the summit immediately and descend.

Justly Famous Videographer Frank Burgess at Mauna Kea Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Justly Famous Videographer Frank Burgess at Mauna Kea Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Alternately, for those in excellent physical condition, one can hike to the summit from the Visitor’s center. Featuring unparalleled views, wild landscapes, archeological sites and more, the hike is about 6 miles in length, gains about 4500 feet in elevation and takes 6 to 10 hours to get up, depending on the hiker. There is no water available anywhere above the Visitor’s Center, so take enough to get up, and back down. Frankly, many people opt to hitch-hike down the mountain after hiking up. In fact, for folks short on time, or for whom scenery and not summit-conquering are the main goals, catching a ride to the summit and hiking down is a great alternative, and takes only about 3 1/2 hours.

Gary Burton and His Ddaughter Nearing Mauna Kea Summit: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Gary Burton and His Ddaughter Nearing Mauna Kea Summit: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Another absolutely stunning hike in the summit area, one that is accessible to nearly anybody in reasonable condition, is to Lake Wai’au. Park at either the lot at about 12000 feet, near the 5 mile marker, or the lot at about 13000 feet, near the 7 mile marker. Needless to say, one hike is uphill in and the other is uphill out; but both are less than a mile long and have similar elevation changes. I prefer the upper trail because the view of the summit astronomical complex on the hike out is phenomenal. An absolute jewel of an alpine tarn in its own right, at 13,020 feet Lake Wai’au is one of the highest permanent lakes in the world…permafrost seals the lake bed in the loose tephra and glacial drift on which it sits. It’s about 300′ by 150′ by 8 feet deep and, yes, I personally can vouch for its having been snorkeled. Not much to see in there, though.

Lake Wai'au on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lake Wai'au on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are a few health concerns about visiting the summit of Mauna Kea as well. In brief: children under 16, pregnant women, and people with respiratory, heart, or severe overweight conditions are advised not to go higher than the Visitors Information Station. Scuba divers must wait at least 24 hours after their last dive before traveling to the summit.

Mauna Kea's Snowy Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Kea's Snowy Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Acute mountain sickness, resulting from exposure to high altitude, includes nausea, headache, drowsiness, shortness of breath, and poor judgment.  Aspirin and lots of water are palliatives for altitude sickness, but the cure is immediate and rapid descent. Sufferers will notice almost complete cessation of symptoms upon regaining The Saddle. Altitude sickness can be dangerous, even life threatening, and rapid onset of comatose condition, or even death, may be unexpectedly swift.

On the Way Up on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

On the Way Up on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Finally, there is severe risk of serious sunburn and eye damage, particularly when there is snow on the ground. Be sure to wear sunglasses rated to at least 90% IR and 100% UV (both UVA and UVB); wear sunscreen rated to at least SPF 30. Long sleeves and pants help reduce the susceptibility to sunburn.

Mauna Kea's Vanishingly Rare Silver Sword Plants: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Kea's Vanishingly Rare Silver Sword Plants: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Most visits to Mauna Kea’s summit are extremely pleasant experiences, encompassing easy adventures which may feature mild altitude euphoria, fabulous views and a great sense of relief at reaching the paved road and public restrooms at the Visitor’s Information Station after leaving the summit.

Mauna Kea Science Huddle: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Kea Science Huddle: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Mauna Loa Summit from Mauna Kea Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Loa Summit from Mauna Kea Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

From Mauna Kea's Summit Trail to Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

From Mauna Kea's Summit Trail to Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Dinosaur Fossils at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum Will No Longer Be On Public Display So That The University Of Wyoming May Continue To Spend Millions Of Tax Dollars On Losing Athletic Teams

Dinosaur Fossils at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum Will No Longer Be On Public Display So That The University Of Wyoming May Continue To Spend Millions Of Tax Dollars On Losing Athletic Teams

As an alum of UW, and a PhD recipient from the Department of Geology and Geophysics, I am naturally and profoundly disturbed at news of the closing of the Geological Museum and firing of the curator, Brent Breithaupt. The museum is one of the outstanding assets of the University and one of its most highly-recognized attributes. Internationally-known and locally-beloved, it is a gem–and a boon to the sciences of Geology, Paleontology and Biology; it should be prized and treasured, not closed.  I am writing to ask that you loudly voice your support for keeping the University of Wyoming Geological Museum open.

In recent years as I have toured much of the Pacific Basin filming segments for my television show I have met literally hundreds of people who know UW only because of the Geological Museum, Curator Breithaupt and the paleontological collections. A University that can waste untold millions on, let’s be honest, fairly lousy athletic programs certainly can afford to continue funding one of its most outstanding outreach programs, most beloved icons and most visible academic successes, especially given the comparatively marginal cost to do so.

Closure of the Museum is short-sighted in so many ways.  Not only does closure represent a relatively minor savings for the University, but from a community standpoint, the Geological Museum is a huge focus of many tourist visits to Laramie—closure of the Museum will result in an enormous loss in tourist re-lated revenue for the town.  I doubt the local businesses recognize how many people come from all over the country just to see this museum…people who have no other reason to visit Laramie or spend money there.  Founded 122 years ago, the museum also is an integral part of the history of the University of Wyoming and Department of Geology and Geophysics; part of the grand tradition of American paleontology in general and Wyoming geological exploration in particular.  In addition, the museum and attendant paleontological research program are an amazing educational resource not just for Laramie but for the entire state of Wyoming.

When the museum is closed, an important part of Wyoming history will be shuttered and the people of Wyoming will lose a significant portion of their heritage. Once closed it will difficult if not impossible to regain the Geological Museums robust resources, vibrancy and panache or its prominence in the international community of museums. How can the UW Trustees and Administration justify squandering millions on lack-luster athletic programs while hoarding the relative pennies it takes to save this unique and beloved treasure, proven academic resource and important piece of Wyoming history?  How can they so blithely rob the people of Wyoming of such a stunning and important part of their legacy and birthright?

In a personal e-mail, University of Wyoming Provost Myron Allen assured me that Christian intolerance, religious superstitions and irrational creationist beliefs have played no part in the closing of the Museum.  However, a quick survey shows that such scientific illiteracy and non-reality-based belief systems are rife among many of the the UW Trustees as well as a sizable number of Members of the Wyoming State Senate and House of Representatives; perhaps this explains the lack of vociferous opposition to this obscene and perverse misallocation of University resources.

The fact that, in this day and age, in this state, so many University Trustees, Senators and Congressmen do not understand the value of a Museum, the fundamentals of science nor even subscribe to any modern notion of science, underlines emphatically and exactly why this University has an absolute ethical responsibility and urgent need to keep this museum open.

In summary, people from all over the world know and love Brent Breithaupt and appreciate the incredible job he does…no one, NO ONE outside Wyoming remembers Fenis Dembo or any other Wyoming athlete. My father has a saying that applies directly: “Put your good where it will do the most”–and your “good” does the “most” by bringing what ever influence you have to bear on the Trustees and Administration of the University of Wyoming to continue to fund and support the UW Geological Museum and Brent Breithaupt, the curator. Please contact everyone you can think of to support keeping the museum open; and please let me know what more I can do to help avert this travesty of funding misallocation.

Sincerely,

Donald B. MacGowan, PhD

More information can be found here.

Please contact the following individuals and institutions:
Important UW email Addresses:
President of the University of Wyoming
Tom Buchannan
tombuch@uwyo.edu

Provost of the University of Wyoming
Prof. Myron Allen, Provost
allen@uwyo.edu

Chairman, Department of Geology and Geophysics
Prof. Art Snoke
snoke@uwyo.edu

State Geologist
Dr. Ronald C. Surdam
rsurdam@uwyo.edu

Governor of the State of Wyoming
Governor Dave Freudenthal
governor@state.wy.us

Letters to the Editor:
kerry.drake@trib.com

http://www.wyomingnews.com/our_services/letter_to_the_editor/

dthomsen@laramieboomerang.com

openforum@denverpost.com

University of Wyoming Trustees:
Jim D. Neiman
jimd@neiman.biz

Warren A. Lauer
warrenlauer@lauerlegal.com

Dave Bostrom
mba-db@mbawyoming.com

Dick Davis
dick@davisandcannon.com

Betty Fear
bfear@centurytel.net

Taylor Haynes, M.D.
rangebeef@aol.com

David F.  Palmerlee
dpalmerlee@vcn.com

Bradford S. Mead
bradmead@wyoming.com

Ann Rochelle
arochelle@casperlaw.net

James Trosper
jltrosper@wyoming.com

Ex Officio Trustees:
Jim McBride
supt@educ.state.wy.us

Kelsey Day
asuwpres@uwyo.edu

Elected Officials:
Members of the Wyoming House of Representatives
Representative Rodney “Pete” Anderson
randerso@wyoming.com

Representative George Bagby
g.bagby@bresnan.net

Representative Joseph M. Barbuto
jbarbuto@wyoming.com

Representative Rosie Berger
rberger@wyoming.com

Representative Stan Blake
sblake@wyoming.com

Representative Dave Bonner, Jr.
dbonner@wyoming.com

Representative Bob Brechtel
bbrechtel@wyoming.com

Representative Kermit C. Brown
kermitbrown@wyoming.com

Representative Edward A. Buchanan
ebuchanan@wyoming.com

Representative James W. Byrd
jbyrd@wyoming.com

Representative Richard L. Cannady
rcannady@wyoming.com

Representative Seth Carson
scarson@wyoming.com

Representative Pat Childers
childers@wyoming.com

Representative Roy Cohee
roy@cytransportation.com

Representative Cathy Connolly
cconnolly@wyoming.com

Representative Bernadine Craft
bcraft@wyoming.com

Representative Kathy Davison
kdavison@wyoming.com

Representative Ross Diercks
diercks@wyoming.com

Representative Amy L. Edmonds
aedmonds@wyoming.com

Representative Ken A. Esquibel
kesquibel@wyoming.com

Representative Mike Gilmore
michaelgilmore@wyoming.com

Representative Keith Gingery
kgingery@wyoming.com

Representative W. Patrick Goggles
pgoggles@wyoming.com

Representative Mary Hales
mary.hales@realestateincasper.com

Representative Timothy P. Hallinan, M.D.
tphallinan@bresnan.net

Representative Debbie Hammons
dhammons@wyoming.com

Representative Steve Harshman
sharshman@wyoming.com

Representative Elaine D. Harvey
harvey00@tctwest.net

Representative Peter S. Illoway
pete_chloeilloway3@msn.com

Representative Allen M. Jaggi
ajaggi@wyoming.com

Representative Peter M. Jorgensen
pjorgensen@jorgensenassociates.com

Representative Jack Landon, Jr.
jlandon@wyoming.com

Representative Thomas A. Lockhart
tlockh1617@aol.com

Representative Thomas E. Lubnau, II
tlubnau@vcn.com

Representative Michael K. Madden
madden@wyoming.com

Representative Robert M. McKim
rmckim@wyoming.com

Representative Del McOmie
dwmcomie@bresnan.net

Representative Erin E. Mercer
emercer@wyoming.com

Representative Saundra Meyer
slmey@wyoming.com

Representative David R. Miller
repmiller@wyoming.com

Representative Lori Millin
lorimillin@bresnan.net

Representative Glenn Moniz
gmoniz@bresnan.net

Representative John W. Patton
johnpatton@wyoming.com

Representative Frank Peasley
fpeasley@wyoming.com

Representative Bryan K. Pedersen
bpedersen@wyoming.com

Representative Owen Petersen
opetersen@wyoming.com

Representative Frank Philp
fphilp@wyoming.com

Representative Lorraine K. Quarberg
lquarberg@wyoming.com

Representative Jim Roscoe
jroscoe@wyoming.com

Representative Mark A. Semlek
msemlek@wyoming.com

Representative Lisa A. Shepperson
lshepperson@wyoming.com

Representative Colin M. Simpson
csimpson@skelaw.com

Representative William “Jeb” Steward
jebsteward@union-tel.com

Representative Tim Stubson
tim@stampedeforstubson.com

Representative Matt Teeters
mteeters@wyoming.com

Representative Bill Thompson
billthompson@wyoming.com

Representative Mary Throne
mthrone@wyoming.com

Representative Sue Wallis
sue.wallis@vcn.com

Representative Dan Zwonitzer
dzwonitzer@wyoming.com

Representative David L. Zwonitzer
davezwonitzer@wyoming.com

Members of the Wyoming State Senate
Senator Jim Anderson
jamesda1@msn.com

Senator Eli D. Bebout
senbebout@wyoming.com

Senator Bruce Burns
bburns@dbburns.com

Senator Cale Case, Ph.D
ccase@wyoming.com

Senator Henry H.R. “Hank” Coe
hcoe@wyoming.com

Senator Stan Cooper
scooperwy@gmail.com

Senator Dan Dockstader
ddockstader@wyoming.com
Senator Floyd A. Esquibel
fesquibel@wyoming.com

Senator Gerald E. Geis
ggeis@wyoming.com

Senator John M. Hastert
jhastert2@wyoming.com

Senator John J. Hines
jhines@wyoming.com

Senator Rick Hunnicutt
rhunnicutt@wyoming.com

Senator Kit Jennings
kit@kitsenate.com

Senator Wayne H. Johnson
wajohnsonsd6@yahoo.com

Senator Bill Landen
blanden@bresnan.net

Senator Grant Larson
senlarson@wyoming.com

Senator Marty Martin
mmartin@wyoming.com

Senator Mike Massie
mamassie@msn.com

Senator Curt Meier
cmeier@wyoming.com

Senator Phil Nicholas
nicholas@wyolegal.com

Senator Drew A. Perkins
drew@schwartzbon.com

Senator R. Ray Peterson
rpeterson@wyoming.com

Senator Tony Ross
tross@wyoming.com

Senator John C. Schiffer
jschiffe@wyoming.com

Senator Charles K. Scott
charlesscott@wyoming.com

Senator Kathryn Sessions
ksessions@wyoming.com

Senator Charles Townsend
ctown@wyoming.com

Senator Bill Vasey
bvasey@wyoming.com

Senator Michael Von Flatern
mvonflatern@wyoming.com

US Senator John Barrasso
http://barrasso.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=ContactUs.ContactSubmit&CFID=1239277&CFTOKEN=16382076

US Senator Mike Enzi
http://enzi.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=ContactInformation.EmailSenatorEnzi

US Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis
http://mail01.mail.com/scripts/common/login_home.cgi?a=8f98139853a8036ef957959bc549ccbb9038a83922ff63e1f0f0eb5b4b61dfdabce6feb0bdc38a56668f46386b88ababbac9158156503c7c8e90a60cee2396f14a7bbf2ebfd857c722e5e29ca5151f69d55cb84105916d