Volcanic Eruption: On the Front Lines at Kilauea Military Camp


Last week, I had the chance to stay at Kilauea Military Camp in Volcanoes National Park. It’s not a base, it’s a recreation center built by the military as a leisure-stay facility for its members on leave. Generally, it’s not open to the public – only active and retired military can stay. But there are a few loopholes. I’m here with a group tour, which was able to arrange an overnight as part of the Road Scholars Program.

I’m actually a guide on the tour, not a guest. Guiding has long been an interest of mine – partly stemming from the investigative story I did on guides in the Grand Canyon – and I sought out the opportunity to do it part-time in 2018. I see it as travel writing in person. I’m able to directly interact with the guests, explain things that interest me, and help them learn, explore, and experience.

Kilauea Military Camp is set up like a small village. It has the feel of a campus, a central cafeteria, bar, and game room within a short stroll of the cottages. As the crow flies, it is only two or three miles from Halemaumau Crater. At night, I can see the smoke from campus, the fiery lava exhaling like a chimney next door. It feels like I’m on the front lines or something, with an eerie sense of impending doom. Its looming presence, its power, its tinted-red color, humble me as I walk in its shadow.

Next door, beside the Visitor Center and the Jagger Museum, is the source of the smoke:

Big Island-30
Halemaumau Crater. Photo by Ryan Popiel.

Halemaumau Crater is known for its lava lake shown above. It’s been there since 2008, part of Kilauea’s ongoing 35-year eruption that began back in 1983. When you visit at night, you can catch glimpses of splattering lava (bring binoculars if you have them) and learn about the history and observation of the volcano at the Jagger Museum.

As for a stay at Kilauea Military Camp, well, I guess you’ll have to take my tour.


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