Stories in Stone: Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Trail

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Lost in the middle of the Volcano rainforest as a child, I often forgot how close I was to the sea: it’s hard to believe you live on a small dot of land in the great Pacific when all you can see are trees without end. 

That’s why one of my favorite little day adventures in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is the Pu’u Loa hike on the Chain of Craters Road, down in that dark desert overlooking the waves. As soon as you break through the thicket of trees that surrounds Volcano like a fortress, the sea re-appears–it was never really gone, only slightly hidden.

That’s not even including the amazing piece of cultural history carved into the stones once you’ve hiked your way across the desert, though. There’s also that.

In Wednesday’s post, I showed off a few stamp designs styled after Hawaiian petroglyphs–and I’m very excited to show you the real thing now!

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I was probably around six years old when I first visited the Pu’u Loa trail–I remember wearing one of my favorite shirts (featuring cats wearing lei, of course) and outright refusing to wear anything more protective than my good old rubber slippers when we approached the trail. Consequently, I tripped and fell while running around the lava, and ended up with quite a nasty scrape that may have even involved some Pele’s hair: a cautionary tale to be sure!

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My past injury in mind, I made sure to stick closely to the trail, which winds first through exposed lava and dirt before leading onto a boardwalk put in place to protect the petroglyphs. It saddens me that anyone would actively try to touch, damage, or destroy these amazing images–but most of them seem to have survived the years pretty well.

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Viewing the petroglyphs–stumbling across the desert in the hot afternoon sun, walking quickly to make sure you return before sundown–really feels like a pilgrimage. According to the National Park itself, there are about 23,000 petroglyphs at Pu’u Loa: and it’s a wonderful experience to seek out as many as possible, all evidence of past travelers who had walked this desert trail before. All I can hope is that this archaeological site continues to be preserved and respected by those who visit it, and that for every “unruly tourist” who visits Hawai’i only to throw things in steam vents and trample over endangered plants, there’s someone else with the courage to step in and keep our islands safe.

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