Saturday, March 2, 2024

Volcano Lessons on Hawai'i

Trip date: May 2023

After 5 nights on Maui, I took a short Hawaiian Airlines flight to Kona on the Big Island. In 2018 my plans to hike around the Kīlauea volcano were thwarted by the volcano actually erupting, so I was on a mission to finally do all things I had planned 5 years prior!

I had booked another convertible, thru Thrifty this time, and stood in line for over an hour waiting to pick it up. Not sure if that is normal or if they were just very short staffed, but it screwed up my plans for a late lunch at the Honaunau Poke Shop before my 2+ hour drive.

I stopped at a gas station for some snacks and drove south on Highway 11, (also known as Māmalahoa Highway or the Hawaiʻi Belt Road) top down, breeze blowing through my hair. Then it started to dump rain like only the Hawaiian Islands can do! Luckily it cleared up by the time I was at the very south tip of the island, which is also the most southern part of the United States. I stopped at mile marker 75 to take a look at the massive ancient lava fields from the eruption of Mauna Loa in 1907. 

Mauna Loa is one of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island and is also the largest active volcano on earth. She's sent lava flows across the road in this area in 1868, 1887, 1919, 1926, and 1950 also!

Up to this point, and after, the southern part of the island is so green and lush! The towns here are tiny, I drove through each in the blink of an eye. 

My next stop was at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach where there is usually a very high chance of seeing the resident honus swimming close to the shore. I didn't see any turtles though as it was crazy windy when I stopped! It is beautiful though!

30 minutes from here I reached Volcano House, the only hotel inside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where I'd be staying for 2 nights.

I had booked a room with a view of Kīlauea's Halemaumau crater and was so excited to see the steam rising from it right from my bed! The hotel is rustic but cute; there are 2 gift shops, 2 restaurants, and absolutely amazing views of the crater. The Visitor's Center is just across the street, so if you are there you can walk over and take a look, you don't have to be a guest to come explore the hotel and its views.

That first night I ate at The Rim, the nicer of the two restaurants. My drinks and dinner were ok and as these are the only restaurants inside of the park, the prices were very inflated. But I was happy to take my wine to my room after dinner, just steps away vs driving home.

I only had 1 ½ days in the park and I had a lot I wanted to see and do, so the next morning I was out of the hotel at 8am and off to hike the Kīlauea Iki trail. I parked at the trailhead lot across from the Thurston Lava Tube and followed the trail counterclockwise, starting through a lovely rainforest with views of the crater floor below. Kīlauea's much larger crater can be seen in the distance.   

This pit crater last erupted in 1959 and I could clearly see the trail on the crater floor that cuts straight across what was once a lake of molten lava! It was a little over a mile to the far end of the rim, then there was a 400 foot descent to the floor. The trail was very steep in parts; I followed the dirt path, stairs, and lots of volcanic rocks.


Now I had to get across the floor to the other side! It's very hard to make out the trail but I knew to follow the ahu (stone cairns) and stone markers. Even knowing that, they were hard to make out sometimes! Everything is varying shades of black with the random overachieving plant trying to break through. And the crust is very uneven with cracks that look like they can swallow you whole!


It was truly one of the coolest hikes I've done! It was like being on the moon, but with parts of it steaming! Once I got to the other side I still had to climb up another 400 feet to where my car was parked. The entire hike took me about 2 hours and was just over 3 ½ miles. I highly recommend this trail if you are in the area, it's like nothing else!


When I got back up to the parking lot, I crossed the road and entered the Thurston Lava Tube. Tubes like this are all over the islands, and once were the highway to 2000 degrees F molten lava!

It's dark and creepy and totally cool!! Maybe not for people with claustrophobia however. 

I hadn't been able to get a quick breakfast at the hotel before I left so I was very ready for lunch by this time. I drove to the Kilauea Lodge and had a really good brunch of their Volcano Loco (take on a Loco Moco) which came with house make pumpkin bread and coffee. It was a super cute dining room, with a big stone fireplace and really nice service. 

Then I was back in the convertible and on the Chain of Craters Road. It's a 36-mile round trip drive down to the Pacific Ocean and back. There are no services on the road so it's important to have plenty of gas, snacks, and water!

The craters along the road were formed after magma below the earth receded (rather than by the eruption of a volcano) and the surface collapsed. One of the craters, Ko'oko'olau, hasn't seen lava in over 200 years and is now filled with greenery, while the others are quite barren.

Past the craters the road cuts through old lava flows all the way to the sea. It's pretty incredible to see the massive flows all around and imagine how it was when it was flowing! 


The elevation goes from 4000 feet to sea level, and the road is very steep and twisty in sections. The views are just incredible! At mile marker 15.9 I came to my short hiking destination- the Pu'u Loa Petroglyph Field. There is parking on either side of the road and then it's just a short 3/4 of a mile walk out to the ancient stone carvings.

The Big Island has the most petroglyphs of the chain, and this particular field was just full of them. There's a boardwalk built around the field to keep people from destroying the artifacts. I find them fascinating!


Back on the road it was just 3 more miles to the sea. There wasn't any active lava when I visited but in years past you could come and watch the flow enter the ocean! That would be amazing! But the views of the Holei Sea Arch were still impressive, as is the force of the waves that crash against them. Sea arches like this are formed when lava is continuously pounded by the surf until it is undercut in the shape of an arch.

Time to turn the car around and head back to the hotel! Driving straight at the hills with clear sight of the lava flows was incredible!


It's just such an amazing area to explore! I spent about 3 hours on this road, taking time to stop to read about the various craters, lookouts, etc. Coupled with my morning hike, it was a long day and I was exhausted when I returned to Volcano House. Luckily they greeted me at the front desk with a complimentary mimosa which I enjoyed while I got cleaned up and ready for a casual dinner in the other restaurant Uncle George’s Lounge.

The next morning I was up early again as I still had a few more things I wanted to see before I left Volcanoes National Park. It's a very short walk from the hotel over to the Sulfur Banks to see the fumes escaping from the deep cracks in the earth produced by the magma pocket below. 

Continuing my way on the 1+ mile trail, I then came upon the Steam Vents. There are actually many of them throughout the walk and on the banks of the cauldron. These are shallower cracks with rocks underneath that are being heated by magma. When rainwater hits the hot rocks it produces all this steam.  


Most of the steam vents are clearly marked but there have been instances of people falling into them so it's important to stay on the trails around here!

Throughout this area I saw so many ʻōhiʻa trees blooming! This is the Hawaiian state tree and is generally one of the first plants to grow through old lava. They are also very prone to disease and have been dying off in past years. Don't touch the ʻōhiʻa!

After checking out of Volcano House, I got my car, and drove over to the Kīlauea Overlook for some last views of the steaming crater. This is Hawaii's youngest and most active volcano and it doesn't seem like Goddess Pele is anywhere near playing with it!

I took a short walk from here to Uekahuna, which is actually the chosen site that Native Hawaiians honor Pele. There are fantastic views of Mauna Loa, Kīlauea, and the old Jaggar Museum and Observatory. This had been on my list of places to visit in 2018 but unfortunately it sustained considerable damage during that eruption and is now being razed. 


On my drive out of the park I decided to do one more short hike to Pu‘u Pua‘i. The parking lot is on the opposite side of Kīlauea Iki and it's just a mile out and back to see this odd mound of cinders that was formed during the eruption in 1959. The cinders were the result of 1,900 foot high lava fountains, cooling and falling back to earth, but today it just looks like a very barren hill.


And with that I said goodbye to this amazing national park and started my drive to the other side of the island!

All Big Island photos here.




Monday, February 19, 2024

Pre-Disaster Maui

Trip date: May 2023

Just 3 months after I returned from my latest trip to Maui, Lahaina (and surrounding areas) burned to the ground. It was shocking to realize that some of the places I had just discovered might be gone forever. 

I had taken advantage of (another!) 5-night Westin/Marriott timeshare presentation deal at the Ka'anapali Ocean Resort. This was my 4th time at the resort and I was looking forward to working from Maui for the week. I really love this beautiful property; the beach is fab, the weather would be warm and sunny, and they gave me a great discount on a rental car so I upgraded to a convertible!

I booked my flight on Alaska in Premium Class and a few weeks before my flight TripIt Pro alerted me to a drop in the fare. I called Alaska and saved $230! That more than paid for my $49 annual subscription!

It's a beautiful 45 minute drive from the airport, and since I knew that my room at the resort was a 1 bedroom with living room and kitchen, I made a stop at the nearby Foodland for groceries. Foodland has some of the best poke around! As well as musubi, local chips, ready made salads, etc. I love shopping here and I really like having some of my own stuff in my fridge.

When I pulled up to the resort the valet directed me to the other tower to the north of where I have always stayed in the past. To me, the North Tower was not near as nice as the South Tower and when I walked into my room I was super disappointed. It was an ADA room so the closet wasn't high enough to hang my clothes and the bathroom was super dumpy. The room was also as far from the beach as you could get and I could hear road traffic from my lanai. 

I spoke to a few different managers and finally got them to agree to move me the next day. I celebrated down by the central firepit with a double HH mai tai and some live music. It had been a long day so I decided to just have a couple of fish tacos at the hotel's outdoor casual restaurant (along with a few more mai tais!)


The next day I was moved to a MUCH nicer room, still in the north tower, but closer to the pool and the lobby. All week I pretty much kept to the same schedule; work on the lanai in the mornings and then a walk along the ocean on the boardwalk trail.


In the afternoon I'd rent a Casabella (a two-seater lounger with a hood you can raise or lower) at the pool (½ price after 12:30), swim, lunch and HH on the resort grounds and then have dinner offsite. 


One night I took the hotel shuttle to The Cannery mall and then walked across the road to the new location of Star Noodle. Always a favorite, but now with an oceanside location on Front Street. I had delicious garlic noodles, smashed cucumber salad, and a couple of cocktails. 

At this time, it's unclear if the restaurant will be able to reopen. It's so sad to know that the buildings here were completely burned. 


Another night I walked down the boardwalk to Duke's for dinner at the bar. It's touristy and overpriced but I love having a Duke's mai tai along with some fresh catch baked with butter and herbs. And it is so close to the Westin!


Another evening I took an Uber to Papa'aina Restaurant in the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina. I had reservations just after sunset so I got there a bit early to take in the scenery.


Unfortunately when I went to enter the restaurant, it was closed. No note, no explanation. I double checked my email confirmation and I had the right day and time. It was frustrating! 

This historic hotel's building was completely destroyed in the fires, it had been in operation since 1901 and was the oldest hotel on the island. There are no plans for rebuilding or reopening which is such a loss for Lahaina. 

I ended up calling another Uber and going to Honu which some hotel guests had told me about earlier in the week. 


Since I didn't have a reservation I ate at the bar where there seemed to be quite a few regulars also. I had a fantastic take on poke and also some wonderful grilled octopus. 

Honu is hoping to reopen summer 2024, if you are there and they are open, I highly recommend eating here!

And of course I had to attend a timeshare presentation, since that was the reason for the great deal. It was only 90 minutes, and I wouldn't say it was a hard-sell, but the salesperson was very rude when I was honest and said I wasn't going to be buying. And even though they offered me ANOTHER deal to pre purchase, based on the horrible first room I was given I declined. 


Maui is still rebuilding after the massive destruction the fires caused. Here's hoping that these places, and all the others along the quaint streets of Lahaina, are able to rebuild, rehire, and re-welcome their customers soon. 

Sending much love to the beautiful island.

All Maui photos here.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Saranac Lake, New York Winter Fun

Trip date: February 2023 

After a couple of days in Saratoga Springs, I hitched a ride with my friend John to Saranac Lake, which is where his company Rascal + Thorn would be putting on the dinner that I came to the area for.  It was a gorgeous, snowy, 2-hour drive through the Adirondack Mountains. 


We arrived at the Hotel Saranac and upon check-in they told me they had upgraded me to a bigger corner room. I would be working for the next couple of days so it was nice to have a proper desk and a great view of the town. And since the hotel is in the Hilton portfolio my status got me $15 credit per day to use how I liked. 


The hotel has a very good all-day restaurant so some of the event group met there for lunch. Afterwards John took me on a drive around the area and to Lake Placid. What a gorgeous area, especially for snow sports enthusiasts! And I got to see the famous hockey rink where the Miracle on Ice happened in 1980!


Back in Saranac we walked down to the frozen lake to check out the construction of the Ice Palace. Each February, since 1897, Saranac Lake puts on a big Winter Carnival. It's one of the oldest in the country and there are lots of activities like parades, concerts, curling, dances, etc but the pièce de résistance is the Ice Palace that volunteers construct using blocks harvested from the lake. 


They even had a small museum set up with photos from prior years. Some of the palaces were massive! I love small town stuff like this so I thought it all was very cool! 

That evening John invited everyone out to dinner at Red Fox which is a super old-school American Italian restaurant. Big martinis, shrimp cocktail, prime rib, veal parmigiana, and a lot of fun!  


Back at the hotel a few of us stopped into the Great Hall, the hotel's cocktail bar, where we found some really great prices on whiskey pours.


Besides its historical Winter Carnival, Saranac Lake is also known for it incredibly cold winter temperatures. In fact, it is regularly the coldest place in the Continental US. And when I woke up on Friday morning, that is exactly what was happening! It was -19F and -43 with wind chill. Holy shit!

I bundled up and braved the cold to make my way to Origins Coffee for a breakfast biscuit and latte. I was pretty much the only person outside! 

My shopping trip around town got cut short after about 10 minutes of being outside as it was truly the coldest cold I had ever felt (and I've been north of the Arctic Circle IN WINTER!). I headed back to my cozy room and worked until it was a respectable time for happy hour. A hot toddy was absolutely needed that evening!

On the advise of John, I had dinner one evening at the Fiddlehead Bistro, which luckily was just a couple of blocks away. I sat up at the bar and had a great meal including some lovely local cheeses at the end. 

It was -23F when I walked home! Actual temp, not with wind chill!

I took advantage of the hotel's spa the next morning and booked in for a relaxing massage and some time in front of their fireplace with hot tea. After warming up, I braved the cold again and walked down to the lake to see how the Ice Palace was coming along.

Unfortunately, even though it was currently crazy cold, the lake hadn't frozen early enough to harvest the amount of blocks needed for a large Palace, so the structure was pretty small. But still very cool!

Besides the Winter Carnival, Saranac Lake is also known as being the first place in America to open a tuberculosis sanatorium. Edward Trudeau opened the Saranac Laboratory in 1884, it's now a museum right in the center of town and right next to his old house.


Until 1946, when an antibiotic cure was found, the Saranac Lake Laboratory was the leader in research and administering treatment of fresh air and complete bed rest- the only known way to cure tuberculosis- to patients who came from all over. Dr. Trudeau treated many important people, including Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Around town you can still see homes with large porches called "cure porches", this is where people would sit and take in fresh air to stay healthy or recover from TB. 

It's a small and very interesting museum if you get a chance to go. And during the Winter Carnival there is a "pay-what-you-want" admission. Also the Trudeau name may be familiar to you as his grandson Garry Trudeau is the cartoonist and creator of Doonesbury.


Back at the hotel, I got ready for the reason for the trip; The Rascal + Thorn dinner! 

The evening started with passed canapes of foie gras mousse in pani puri cups, caviar on sourdough crackers, and spiced lamb skewers. They were all absolutely fantastic! Hosts, John and Charles introduced the dinner team of Chef Erik Anderson Chef Alex Lempka (from Hamlet & Ghost), and Will Wyatt (owner of Mister Paradise and Pretty Ricky bars in NYC).


We all found our way to our seats where a lovely cocktail awaited the first course. We would have 4 courses and dessert, each one paired with a cocktail made by Will.


The entire evening was just fantastic! There was a soft scrambled maple egg in its shell, some stunning raw steelhead trout with egg yolk and trout roe, roasted squab with shiso and caviar, perfectly cooked Mack Brook beef with potato cake, and burnt sugar and rosemary pudding for dessert. 

These folks really out did themselves! And the Winter Carnival had a big fireworks display that we all got to watch from the warm dining room during the dinner!

The next morning I said goodbye to everyone and took a "local taxi" to Adirondack Airport. That means I got some names of locals with trucks from the hotel concierge and paid one to drive me. Small towns are very funny!

At the Cape Air check-in counter I had to provide my weight, as well as they weighed my bag and carry on. Turns out I was flying on a TINY 8 person prop plane to JFK! For those of you who don't know me personally, I'm actually an extremely nervous flyer so this sounded terrifying!

Add to that the airport couldn't serve alcohol until 10am (because it was Sunday), and my flight left at 10:30. I basically shotgunned a mimosa at 10:03am! 

I still don't really know how all that luggage fit; they were putting things in the nose, the wings, etc! We weren't allowed to have anything in the cabin except for what you could hold in your hand (like a book or your phone). 

We were seated so that the weight distribution was even and one couple was very upset that they couldn't sit next to each other. I mean we are in a minivan with wings and he was right behind her! 

Luckily the weather was good so the 2 hour flight was pretty calm. It was crazy flying that low over the Adirondacks and into JFK though! I was very tense the entire time and was super happy when we landed!

Since I had a 4 hour layover in JFK, I went to spend some time in the TWA Hotel where for $25 you can lounge in their rooftop pool which is heated to 95F and overlooks the runway!


I had planned this, so I had my suit in my carry-on and a staff person locked my suitcase up in a closet for me. I had to change in the restaurant bathroom which wasn't great though. I kind of expected them to have a little locker room or similar. But it was super relaxing to take a soak and watch the planes. 

The rooftop restaurant is like a ski chalet in the winter so I stopped in after for some lunch, but it was really basic food and wine. All served on disposable and very overpriced. Not sure if it is always like this or if this was a holdover from Covid. The space is super cute though.


And walking back out through the hotel to the main concourse was super fun with all the old TWA memorabilia, 70-style bar, and retail shops. There is even an old TWA plane that is now a cocktail bar but it wasn't open yet when I needed to leave.


I made my way to my terminal and checked out the newly opened Alaska Air Lounge real quick before boarding my flight from JFK to Seattle. I had used points for a First Class, always nice on a 6 ½ flight! This one even served little cans of Straightaway cocktails and containers of Salt & Straw ice cream for dessert! 

It had been such a great trip! So fun seeing friends and great meeting all the chefs. Upstate New York is truly gorgeous... AND COLD!

All Saranac Lake photos here

Previous post from this trip: 24 Hours in Saratoga Springs

Volcano Lessons on Hawai'i

Trip date: May 2023 After 5 nights on Maui , I took a short Hawaiian Airlines flight to Kona on the Big Island. In 2018 my plans to hike aro...

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