Covering New Ground at MacKenzie State Recreation Area
The first thing we heard about MacKenzie State Recreation Area was that it had bad vibes. The second was that multiple murders and robberies occurred there. The third thing was that, with Volcano National Park closed due to an eruption, we had to go see MacKenzie as the fresh lava flows burned through the park, hit the ocean, and created the newest land in the United States.
With our minds primed to the ideas of the area’s bad juju, the windswept and utterly lonely feeling of the recreation area was paramount. The parking area was full of other cars, and the area around the lot was crowded with tourists standing on towering cliffs of sharp volcanic rock that abruptly fell into the ocean below. Stepping away from the lot and pushing through the groves of the ironwood trees—which coated the sharp rock underfoot with feet of soft decaying pine needles—the area quickly became empty except for ourselves.
The monochromatic starkness of the silvery trees, the black rock, and the crashing blue waters conjured a sense of beautiful bleakness—as well as major The Ring vibes. Everything was too picturesque, too shockingly beautiful, and too overwhelmingly quiet aside from the ever present roar of the waves. The desolation made it easy to believe the area is haunted either by the ghosts of prisoners conscripted in the 1800s to build a road around Big Island or by the souls of those allegedly sacrificed in this corner of the island hundreds of years ago.
At the same time, the razor sharp newness of the volcanic rock was enough to make agnostic Jen momentarily start praying and believing in Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. It’s easy to believe in her when you see lava flows. Stepping out of the ironwood forest, and past a field of new rock waiting for us to fall to cut us to shreds (seriously, new rock is amazingly sharp), we encountered our first lava flow.
It towered above us. The flow was at least fifteen vertical feet of razor sharp rock leading from a volcano straight into the ocean and the US’s newest piece of land. Helpfully, like in some sort of adventure video game, someone had already blazed a trail over the flow and marked their route by planting coconut palms, whose green leaves shone against the jet black rock.
Between the lava flows and throughout the volcanic fields are lava tubes underfoot and select paths down to the ocean where you can spy the beginnings of new black sand beaches. Everything about the park—its silence, its stillness, and its sense of untamed natural beauty—is astounding. So the sound of running feet as we got to our third lava flow immediately freaked us out and brought to mind the stories of grizzly murders and marauding ghosts.
Suddenly appearing behind us was a runner. He ran straight toward us, stopped, and told us how he had arthritis and had started running every day to fix his joints. And it must have worked, because as soon as he gave us the good news he ran up the face of the lava flow. By the time we managed to climb up it, he was already off on the horizon, running across jagged rocks that Jen and I had to painstakingly pick our away across.
I’m still not entirely sure he wasn’t a ghost.
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