Tip: The drive to this town is one of the most scenic drives in the world.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which extends over 333,000 acres in the south central part of the Big Island, is the island's most popular attraction drawing more than 2.5 million people a year. Located 30 miles from Hilo and 96 miles from Kona, it's a place where volcanoes erupt, lava flows, and ancient myths meet

science. Here the story of millions of years of volcanic history continues to evolve, and Madame Pele, Hawaii's goddess of the volcano, remains in residence. The park, established in 1916, is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Admission (good for seven days) is $10 per vehicle.

Kilauea, the park's main attraction, is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. One of five volcanoes that formed the Big Island, Kilauea sits on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa, which at 13,677 feet is considered the world's largest volcano. Kilauea has erupted continuously since Jan. 3, 1983.

Volcanic activity is hazardous and unpredictable. Conditions at vent areas can change rapidly and portions of the park are often closed for the safety of visitors. Don't set out to view lava flows without checking the park's website or talking to park officials about closures.

Hot lava entering the ocean is a spectacular sight, but it's not a phenomenon to be relied upon. Lava flows where Pele goes. As of this writing, lava is actively flowing into the Pacific. Normally, the shield volcano takes a passive approach and oozes lava from fissures in its side. In March, Kilauea wound up and blew off a little steam shooting lava from its summit and projecting boulders and rocks over the landscape.

Though lava flows oozing from Kilauea have caused both massive damage and prodigious land building, its eruptions more typically result in temperate flows. As a result, the edges of active vents are frequently accessible, allowing thousands of people to come face to face with the primordial forces that have shaped the Earth.

Major features of the park are the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive that encircles Kilauea's summit caldera and the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum.

Volcanoes National Park is not Disney World. It's the real thing, and very real dangers exist. Lava enters the ocean at 2,100 degrees F., causing seawater to explode into steam and molten lava and rocks to blast skyward. Every day the volcano spews more than 2,500 tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. So avoid coastal areas, don't approach lava flowing through vegetation, do not stand or walk in or under fumes. And always carry plenty of water and a flashlight.

Please do not vandalize any park features. They are protected by federal law, and perhaps more importantly by local superstition that portends bad luck should you remove lava from the island. For current information about the park and eruption updates, call (808) 985-6000 or visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website: http://www.nps.gov/havo

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