Travel lessons from a Hawaiian volcano

Travel lessons from a Hawaiian volcano

- in Travel

Christopher Elliott, Special to USA TODAY
Published 12:00 p.m. ET March 15, 2019


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You can learn a lot about travel from a volcano. That’s what Rick Hazlett, a volcanologist and professor emeritus of environmental analysis and geology at Pomona College, will tell you – and he’s right.

Hazlett led one of the response teams during last spring’s volcanic eruption in Hawaii. His group coordinated with civil defense and law enforcement to help keep residents safe from Kilauea’s erupting fissures and lava flows.

What can a shield volcano in the middle of the Pacific teach you about being a better traveler? Plenty, says Hazlett.

This image obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii on June 12, 2018. (Photo: AFP Photo/U.S. Geological Survey)

Want to travel like a volcanologist? Have a backup plan

Maybe you saw the videos of Hazlett calmly talking about Kilauea while the volcano spewed steam and lava behind him. I wanted to know how he managed to keep his cool.

“You have to have a Plan B,” he told me. “I kept a map of the street grid in my head. Once I got a handle on the geography and became comfortable with a location, I wasn’t worried. I knew that new vents wouldn’t open up outside a certain predictable zone.”

Still, Hazlett and his team always had a backup plan – just in case. They kept in mind all available escape routes in the event the lava flow took an unexpected turn.

Having a Plan B is also important when you’re on the road, and Hazlett has been on the road researching in many remote areas.

“Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands,” he remembers. “On a clear day, the Aleutians is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But when the fog and stormy weather roll in, you can get grounded in one place for days at a time.”

Once, Hazlett was stuck tent-bound on Unalaska Island for three days while researching Makushin Volcano in Alaska. That’s when he learned the importance of packing a good book – and a lot of patience.


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