Some Like it Hot: Sleeping on an Active Volcano

By on October 1, 2014

By J. Kat Loren –

Mark Twain liked it hot. Jack London wasn’t afraid of a little heat either. Apparently, they both enjoyed traveling in mountains and on the open ocean. Twain’s editor at the Sacramento Union booked a conventional ship to the Sandwich Islands so that Twain could write a series of travel “letters”. London, having frequented the Hawaiian waters on a whaling ship in his younger days, sailed his own boat, “Snark”, from Oakland, California across the long Pacific passage to Hawaii.

Once in Hilo, each trekked up to Volcano National Park back in the days when Pele revealed her fiery moods and ignited the imagination of the world. Scores of writers and tourists made the long horseback ride or vintage automobile ride up the Kilauea’s lava molded mountainside to the rain forest near the caldera. Most either camped along the way or stayed at the island’s first and only hotel, appropriately named Volcano House, perched on the rim of Kilauea Caldera, a short walk across Crater Rim Drive from the Kilauea Visitor Center.

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Volcano House Hotel  Twenty-six years before Yellowstone was designated as the first National Park, the Volcano House Hotel opened with four bedrooms, a parlor, and dining room and attracted an assortment of famous people, ordinary tourists and obscure scientists. Mark Twain stayed here, and wrote about his visit in the book Roughing It. Author Jack London stayed in 1907.

1912 Volcano house Hotel

1912 Volcano house Hotel

The original 1877 building where Twain and London slept is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses the Volcano Art Center. A larger hotel was built across the street and closer to the crater overlook. The 115-room building burned to the ground on February 11, 1940 (ironically, from a kitchen fire, not a volcanic eruption). The 1877 structure was used again for guests while the new hotel was planned. The hotel in use today was built in 1941 and expanded in 1961. It underwent renovation in 2013 and the Volcano House currently offers 33 historic guest rooms (European sized), a dining room, snack bar, lounge, and gift shop, along with cultural events and demonstrations.

The restaurant offers fine dining and a spectacular view of the crater. Outside the restaurant, a lounge area boasts several vintage chairs where guests congregate and cast a wary eye towards the volcano’s rim, alight at night with the glow of the deeper lake of fire. A portrait of old Uncle Billy, a former owner/concessionaire, lounging in his chair, cigar in hand, a faraway look in his eyes as he contemplates Pele’s caldera hangs from a side wall. Native Hawaiians come to the area to offer their prayers and sacrifices to Pele. Billy apparently also offered up his own annual sacrifice to Pele at Christmas. Hiking to the rim, he ritually tossed in a bottle of gin. His sacrifice apparently charmed Pele into sparing the Volcano hotel ever since..

Read more on Julia’s blog..

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About J. Kat Loren

J “Kat” Loren is a Pacific NW-based journalist and author of more than a dozen books. She currently focuses on writing health, fitness, and travel articles. Her blog “Crazi Culture” is a popular read among those who like eclectic topics and travelogues about odd places and adventures.

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Some Like it Hot: Sleeping on an Active Volcano