Jaggar Museum, Volcano NP
A small museum adjacent to the main volcanologists' Kilauea observatory and overlook above Halema'uma'u crater in Hawaii
's Volcanoes National Park
. It has some very informative exhibits, and also some dark elements underscoring the hazards involved in getting close to volcanoes …
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info: The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum – National Park Service, to give it its full official designation, is named after the pioneering scientist Thomas Augustus Jaggar who founded the volcano observatory and was instrumental in the creation of the National Park too.
Jaggar, of the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), first travelled to Hawaii in 1909, and soon after, with the help and financial backing of businessman Lorrin A. Thurston set up the first incarnation of the Hawai'i Volcano Observatory (HVO)
in 1912, and the National Park
was founded in 1916. Jaggar served as the observatory's director until 1940.
In 1985, the observatory moved into a new building and the present museum opened next door to it. While the observatory, run by the U.S. Geological Survey, is not open to the public, the museum is one of the main tourist attractions in the park – other than the volcanoes themselves.
What there is to see: The museum's exhibition is open-plan in one large oblong room. It mostly consists of floor-to-ceiling panels combining photos, charts and explanatory texts, there are also some computer/video screens and few concrete artefacts.
You can learn about different types of volcanoes, about Hawaii
's specific geology and volcanology, different types of lava with original samples on display of pa'hoehoe, a'a, as well as pillow lava from oceanic, underwater eruptions.
There are also samples of special phenomena such as the so-called Pele's hair: thin strands of golden volcanic glass, or see-through, back-lit slices of highly frothed pumice.
Naturally the methods and technology of volcano observation are amply illustrated too, of course. And alongside photos and measuring charts there is all manner of equipment on display, such as a tiltmeter, seismographs and implements with which to measure the temperature of lava.
There is a seismograph that you can activate yourself by either small taps or jumping up and down, which evidently is particularly popular – and not just with kids! It's a fun people-watching spot!
The fact that not all volcanology is just fun is drastically exemplified by a display cabinet containing the clothes and boots of a volcanologist who had the misfortune of breaking through a lava crust, molten lava engulfing his legs. You can see his singed trousers and boots. It brings home the dangers that are lurking out there and underscore why nobody should go off wandering into new lava fields. (This particular volcanologist, though severely injured, survived this dramatic accident, though.)
A couple of screens provided up-to-date information about the most recent as well as current activities of Hawaii
, including the recent lava flows to the east of the park as well as the fluctuating levels of Halema'uma'u's lava lake crater. The photos of the latter's recent overspills in May 2015 were especially awe-inspiring. I got the distinct pained feeling that I had lost out on witnessing this by coming here only two and a half months after the lake's levels dropped down again.
One section of the museum is devoted to the mythological side of Hawaii's volcano legacy, i.e. the islanders' volcano goddess Pele gets her obligatory coverage as well. The real-world founder of the HVO, Thomas A. Jaggar, gets his due credit on one of the more modest panels as well.
The Jaggar Museum also offers the chance of viewing the Kilauea caldera and Halema'uma'u crater from indoors through large windowpanes. And on cold and wet days this may certainly be a welcome alternative.
But of course the best bit is stepping outside and viewing the volcano unobstructed – weather permitting. I went there several times during my five-day stay in the area and saw the view in grey overcast conditions as well as in sunny weather. Both have their appeal. The grey amplifies the gloomy, threatening look of the caldera, but in the sun you can naturally see more details.
On one occasion there was a ranger giving a talk just as I arrived. He told the story of the Halema'uma'u crater activity of recent years as well as earlier episodes. This was accompanied by illuminating photos from these events. And one particular object illustrated why the old Halema'uma'u overlook right on the crater rim had to be closed after the 2008 eruption. The ranger had a piece of wooden railing from that overlook to show visitors and you could feel the semi-singed wood collected after the overlook was partly destroyed in the eruption.
All in all, I found the museum a worthwhile addition to the rest of the park's attractions, especially as it brings some solid science into the equation to augment the sheer visual attractiveness of barren lava scenery with some factual understanding of what brought it about.
As you would expect the museum also has a large gift shop selling not only all manner of volcano-related books, pictures and DVDs but also the full gamut of National Park gifts such as T-shirts and soft toys (even fluffy nene!)
Access and costs: fairly easy; no additional costs (included in the park entrance fee).
Details: Most visitors get here by car, some also on bicycles or motorcycles or as part of a guided tour. In theory it's also walkable from the Kilauea Visitor Center and Volcano House hotel – it's ca. 2.5 miles (4 km) along the northern loop of Crater Rim Road.
This is currently (at the time of writing in 2015) also the end of the road, as the southern and western third of Crater Rim Road remains closed due to the sulphur dioxide venting from Halema'uma'u crater. So you have to drive back towards the visitor centre to continue your explorations of the park.
Opening times of the museum: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily – but volcanic activity can require unscheduled closures. The observation overlooks outside the museum, as well as the bathroom facilities by the car park, are normally open 24/7.
is included in the general National Park
Time required: on average about half an hour, maybe more if you want to study everything in its fullest detail.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Volcanoes National Park
in general. The nearest other park attractions are the almost adjacent Kilauea Overlook to the east and the steaming bluffs closer to the Kilauea Visitor Center.
- Jaggar Museum 1 - seen from afar
- Jaggar Museum 2 - in the main exhibition
- Jaggar Museum 3 - Big Island model
- Jaggar Museum 4 - exhibit
- Jaggar Museum 5 - supermacro of lava crystals
- Jaggar Museum 6 - tragic clothes
- Jaggar Museum 7 - seismograph
- Jaggar Museum 8 - the inevitable Pele