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Fire Walking With the Lava Junkies
Writer-Photographer James Balog - Click to Enlarge
James Balog

Up close and personal with Hawaii's Kilauea, the world's most active volcano.

For 11 days last August, Colorado-based writer-photographer James Balog got to play with fire on Hawaii's Kilauea, the world's most active volcano (see "Among the Lava Junkies" in the February 2003 Adventure— read excerpt). Drawing on knowledge from his previous visits to Mount St. Helens and Stromboli, and a master's degree in Earth science, Balog witnessed Kilauea's Mother's Day flow, named in honor its of initial eruption last May.

Getting close to this active flow is still uncommonly easy. "When the lava is flowing fairly close to the end of the Chain of Craters Road," says Balog, "nearly anyone can get there. It's pretty cool."

But despite the drive-in accessibility, Balog says the dangers are real. First-degree burns are the least you can expect when you get as close to 2,200°F [1,204°C] lava as Balog and his assistant did. When asked how he quelled his nerves on such a dangerous site, Balog waxed philosophical.

"After a long career of being in dangerous situations, you train yourself to be fatalistically calm. I have a basic belief that the fates are looking out for me because they want me to tell the story of these various natural forces." Lucky for us.

—Mary Anne Potts

Portrait courtesy James Balog

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February 2003

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