The night before lava took Dove Park away

All we could see in the headlights was the dark road in front of us and bright orange streams of lava on either side. It was like driving through hell.

The lava was moving underground and through the black Pahoehoe we could see it splashing orange and gold out of pukas, less than 10 feet from our moving car.


The snaking lava was streaming past us in the opposite direction, like we were driving on a ramp with flaming liquid on either side. I worried about the gas tank.

It was crazy driving through the spewing lava fields of the 1990 Kalapana eruption, but we weren’t going to miss this party for all the pot in Puna!

Even crazier was the fact that Harry Kim, then-Civil Defense director, would allow us to have a party smack dab in the center of a sprawling lava flow. Good old Harry, always relaxed, he knew the Goddess was in control, and knew all us hippies would be safe, but mostly he knew we deserved one more blow-out before the black wave of lava covered everything.

He announced we could have one more social function before he shut down the whole area. The big, last party at Dove Park was on and we were driving to it on a hot Saturday night — 2,000 degrees hot!

Me and my harp player, Pete, were the whole band, the big entertainment for the night. We were going to play at the party and were heading there as fast as we could, charging through the burning fields.

Dove Park was a small patch of grass with an even smaller open pavilion facing the patch of grass, that was it. When we pulled into the tiny park it was aglow with lights and dancing hippies and Puna residents, merrily enjoying themselves.

On the lit-up lawn we could see groups of people sitting around. In the pavilion people were moving down the line of tables putting food on paper plates, it was a calabash dinner with kalua pig, macaroni salad, the usual works, and small talk and laughs all around.

It could have been a party anywhere, California or Kansas, beer coolers and happy people as calm as could be, but this party was surrounded on three sides by crimson magma gushing through pitch black fields in the night. It looked like little orange eyes peeking out.

A few beers later, me and Pete stepped up to the microphones in the pavilion, there was a drummer and he started the beat, boom, boom, boom, and I launched into the first rockin’ tune, Pete wailing on the harmonica.

People were dancing on the cement floor of the pavilion and there were laughs and hoots and whistles and claps and for a brief hour or two people forgot their troubles.

The sulphur smell was everywhere mixing with the fragrance of the local herb and all around, the snap of pop tops. There was a togetherness in the air you could feel, true aloha.

As I sang my songs I looked out at the dimly lit faces and could see smiles, but in the shadows I knew eyes were glistening, throats were hurting. Remembering.

My last song lilted out across the lawn, “Goodbye, Kalapana, I’ll always remember you, with the wind in the palm trees and the ocean that smiles so blue …”

The party ended as people faded away into the night. The sweetness of it stayed with us on the long, scary ride home. The next day the little park was covered with lava. The sweet memory of that night stayed with us, and is still with us today.


But Harry Kim knew that all along.

Dennis Gregory writes a bimonthly column for West Hawaii Today and welcomes your comments at