If there's time, take a look at the Kau Desert, located 50 mi/80 km southwest of Hilo. Highway 11 crosses through the edges of the Kau Desert between Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park and the small town of Pahala.
Not technically a desert—the average rainfall is too great—the desertlike appearance is actually created by a combination of the rain shadow created by Mauna Loa and acid rain caused by the sulfur dioxide gas from Kîlauea. The pH of the acid rain, as low as 3.4, inhibits most plant growth.
Arid and barren, this strange place is where, according to tradition, the volcano goddess Pele rained gases and debris on a regiment of Hawaiian warriors. You can see their fossilized footprints at a spot along Highway 11, just inside the southwest boundary of the park.
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