In 2004, I was an ATV tour guide in Ulupalakua Ranch on Maui.

During a final two-week period, the unexploded ordinance (UXO) cleanup efforts on Kaho’olawe were coming to a close. 

During this time, there were numerous explosions of UXO piles each day. 

The program was seemingly in a rush to destroy as much of the old bombs as possible before the project ended.

Each time the old munitions were exploded, we could feel the ground shake and see a little mushroom cloud (non-radioactive) all the way across the channel. It reminded me of when I was a kid watching Looney Tunes and the coyote’s efforts to get the roadrunner didn’t go so well.

It was kinda cool to see the explosions from such a distance; the danger and destruction was such a contrast to the immense beauty surrounding the implications of that historical period coming to a close. 

What was most impressive to me was the way we could feel the mountain shake under our feet; like from an earthquake (usgs map data). It’s amazing to think about the forces involved that allowed those relatively small explosions (see operation sailor hat for a large test explosion) to vibrate Kaho’olawe, the Ocean, and Haleakala, which is an enormous mountain itself. As impressive as that was, what’s even more so is the experience of seeing an actual Earthquake.

Throughout my year there as a guide, we would take breaks along the tour and describe what we could see from our perspective, often Kaho'olawe seen above. More than once, something subtle would happen that would cause me and Tosh, the other guide, to stop talking mid-sentence and look at each other curiously. 

What. Was. That?

Most of the visitors never noticed a thing. But to us it felt, and looked for that matter,  like everything… the islands and the Ocean…shook, just a little bit. Like a shimmer. The feeling I had of Awe at seeing such a large part of the planet's difficult to describe. After this happened a few times, I started looking at the USGS site and realized how regular volcanic earthquakes are in Hawai'i, especially the smaller and mostly unnoticed variety

It seemed like we were actually feeling and seeing the effects of some of the smaller earthquakes that happen regularly in Hawai’i

USGS site shows 19 earthquakes of magnitudes between 3-4, during 2004.

So every once in a while, if you’re in the right place at the right time... can see the planet shake, just enough, that the reverberations of an island’s growing pains can be seen as a slight blurred shimmer of everything you can see...islands, ocean, and all. 

Search the USGS Earthquake Archives