2018 included several firsts for me: The first time driving (and my first time trying to park in the high school parking lot) and my first trip to Hawaii.

Admittedly, the middle of December was not the best time for traveling to The Big Island, what with large amounts of schoolwork to make up, but a wedding decided the timing of our travel plans. Homework or no, I was beyond excited to venture to our country’s 50th state.

Right away, it was clear we weren’t on the mainland as we arrived at the ceilingless airport in Kona, Hawaii. I guess the weather must never be below 80 degrees. We couldn’t keep from staring up at the sky while we waited for our luggage. On the way to the hotel, we passed a landscape that was not entirely dissimilar to that of the Yakima Valley, though the rolling hills were active volcanos and the grasses were broken up by black volcanic rock.

The Big Island of Hawai’i is accurately named, being nearly twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined. Taking advantage of the real estate, we decided to take a road trip around the entire island, stopping at Volcano National Park and the Green Sand Beach, which is the southernmost point of the United States.

We arrived at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park visitor center on a rainy afternoon. The park had reopened only a few months before after being closed by the eruption of Kilauea this past summer. We hadn’t thought to research what parts of the park were open before arriving, but we soon learned that most trails were closed due to continuing off-gassing near the eruption site. We ventured on, though, and saw steam vents, vast craters and a fissure from the 1969 Mauna Ulu eruption of Kilauea. In case you were curious, there is no lava flowing in the park.

As we walked through the park, I thought, “This would be a great set for a Hollywood space movie!” It was raining lightly and the otherworldly landscape covered in lava rock that made it look like Mars. Despite the limited access, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was an unforgettable experience.

We continued on our way, traveling farther south in search of the Green Sand Beach, one of only four green sand beaches in the world. Papakolea Beach is not easy to reach, and even Google Maps can’t completely locate it. There are only two ways to access the green sand: hiking 3 miles in and out, or catching a ride with one of the locals. We decided to go with the latter. In 30 mph winds, we rode in the back of a pickup along rocky paths with sand whipping in our faces. No matter the challenge of getting there, I was mesmerized by the olivine green crystals that had been left over from volcanic eruptions. Knowing I was standing on the southernmost point of the 50 states made it even more memorable. It was a crazy experience and most definitely worth it!

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to The Big Island of Hawai’i. Although I returned home to plenty of homework, I am so grateful for the opportunity to travel to such a wonderful and diverse part of the United States.

Anna Ergeson is a junior at Selah High School.

Anna Ergeson is a freshman at Selah High School and is a member of the Yakima Herald-Republic’s Unleashed program for teen journalists.