Reykjanes Peninsula – my introduction to Iceland The moss in the lava fields grows up to 3 feet thick and actually digests the lava rock, a process that takes 500 to 3,000 years to create soil.
Blue Lagoon An overpriced tourist trap, but felt so good after a trans-Atlantic flight. Artificial geothermal pool filled with the heated outflow of the nearby geothermal energy plant.
Walking paths through the geothermal plant’s outflow pools.
Most of Iceland’s energy comes from renewable geothermal sources.
Hekla – the hell mountain Medieval Europe believed Hekla was the gateway to hell, guarded by a massive raven. The expression “What the heck” stems from Hekla. Today Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, erupting every 10 years. Last erupted in 2000 and currently showing signs of swelling, hinting of an approaching eruption.
Kerið Crater Implosion crater formed during a fissure eruption, when the crater collapsed under its own weight into the magma chamber. Björk held a concert here in 1986 from a floating stage.
FossinFaxi One of Iceland’s “minor” waterfalls – a major waterfall anywhere else!
Gullfoss – “Golden Waterfall”
The spray kicked up by this 32 m double cascade can be seen from miles away. Prepare to be thoroughly soaked.
Standing on the rock jutting out in the middle of the falls is an exercise in overpowering humility and the roaring thunder of water.
Langjökull – the glacier that feeds Gullfoss, nestled in its mountain cocoon
Geysir – after which all geysers are named. Currently not active beyond constant steam. Geysir becomes active in conjunction with earthquake activity. Historically the 2nd most active geyser in the world. (Old Faithful is #3.)
Strokkur – geyser erupting every 3 to 8 minutes
Always pay attention to wind direction to avoid a steam bath!
Plate tectonics in action! One of many visible fissures in the continental divide between the North American and European continents.
Þingvellir – site of Iceland’s historic Alþing (parliament). Situated in the rift valley formed by the pulling apart of the North American and European continental plates. Every year the rift widens another 1.5cm and the valley sinks a couple millimeters.
Crystal clear waters of Öxará Öxará flows into Þingvallavatn, a lake known as one of the world’s best scuba-diving spots, especially in the flooded chasm of Silfra, with visibility of 300m. The water filters through lava fields to the lake. Those afraid of heights are advised not to scuba dive here because you can see all the way to the bottom, such as the shiny money glittering here.
Þingvellir – site of Iceland’s ancient Alþing Iceland’s parliament first met here in 930 ce, making this the world’s first and oldest democratic parliament. The Alþing last convened here in 1798.
Lögberg (Law Rock) where the Law Speaker recited a third of the law every year. Before the development of the Icelandic written language, this was critical for preserving the law, which the Law Speaker completely memorized.
Path within the Almannagjá Fissure.
With one touch, we’re in North America!
Fissure cliff of the North American tectonic plate acts as a natural amplifier, which is why the Alþing met here.
Foundations of Snorri the Goði’sbuð, a leading goði (chieftain) in Iceland’s history. He stars in many of the Sagas. The annual meeting of the Alþing was not only political, but also judicial and social. For two weeks in the summer, the leading men of Iceland socialized, arranged marriages, settled legal disputes, and conducted business deals. Chieftains stayed in semi-permanent dwellings called buðs. One of the Alþing’s decisions included the national conversion to Christianity in 1000 ce. The Danish government dissolved the Alþing in 1798.
View from the Lögberg of the rift valley. The Alþing conducted government business entirely outdoors. When Iceland reconvened their parliament in 1843, they moved to Reykjavik.
Icelandic flag on the Lögberg. A site of national pride and significance. Almost half the country descended upon Þingvellir to hear the declaration of independence from Denmark in 1944.
The fissures of Þingvellir are still active as the continental plates continue to pull apart.
Á hestbak– horseback riding
Iceland’s horses descend from the horses of the Vikings. A 10th century ban on bringing new horses into the country has resulted in a genetically distinct horse. Smaller and of sturdy Norse stock. Icelandic horses have a special gait called the tölt, an especially smooth gait at high speed. Feels like flying.
My ride for the morning. And yes, I look silly in a riding helmet.
Vík – population 300
Reynisdrangar – Legend tells of 3 trolls petrified to stone by the sun as they dragged a boat to shore.
Black sand beach in Vík The black sand is volcanic silt and debris from eruptions washed down to the ocean by rivers and violent jökulhlaups, glacial floods that burst forth all at once, often as a result of massive melting of the glaciers by volcanic eruptions. A jökulhlaupwashed out the Ring Road shortly before my trip. As we drove across the newly rebuilt section, construction crews were still cleaning up the mess.
Heavy clouds loom on the horizon…..
A stormy drive past Skógafoss
Geothermal energy plant
Volcanic ash, kicked up by high winds, obscures Eyjafjallajökull. The ash is from last year’s (2010) eruption that disrupted European plane traffic.
Glacial flood plains leading out to the Atlantic Ocean