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Iceland – The Land of Fire and Ice

November 30, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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The country of Iceland is filled with dramatic lava fields, turbulent waterfalls, glaciated mountains, and has a sparsely populated, rugged geography. It is a place unlike anywhere in the world. Each morning I woke up and drove to a new place within the country I realized it’s uniqueness more. The unspoiled natural beauty is rare in today’s times, and I hope with all my heart this beautiful country remains as untouched and preserved as it is today.

Our first stop in Iceland was in the northern part of the country just outside the town of Akureyri, which is the second largest city in all of Iceland, inhabiting around only 30,000 people. We spent most of our time in the northern part of the country near the the gorgeous Lake Mývatn. Mývatn has an inspiring unearthly appearance owing to special types of volcanic craters that surround the lake. We spent an entire two days exploring all of the unique scenery around this area and staying up late in the night to hunt for the northern lights in the sky.

Around the lake we found some really amazing and unique sights. Neither Tyler nor I had ever really seen volcanic land up close and personal like we did while we were here. One of the first really interesting things we came across was the Hverfjall Crater. This 2500 year old, nearly symmetrical tephra crater rises 463 meters high and is 1040 meters across.

We also walked through the unique area of Dimmuborgir, which in Icelandic means dark forts. It is an area of volcanic arches, pillars, caves and bridges. The black lava formations are the result of a 2000 year old lava flow, but some of the people here say they are actually dancing trolls turned into stone, and if you look closely at them you can even see the troll faces. It’s pretty entertaining to pick out all stones that form face like images.

Next we came by a really neat geothermal activity area at the bottom of the Námaskarð mountain range that reminded us a little bit of our trip to New Zealand with all the hot mud pools and fumaroles.

A very interesting fact I learned about Iceland is that the country itself grows approximately two inches every year through all of the earthquakes and various natural disturbances, and this spot here shows where the country has been spreading apart for all these years. Pretty cool eh?

Another really neat little thing we saw here was their natural bakery. With my passion for cooking this was such a neat thing to see. All the families living around this area here in the north have an “oven” on this little piece of land. Each oven is practically just a whole in the ground with steel plate over the whole and rock weights to hold it shut. The land in is specific area is very hot under the surface, and the holes or ovens stiffen the steam from the ground and they use it to cook their traditional rye bread. So when they want to have some fresh bread at home they mix up the ingredients and carry it down to their oven, set the pan inside, and come back in twenty four hours for their freshly and naturally baked bread. No electricity needed here! We even got to try some of this delicious rye bread with some smoked arctic char, another local speciality. I can tell you it was the best rye bread I’ve ever had in my life and the arctic char was amazing, even more flavorful than smoked salmon.

After spending the first day hiking throughout the area and seeing all of the beautiful sights around Mývatn we decided we would go out and try our hand at little fly fishing. Even though both of us had been fishing several times before, neither one of us had ever fly fished. We definitely had some great laughs. Not only could I never get the line out far enough, I proceeded to get stuck knee deep in a hole while trying. I can definitely say fly fishing takes practice and some major skill!

Now for out first experience with the northern lights!!! Our first night up in this region was much too cloudy and we were unable to see anything at all, but our second night was a completely different story. We went out on a “hunt” to fund different spots where we could see the lights best and Tyler could get some good pictures. We started to see the lighter streaks glowing across the sky and quickly jumped out of the car to see what was going to happen. The lights increased a little bit but nothing too dramatic at first, so we sat there for a while looking at the stars and realized we could see the Milky Way right above us. I don’t think I had ever actually seen the Milky Way in the sky before and if I had it was nothing as vivid as this. The stars were clustered together like a belt across the sky, it was a phenomenal moment. After admiring the sky for a while we went on the next viewing place to find out what we could see from there. We were sitting there hoping that the slight streak of light across the sky would become more vivid and just as we were about to give up for the night the glow got bigger and brighter within seconds. It was almost as if God was just painting the sky and adding on in some places and erasing it off in others. This natural phenomenon was truly an incredible thing to witness. We just happened to be by the beautiful pond and Tyler got some amazing photos of the lights and their reflection in the water.

After our few days around Akureyri we left to explore the southern region of Iceland. Our first stop in the south was at Thingvellir National Park which is a unique park and important park in Iceland because here Althing (an open air assembly) took place which represented the whole of Iceland and it started in 930 and continued till 1798. This assembly was mainly formed for settling disputes. Thingvellir National Park also shows evidence of the process by which the landscape was formed in Iceland 1,000 years back. Our first stop in this park was at the two continental plates, the North American and European continental plates. Just as the place I previously mentioned in the north, but here the plates were more apparent.

From here we drove in our super jeep to the Kaldidalur mountain pass to walk on the Langjokull glacier. About half way there we took a pit stop to let air out of our 35″ super swappers to gain more traction on the rugged and icy terrain. Langjokull, covering an area of 950 square kilometers with the summit at 1355 meters above sea level, is the second biggest glacier of Iceland. We walked out onto the glacier only a few minutes and could see no end. It was so interesting because I had never seen a flat top glacier like this before.

Our next adventure was at the Surtshellir lava cave, where we went caving to see the impressive ice candles and columns. Surtshellir is the longest and most renowned cave in Iceland. It is known as the “Ice Cave” because of it’s remarkable formations of ice candles and columns from the top of the cave to the bottom. It was very difficult to take pictures because of how dark it was, but the lava stone made the stone very unique compared to the cave we visited in Slovenia.

After caving we stopped by the beautiful Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls before making our way back to the capital city, Reykjavik.

We loved the time we got to spend here. I found Reykjavik much different from most every other capital city in the world with it’s slow laid back pace. It was like a funky ski town with a young lively personality to it. They have a little foot into the fashion world that I never knew about before visiting, and a great laid back nightlife as well. While we were here we even tried their local minke whale sashimi, it was delicious!

We left from Reykjavik the next day to drive through the scenic Reykjanes peninsula and make a visit to the beautiful Blue Lagoon. We had a great time making our stops on the peninsula in the different spots to take pictures of the gorgeous sunrise, seeing the long haired horses, and visiting the lighthouse out through the remote lava fields sitting by the shore.

We then stopped at the Blue Lagoon for a little healing water experience! The Blue Lagoon is situated in the middle of a Iceland’s youngest lava field and created by geothermal seawater. The hot water comes from holes as deep as 6000 feet and is used to fill the natural spa with warm and comfortable water but is also used for powering the nearby natural energy station.

We spent our last day in Iceland exploring the famous Golden Circle route. Our first stop was at a small volcanic crater by the name of Kerið to get up close and personal with a volcano!

From there we went to see probably the two most visited sites in Iceland the Gullfoss and the Strokkur Geysir. The Gullfross or Golden Falls is a magnificient 32m high double waterfall on the White River. The flow of the river from the regular rains and the glacial runoff, particularly in summer, makes it the largest volume falls in Europe.

Geysir, the hot spring that is the namesake for all geysers in the world, is also one of the most popular stops in Iceland. First stories of the Geysir area can be found in documents from the year 1294 when earthquakes were frequent in the southern part of Iceland and caused the area to evolve to its current form. In the year 1630 the geysers in the area had so much power that the earth trembled when they spouted. As with many of the natural features in Iceland, many will be amazed at how close you can get to the geysers. As well as Geysir itself, which seldom erupts, there is the popular five-minutely Strokkur, other geysers, and various strikingly coloured hot pools.

That concludes our trip to Iceland. I am so grateful to have visited such a uniquely beautiful country and see these amazing untouched sights so up close and personally, not to mention the friendliness of all the locals, including guides, people, and animals! Iceland is a special place and the northern lights are a natural phenomenon I’ll never forget.

Until Next Time!


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