Category Archives: 2018 Trip to Iceland

Vik

 

 

We stopped at Vik for lunch. A.O. recommended a burger joint and a more elegant establishment. We chose the burger joint.   Chris and I were the last to be served which made me nervous as I wanted to go out and photograph the pillars with lupines in the foreground, but I had to wait. Maybe not patiently, but I had to wait.

The real treat here though was not the burgers but  Reynisdrangur or the 4 pillars as they are called.  They are towering fingers of black volcanic rock jutting out of  the ocean surface nicely framed by large patches of lupines along a dramatic stretch of the coast. It was a spectacular sight. One of my favorites on this trip with many favorites. According to my guidebook, “The relentless battering wind adds to the Gothic scene—helping to make this the only non-tropical beach to be rated by Islands, a U.S. magazine, as one of the world’s top 10 beaches.”

 

I  also took a number of photographs of a fine church standing on the edge of a hill overlooking that beach. I particularly liked the foggy background with the Iceland flag out front and, of course, the lupines on the hillside in front of the church. It was a pity (again) that time did not permit us to go in. We just had time to eat, grab a few photos and move on. That is how motor coach tours go. They have some advantages but lingering at photogenic spots is not one of them.

I really thought this was one of the most photogenic stops on a trip with many photogenic spots. I don’t know how many times I have said that. I know at least twice today. I do tend to wear my enthusiasm my sleeve.

Arctic Terns

 

We saw a colony of Arctic terns in southern Iceland. One of these birds attacked me. I guess I got too close to its nest. They are very protective.

One of the most fascinating aspects of birds is their ability, often truly amazing, to migrate, often over amazing distances, and in amazing circumstances.    Why do birds, unlike most animals migrate in the first place?  How do they navigate?  How do they know where to go?   How can they migrate so far, often under very adverse conditions?  In fact, to me the very notion of migration is a vast mystery that I will never understand, no matter how much I learn about it.   Just as one example, among many, some species of shorebirds, a relatively short time after giving birth to their young abandon them to their own devices while they fatten up for the long migration.  Then the adults head south many thousands of miles away, often to South America.  Amazingly, the young, who have never been anywhere in their short lives other than northern Canada, fly south on their own without any guidance from the adults, and turn up at the same place as the adults some weeks behind the adults.  How do they do it?  It is very difficult for us mere humans to fathom such incredible abilities.  It is a profound mystery.

Why does the Arctic Tern migrate literally from one end of the earth to the other, and then later back again?  What drives the bird to do that?  Why do they travel so far to go from one seemingly inhospitable place to another?  I will never understand these things, but will never tire to trying.

Some recent information about Arctic Terns is just downright amazing. The Arctic tern is justifiably famous for its astonishing migration. It is one of the most astonishing stories in a natural world filled with astounding stories. It flies each year from its breeding grounds in the Arctic in the spring and then back again after the summer. The shortest distance between these two points is 19,000 km (12,000 mi). This is the longest migration of any animal in the world! It flies about 2 times farther than scientists earlier believed because its route is not straight. It meanders.

Recently scientists have been able to install very small transmitters onto them so that their track could be monitored. One Arctic tern followed a zig-zag pattern from Greenland to Antarctica and back again each year and in the process racking up 44,000 frequent flyer miles (or 71,000 kilometers), as National Geographicdescribed them.  This is 4,000 miles or 6,440 km more than its nearest competitor the sooty shearwater. The researchers who found out this new information estimated that because the birds often live to be 30 years old over their lifetime they travelled about 1.5 million miles (2.4 million kilometers) which is equal to 3 trips to the moon and back![1]

Until recently scientists could not find a tracker light enough to be carried by a tern. Now they use one that is 1/20thof an ounce or 1.4 grams. The researchers also learned that terns often stop for month in the open Atlantic Ocean possibly to “fuel up” on small fish and crustaceans before continuing their awesome (for once that word really does apply). Even more surprisingly, they don’t take the shortest route. Instead they zig and zag literally across the ocean and back again! Some wondered why they would zigzag so much. For example, the terns from Greenland don’t fly straight up or down the Atlantic. Instead they “hopscotch from Antarctica to Africa to South America to the Arctic.”[2]Even though this is a detour of several thousand kilometers because they zigzag across the Atlantic Ocean, The birds appear to be following huge spiraling wind patterns in the atmosphere, avoiding flying into the wind,” according to Carsten Egevang one of the researchers.[3]

Though scientists are not sure why these amazing birds take such a long journey nearly from pole to pole, they believe it must be that the terns find rich feeding grounds in the waters of the poles. Why else would they do it?

 

 

[1]“World’s Longest Migration Found–2X Longer Than Thought,”National Geographic(Jan 2010)”

 

[2]“World’s Longest Migration Found–2X Longer Than Thought,”National Geographic(Jan 2010)

[3]Carsten Egevang, “World’s Longest Migration Found–2X Longer Than Thought,”National Geographic(Jan 2010)

Jökulsárlón: Home of Icebergs

 

Jökulsárlón is an amazing place. Recently it has been discovered that the lagoon is really a fjord that was carved out by the glacier.  The eastern part of the glacier eroded the sediments of Breiδamerkurjökull to a depth of 300 m below sea level. The river carried the sediments forward. That created a deep basin. This would have been impossible if the river had not carried the sediment. Without that river the basin would have been plugged up with sediment.

Oddly, the lagoon is actually privately owned. So you could buy it. Wouldn’t you like to own a lagoon filled with icebergs? To me it was the most surprising sight in Iceland. I never expected to see them here.

Some of the icebergs were beached. We could walk partly around them. When icebergs land on a black sand beach that is an incredible sight. I could not get enough photographs of them. They were amazing.

From 1890 to the present the glacier has retreated. The large chunks of ice break off the glacier and are carried by the current of the river to its mouth where many of them get stranded on the bottom. Those that are floating only show about 1/10thof their mass above the water. The rest is under the water. Tidal currents move the bergs back and forth and often they scrape the bottom depending on their size and the depth of the river. The smaller ones drift out to the sea.

Most icebergs are milky white except for the dark sediment that they carry, but some have a bright blue color caused by the interplay of ice crystals and light. Often seals are seen in the bay but I was not lucky enough to see any. Shoals of herring often enter the bay providing a feast for birds such as Artic terns that come here in large numbers.

Glaciers and Icebergs

 

Iceland is more than waterfalls. It also has amazing glaciers and icebergs that calve off of them. In the south we got to see the world famous Vatnajökull glacier. This glacier is not only the largest glacier in Iceland, it is the largest glacier in Europe. In fact it is larger than all of Europe’s glaciers combined! At its thickest it is up to a kilometer thick. (3,200 ft.). Think about that if you stood on the ground at the base of the glacier, the top would be 1Km up!

In the southeast part of Iceland this massive glacier pours through every crack in the coastal mountains.  At every turn it seemed we saw one of the tongue glaciers spreading out from the parent glacier. The glacier was used as a setting for the recent HBO series Game of Thrones. The glacier here is called Breiδamerkurjökulland it is a tongue glacier or extension of Vatnajökull glacier.

In the southeast part of Iceland this massive glacier pours through every crack in the coastal mountains.  At every turn it seemed we saw one of the tongue glaciers spreading out from the parent glacier. The glacier was used as a setting for the recent HBO series Game of Thrones.

These are icebergs in front of the massive glacier floating in the lagoon.

We stopped at a glacial lagoon where giant pieces of the glacier calved into the ocean leaving icebergs floating in the war, or stuck to the bottom.  It was fantastic. With ice floes or icebergs floating on a lagoon with mountains in the foreground it  is certainly one of Iceland’s treasures. Frankly, I had not expected this. It was  a most pleasant surprise.

 

The lagoon is called Jökulsárlónand it was unknown until this part of Iceland was opened up by the construction of the ring road. There were no bridges over the rivers here until then. This area was the final phase of the ring road. Now people can drive from Reykjavik to here in one day. Since then it has become a major tourist destination and I can understand why. It was fantastic.  The lagoon served as the background for two James Bond films: A View to a Killand Die Another Day as well as other Hollywood films such asTomb Raiderand Batman Begins.


 

 

 

More of South East Iceland

I love the south-east part of Iceland. Of course, I loved pretty well all of Iceland. It is hard to tell where the east ends and the south begins. Does it really matter?

 

We stopped for lunch in the small village of Djúpivogur. Here I decided I had to make a choice between personal bankruptcy or starvation. I chose bankruptcy. Food and drink are incredibly expensive in Iceland. There is no getting around it. Many in our group loaded up with goodies at our hotel each morning to provide a reasonable lunch. The village of Djúpivogur had a lovely little harbour right beside our restaurant. After lunch a quick stroll was in order. I am a sucker for harbours. Especially safe harbours. There were some huge rock carvings of the eggs of various birds that were placed along the harbour.

 

 

And the waterfalls did not stop in South Iceland. Far from it. They never stop in Iceland, What a blessing. Here we gasped at the beauty of mountains such as Eystrahorn, which is actually a twin of nearby Vesturhorn. Eystrahorn was the first mountain the Vikings saw when they first came to Iceland. It must have filled them with awe. These are magnificent mountains that stand at the end of a curved fjord. At the mouth of the fjord is a lagoon filled with water from mountain streams and runoff from the Vatnajökull glacier that we saw later. The mountain was visible from Route 1 as we drove by. I wish we could have stopped for better views and better photographs, but as I have learned, you have to dance with the girl you brung.

In this area we saw an astonishing sight. It was so windy that it appeared to us that the wind was pushing water in a waterfall upthe mountain. It was a not a waterfall; it was a water rise. I’m sure it was only some of the water that moved up but it looked unreal from our bus. I know its windy in Iceland, but that would be ridiculous.

 

South East Iceland

We woke to talk of hurricanes. Some of our group feared we would be stuck at our hotel. Our leaders decided it was safe to go. Icelanders have experience with wind. We had been told that in Iceland they have as many windless days as sunny days. Almost none in other words.

We were also told that Iceland is the 3rdwindiest place in the world and no one lives in the other two. Hoping that our motor coach was not blown off the road we headed out onto the narrow roads of Iceland. And we lived to talk about it.

There was ash in this day that we were told came from the Highlands. Because of deforestation, the soil has largely washed away exposing a lot of volcanic ash all over Iceland. Because it is so windy, much of the ash blows around the country.

We continued to see waterfalls and I continued to photograph them from the bus. The hillsides were gorgeous.

I really wondered if Iceland was the most beautiful place in Europe. Until now I thought that position was held by Switzerland or Croatia. Iceland belongs in that conversation. It might be the most beautiful. once again because stops were few and far between I kept photographing from inside the bus. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Enchantment: Iceland From the North West to the East

 

Every part of Iceland is enchanting. But, first a confession, I put my  yesterday’s post out of chronological order. I hope no one notices.

After the Krafla area, we continued our journey around Iceland from the north west to the east. We noticed many sheep farms. Iceland has a lot of sheep farms, horse farms and a few dairy farms. Of course sheep have also had an important environmental influence on Ireland. They “helped’ in the process of desertification.  Our motor coach was involved in accident today. The road of Iceland are extremely narrow. Today we paid a price. Our bus collided with a large RV that its mirrors outstretched. Its mirrors and ours met head on and both suffered. We were just very happy it was only the mirrors. It could have been much worse. According to AO the other driver should have pulled in his mirrors after he finished backing up so it was his fault.

We stopped for lunch in Mödrudgurwith its fine little church built by a farmer to honor his wife.

 

Driving from the north west of Iceland to the east was one of the most exciting rides of my life. I know I have said that before. I love waterfalls and the region was alive with waterfalls. I am convinced there are more waterfalls in Iceland than anywhere else in the world. The only problem was that we could not stop at everyone and I wanted to stop at everyone!

We had only one stop and that was for a sensational waterfall Rjükandafossa lovely winding waterfall. This waterfall, unlike most, had a convenient place to stop and park a large bus. I was very grateful for that. Life was good again. The farther east we drove the more waterfalls we saw. It seemed impossible, but it was true.

In parts of Iceland the plains were set against magnificent mountain snow capped ranges.

 

We enjoyed the drive through the Dyrfjöll mountain range one of Iceland’s most dramatic. That is saying a lot. My guidebook had a fine description of this valley: “The start of the coast road runs through a steep river valley lined by pencil thin waterfalls at regular intervals—each would be a marvel in other countries, but in Iceland they are just part of the landscape.”

 

The fact that we could not stop often and the countryside was so beautiful made me break one of my cardinal rules—I photographed from a moving coach. And I even liked some of the results! I really wished we could have stopped at many more waterfalls, but then our trip would have taken 12 months instead of 12 days. What a pity!

Many of the mountainsides, as much of Iceland for that matter is filled with lupines. These are beautiful wild flowers, but to many in Iceland they are considered a nuisance. Since the 1950s the flower has used extensively to cover vast barren areas in order to hold down the soil so it does not wash or blow away. In the meantime in many places the flowers have escaped and invaded the rest of the island to such an extent that the plantings have been considered by many to be too successful. Now many want to eradicate it. Playing god is never an easy job.

 

 

OA had asked us what was our favorite of Iceland. That was a very difficult question to answer, but the first place I thought of was this part of Iceland. The scenery was unbelievably beautiful. It started off stark and treeless. That had its own peculiar beauty. Our final destination for the day was Reyδdarfjörδur a wonderful little fishing village at the base of the steepest fjord in the east of Iceland. The town was the site of a huge environmental scuffle when a huge aluminum smelter was built in the area in 2004. 15,000 people showed up to protest it in front of Parliament to no avail. That is a lot of people for such a small country.

Stöδvarfjörδur

 

 

On our tour around Iceland we stopped a wonderful little town called  Stöδvarfjörδur. Many of our group walked into Petra’s Stone and Rock Collection store.   A private individual had collected the stones over a life-time of rock collecting. Those who went to see the rock collection were also struck by the garden. We had not been told the garden was interesting. I did not regret my decision.

Walking in town was a serious challenge. I have never experienced wind like I did. I chose instead to walk through town since I thought it looked interesting and it had a very lovely church. I am a sucker for these churches.

The church had been turned into a guesthouse.

There was some art I thought was interesting painted on some buildings around town.

 

The town was very lovely and the wind did not blow me into the sea. Thank goodness for small mercies. The view across the bay was outstanding. Life was good. I had a fine time in this photogenic  little town.

 

The most volcanic part of Iceland: Krafla

 

The Krafla area is an area with “fissure swarms.”  That meant there were a number of punctures of the earth’s surface through which volcanically heated water escaped in steam, mud bubbles, and odours. The area was only about 5 km from Lake Mývatn. Here we saw am amazing contrast in landscape from the green countryside we had passed until then. The vegetation changed from saturated green to barren yet a colourful variety of geothermal orange and ochre.

The Krafla area and the geothermal areas are all part of the same central volcano caldera that measures approximated 40 km2. It is divided into 2 main areas. The upper area reaches 1,000 metres in depth and reaches a temperature of 200ºC. The lower part reaches a temperature of 300ºC. The closer to the centre of the earth the hotter it gets.  The surrounding boiling mud pools and steam vents are clear evidence of volcanic activity below the surface. The surface activity is bound closely to areas above the magma chamber of the volcano.

There is little surface water in the region because it slips into porous lava. Hot spring areas like this are rare in the world but they create a unique ecosystem for microorganisms. Most are not visible to the naked eye. One of these is a green algae called Cyanidum caldarium. Another is the ancient (and I mean really ancient) bacteria called Archaea which is the most common in hot springs and is among the 5 oldest organisms in the history of the earth! Think about that. Could this be the original common ancestor of us all? Some of the organisms here are among the most temperature resistant on earth and can survive in temperatures of 60ºC. The results of these organisms are the colored displays.

Mount Krafla is not your classic cone-shaped volcano. It has been worn down and exploded beyond recognition. If you would not see the bubbling water, escaping gases you would not know you were in the presence of a volcano. This mountain was the source of a volcanic explosion in 1724 that blighted crop production for many years afterwards.

Underneath the Krafla field lies a magma reservoir between 3 and 8 km (2-5 miles). That reservoir is the source of all the volcanic activity which we witnessed or inferred in the region. Magma builds up in that reservoir and that pushes up the earth above that reservoir  until it is released as rock intrusions or volcanic eruptions. After that, of course, the earth sinks again until it again starts to rise.

The area is created because cold water drips down through the porous soil to the magma intrusions where that water is super-heated and transformed into steam which is ejected out again to the surface. The sulphur hydroxide is responsible for the hot spring smell we have come to know and love. Sulphur deposits are formed when fumarole gases mix with the air and a mixture of gypsum and silica also forms around the fumaroles. In the mud pots, fumarole gases rise through surface water creating sulphuric acid which makes the water very acidic. Rock and soil mix in the hot water and acid producing the mud of the mud pots.

In the early 1970s, “Krafla fires” began with a dramatic  spurt of molten lava that lit up the sky.  Over the next 10 years there were 17 eruptions. People in the nearby village of Reykjahlíδ were lucky because the lava flowed away from it. Ominously volcanologists are expecting Krafla to blow again. We hoped it would not blow soon.

Interestingly, in 1984 when the authorities put up a stern warning sign in the parking lot for tourists to stay away, it had the opposite effect and attracted tourists.  Tourists are not famous for being smart. Some of them are downright oppositionally defiant. This is particularly true of those who want to grab a photograph. I know some photographers like like that. They are stupid. And life is hard when you are stupid.  So what did the authorities doe? They removed the warning signs. Icelanders, unlike North Americans, are like that. They don’t worry so much about law suits. My guide book had some good advice about this region, “If you can forget the disconcerting possibility of being blown to kingdom come, this whole lifeless, primeval area gives as good a glimpse of the freshly formed earth as anyone is likely to get.”

There was a geothermal power station with long lines of above ground pipes in the region.  According to my guidebook, “Pipes from the Krafla geothermal power plant form a metal doorway to the area, which is strangely appropriate; the construction of the plant in 1973, with its many bore holes into the earth’s crust, is considered by some scientists to be responsible for triggering the eruptions that began here in 1975—the first since the 1700s.

The first place we stopped was Víti, which means“mouth of hell.” That is enough to give anyone pause. There are two craters in the area called Viti. The one we saw  was formed by the steam explosion in 1724 during the Mývatn Fires. The one we saw was inside a dingy brown explosion crater with a pool of cold blue water which we should not confuse with the other Viti crater that is farther south. Its turquoise water were warm and full of bathers. The one we saw was empty of humans. No one was anxious to  go to hell.

Mt. Námafjall (485 metres above sea level) is coloured orange and yellow. It is one of Iceland’s largest sulphur spring areas. This was obvious from the smell. AO told us that if we had to release some gas this would the appropriate time.

One of the many geothermal areas of Iceland in the Iceland area that we passed in the Krafla region was called Hveraröndor Hverir. It covers some 4 km2. This area is extremely barren with big fumaroles, which are openings in the crust of the earth usually found in volcanic areas like were travelling through. We have seen them before in Yellowstone National Park in the US and in New Zealand. Fumaroles emit steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulphide. The steam is formed when superheated water condenses as its pressure drops when it emerges from the ground.

A fumarole can occur wherever there are tiny fissures, often in chaotic clusters or fields, and on the surface of lava flows or thick deposits of pyroclastic flows. A fumarole field is an area of thermal springs and gas vents where magma or igneous rocks at shallow depths release gases or interact with groundwater.

We stopped in this region for a walk to get a closer look at the boiling mud holes, fumaroles, and even a pile of steaming rocks.  The entire area is often called “eldhús djöfulsins” in Icelandic, or Hell’s (Devil’s) Kitchen because of these steaming pots and hissing sounds and the strong smell of sulphur.Sometimes the fumes can be overwhelming.

Dimmuborgir

 

Dimmuborgir which means black castles. This is a massive 2,000-year-old field of weirdly shaped volcanic pillars (not hexagonal) that extend as high as 20 metres (65 ft.).  I took an individual walk around the pillars because I got separated from the group. Again I enjoyed wild flowers while strolling around the area. That was how I lost the group. Distracted by beauty again!

I recognized these flowers because I saw them in Churchill Manitoba. They are called Arctic Avens. Appropriate name because we were on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

The weird pillars were not created by a god on psychedelic drugs but are formed when lava spill out over a lake and solidified right over the depression. The top layer solidifies first and the lower layer later. Magma heats the water underneath the sub-surface layer creating steam below the lava. Eventually the steam bursts through the vents while the surrounding magma solidifies. The lake breaches its dam causing molten lava to flow between the steam vents and the lava channel. The surface crust subsides leaving behind columns and ridges and left over steam vents that are caught between the dykes and gaps where lava once flowed. The remnants of this are these odd shapes. Nature is always odd. If you think its not odd, you are probably not looking  very closely.

Wherever I go I look for wildflowers. Sorry I don’t know what these are called.