Land of Fire and Ice: Nature
Updated: Aug 11
Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is home to stark beauty such as I had not experienced before. Iceland is called the "land of fire and ice" because it is both covered by glaciers and is home to over 200 volcanoes, more than half of which are active. Consequently, Iceland contributes to one third of the earth's lava flow.
There is so much to share about this stunning country that I had to spend some time organizing my thoughts before posting. When I think about my experience in Iceland, three words come to mind: nature, nurture and nourish. As such, this next series of posts will be organized in those three categories.
Let's get started with the nature I encountered in Iceland. If you are a fan of the TV series "Game of Thrones," you may have encountered some of the same astounding beauty that I did, as many scenes were filmed in locations throughout Iceland.
My first stop was a visit to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, the first national park in Iceland. Thingvellir was also once the site of Iceland's parliament and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Thingvellir overlooks Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Thingvallavatn covers 32 square miles and measures 374 feet at its greatest depth.
The landscape at Thingvellir is magical, combining both lava fields and the pristine lake.
The most fascinating thing about Thingvellir is that it is a place where you can watch
geological processes take place before your eyes. This is one of the only places on the earth where you can see both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates standing exposed. Never before have I straddled two continental plates.
My next stop was Iceland's most famous waterfall, Gullfoss meaning the “Golden Waterfall.” Gullfoss is located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland.
Gullfoss is actually a double cascade waterfall. The upper fall has a drop of 36 feet and the lower fall, of 69 feet.
A short distance from Gullfoss was Strokkur Geysir, a geyser located in the geothermal pools of the Haukadalur Valley.
The entire landscape is filled with warm, bubbling water and steam vents. The video captures what my words cannot.
A short walk past the smoldering field, and you will reach the Strokkur Geysir which spouts water about 100 feet into the air every five to ten minutes.
Watch the entire 39-second video above for a spectacular sight.
After visiting the geyser, it was on to another "foss," the Icelandic word for waterfall.
Skógafoss is one of Iceland's largest waterfalls, with an astounding width of 82 feet and a drop of 197 feet. Skógafoss is located in south Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. The waters that pour down, come from the Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers. The best view of the falls is from the ground but, if you climb the 370 steps to the top of the fall, you will get a breathtaking view of south Iceland's coastline.
The final waterfall I saw in Iceland was Seljalandsfoss.
This waterfall has a cascade of 203 feet. What was so unique about Seljalandsfoss, is that you can walk behind the falling water for a completely different perspective.
From the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, I headed toward Iceland's glaciers. There are hundreds of glaciers in Iceland, comprising about 11% of the country's landscape. Solheimajokull Glacier, translated "Home of the Sun Glacier," is one of the most accessible. I made my way to visit this massive piece of ice, and behold my first glacier ever.
This is an iceberg that has broken off of the Solheimajokull Glacier. The black portions you see are the result of a volcanic eruption that spewed, now cooled, lava that has mixed in with the ice.
This impressive glacier is five miles long and just over a mile wide. Sólheimajökull is shrinking rapidly however, as revealed by the glacier lagoon at its base. It is receding at the equivalent of about an Olympic swimming pool's length, yearly.
One of the places I was most excited to visit was the world-famous, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach located on Iceland's south coast, near the small fishing village of Vik.
Toward the end of the video, you may have noticed two towering sea stacks. These are collectively called Reynisdrangar. Icelandic legend says that these sea stacks are actually two trolls who were turned to stone when they attempted to drag a ship from the sea onto land, but couldn't bring it in before daylight (which is apparently when trolls turn to stone).
If you are wondering if you can swim at Reynisfjara beach, the answer is a definitive "no."
Reynisfjara is known for its thunderous and powerful waves and strong undertow and also for dangerous, sneaker waves (waves that surge farther up the beach than expected). Many tourists have lost their lives getting too close to the sea, unaware.
Aside from the black sand, the monstrous, crashing waves, and the Reynisdrangar, people are drawn to Reynisfjara to see the rock formations.
Though they appear man-made, these columns are actually formed by cooled lava, just like the black sand. The naturally occurring, basalt columns are stacked against each other and look like stepping stones.
The columns twist into a cave located to the left of the massive structures.
This was easily one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.
Finally, what Icelandic adventure would be complete without a Northern Lights sighting? The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon that occurs when solar wind particles interact with the earth's magnetic field, releasing (most commonly) green and (less frequently) purple, red and blue light.
Here are six things I discovered about the Northern Lights:
1) They are difficult to spot with the naked eye. Most sightings are accomplished with special camera setups, long shutter speeds and a guide or "Aurora hunter."
2) You need crystal clear skies and darkness to best see the lights.
3) The Northern Lights can appear in a white-gray, so if you’ve never seen them before, you might not realize you have encountered them and think you are just seeing clouds.
4) You need a tremendous amount of patience. It can take numerous hours and days to spot the lights. We waited over three hours for a glimpse.
5) Along with the correct camera, you need a tripod for stability. The lights will show up in a blur otherwise.
6) The lights, like the weather in Iceland, are fickle so, be on guard and move quickly to capture them, should they appear.
Ok, with all of that out of the way, I did get to see the Northern Lights for just a moment and for that I am very grateful.
These were the images I captured using my iPhone and an app I downloaded that was supposed to enhance the visibility for Northern Lights sightings.
This goes to my point about needing the right equipment.
This is the image our tour guide captured simultaneously. Seeing the lights was a marvel and a blessing, and if you are still inclined to go Aurora hunting, I think it is worth it. It really is a spectacular sight.
Stay tuned for my upcoming "nurture" post about my trip to Iceland.