Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Iceland, Part One: Gasping for Breath

You don’t mind if...I just...sit down here...for a few minutes and...catch my breath.

You see, Iceland totally took it away.

We had an amazing ten days wandering over the western half of this craggy realm of ice and fire and water in the north Atlantic—and you know what? If someone handed me an airline ticket, I’d be back there in a heartbeat. I mean, this was one of the places we visited on our first day--a whole series of cold springs emerging from under a lava field to tumble into a river of astonishing clarity.

Gorgeous... but this was only the beginning. There’s falling water everywhere on the island, either in waterfalls or in rivers or glaciers (that's Snaefellsjokull in the photo) or from the sky (though we had a streak of unusually warm and sunny weather that belied Iceland’s rainy and foggy reputation.)

And there are also volcanoes everywhere. What look like mountains covering much of the landscape are actually volcanoes of various ages, some long dormant, others overdue to let off some steam...or a whole lotta lava. 

Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is actually the border between gigantic, continent-sized tectonic plates. The North American Plate makes up the northwestern part of the island and the Eurasian Plate the southwest...and they’re pulling away from each other at the rate of about two centimeters per year. This is the source of the island’s volcanic unrest—and means that Iceland is actually getting bigger (sometimes a lot bigger when volcanoes spew out thousands of cubic yards of lava and fill in bays or form new islands like Surtsey. In the rift zone between the two plates you can actually see the land pulling apart as in this photo.

And of course, the country is steeped in history. Iceland’s first human inhabitants were the Vikings who arrived in the 9th century—there was no indigenous population, as Greenland had. So the Icelanders of today are in general the direct descendants of those first settlers...and the memory of their ancestors remains strong today in Iceland’s culture and geography and language. Iceland was a literate society almost from its founding; the thousand-year-old Icelandic sagas are still read and discussed by today’s Icelanders; archaeological investigations successfully use them as a guidebook.

We took hundreds of pictures that we’re just sorting out, so I’m not going to embark on a full recounting of our visit until I’ve been through the images and pulled out the best ones. There was so much beauty and wonder in the places that we visited that I want to do them justice. But here’s a few more to go on with...

Icelandic horses at Gauksmyri farm. These horses are the descendants of the horses first brought by the Vikings; it's illegal to import horses into the island, to preserve their unique bloodline (and unusual gaits--Icelandic horses have five distinct ways of moving.)

Columnar basalt formations on the south coast at Reynisfara near Vik, looking rather like a phantasma-gorical pipe organ.

Bubbling blue mud at Namaskard. It was a lovely shade of robin's egg blue, due to ferrous iron deposits.

The breathtaking terraced double waterfall at Gullfoss:


I promise I’ll be posting more images and more about my trip... 

As soon as I can breathe again.


Regina Scott said...

How awesome! Looks like a fabulous time was had. Can't wait to see more pics. (P.S. Another place to find columnar basalt is the Columbia Basin of Washington, near where I used to live.)

Marissa Doyle said...

It was an amazing trip--I loved it, and the history and the culture and the fascinating geology and and and... :)