Figuratively and literally, Iceland is the coolest.
Two days ago, I stood in the security line at the Denver airport, wearing a tank top and toting a parka.
“Whoa,” said the surprisingly friendly TSA agent. “You must be coming from someplace cold.” The temperature in Denver that day had clocked in at nearly 80 degrees, the latest in a string of blissful Spring weather that we’d been enjoying for a couple weeks up in South Dakota.
“Nope,” I said. “We’re going to someplace cold.” Not for the first time that day, I wondered if the parka (not to mention the hat, gloves, and heavy wool socks tucked away in my suitcase) would turn out to be completely unnecessary bulk that I’d have to haul uselessly around Europe for three weeks. The warm days had lasted so long that I’d begun to believe they must be global.
Here are some pictures from our first two days in Iceland:
As you can see, in addition to being cool literally (Day 1 stared in the low 50s, today was in the 40s, tomorrow’s going to be a little colder) Iceland is also amazing. An actively volcanic island sitting on the Mid-Atlantic Continental Rift, replete with hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, black-sand beaches, glaciers… My little geologist heart is a-quiver.
Day 1, which began with our plane landing at 6:30am, continued with the retrieval of our rental car and a SIM card for the phone, then off we went to a hike (death march) to a hot spring fit for bathing.
The hike was a little longer than expected, and the nap obtained on the 7-hour plane ride a little less refreshing, so by the time we got to the spring, the toasty hot soak was more than welcome.
From there we headed south to see the geyser in the town of Geysir, for which all geysers have been named. The geyser named Geysir hasn’t erupted since the 2005, but a new geyser, Strokkur (meaning “churn”) popped up to fill the vacancy. This funny little geyser erupts every 2-7 minutes, in a single tall gasp of water and steam (and tourists) before dying back down to refill its boiler. It was beautiful to watch from the ridiculously close spectating area (so close that signs warn visitors to watch out not to get hit by the hot water falling back down after the eruption…) as the water inside the geyser heaved and retreated before bubbling up.
This also caused a good deal of introspection on how special it is that Yellowstone protects its features so carefully. In Iceland, there are no restrictions on how close you can get to thermal features, except for an occasional warning about how hot the water is. Perhaps the features aren’t as delicate as they are in Yellowstone? They’re certainly as dangerous. But while being able to step right up to the rim of a boiling mud pot is a thrill (and oh! the view!), I can’t help but worry about the people with no common sense.
Our last stop on Day 1 was at the edge of Gullfoss, the most spectacular waterfall I’ve ever seen. Between the slicing, gale-force winds and the falling-asleep-on-our-feet thing, this was as close as we decided to get, but do you see that blue? Do you see the levels and the awesomeness? It was fantastic.
Day 2 started with waterfalls as well, with our first stop at Skogafoss, then a short hike to Gljufrabui, where we took advantage of the Icelandic propensity to encourage rather than discourage foolhardy tourist activities and climbed up a rockface to get a better view of the waterfall.
We followed this up by dodging behind Skogafoss, where my preparedness came in delightfully handy once again.
Then off we went to Sjelandfoss for a quick hike and mudslide.
That wasn’t the end of Day 2, but it turns out it’s the end of photos I have access to at the moment, so I’ll be back with more a little later. Next up… Glaciers!