Glaciers, Part 3

Okay, okay! Last Iceland post. I’ll try not to post too many more pictures of rocks, but I may not be able to help myself. I really love rocks.

When last we met, our glacier-touring adventure had been foiled by mechanical difficulties, so we found some other adventures to go on instead. The great thing about Iceland is there are adventures everywhere. For example, we drove by a huge cliff face. A single car was parked in a pulloff, and I spotted tracks leading through the snow… into the side of the cliff. So we decided to go explore.

Iceland Crevice 1
The weather, at this moment in time, was utterly awful. It was rain/snowing and the wind was blowing about 7000mph. Getting to that crevice you see aaaaall the way back there was my life goal in this photo. 
Iceland Crevice 3
Worth it. The light made it in, but the wind and snow mostly didn’t.
Iceland Crevice 2
We tried to see how far back we could hike. In keeping with their Danger Tourism policy, the sign at the pulloff advised us we could hike back as far as we wanted, but eventually it would get so narrow we might get stuck. Instead I just got stuck on this snow boulder. It took me about five minutes to figure out how to get back off it without getting dunked in the stream below. 

Also, we went down into a lava cave. Lava caves form when huge quantities of fast-flowing lava cool from the top, leaving the crust behind while the rest of the lava flows on out, leaving an empty space.

The good news is I didn’t get too many pictures because taking pictures in caves is hard. This is the only photo of me in with lava rocks you have to suffer for now.

Iceland Lava Cave
That’s LAVA! Right behind me! Clearly not hot, anymore, but it very obviously used to be.

But back to glaciers. As soon as we realized our first glacier tour was foiled, we started trying to reschedule. Our accommodations for the night were in Reykjavik, so we couldn’t go back to Snæfellsjökull or to the big glacier over in the east, but Langjökull isn’t too far from Reykjavik, and their schedules had plenty of open tours.

The unique thing about tours on the Langjökull glacier is that they’ve carved out an ice cave way up on the ice cap, allowing people to go into the glacier to see all the layers and formations that make up the inner workings of a glacier. Honestly, I was not as giddy about that prospect as I was about standing on the top of the glacier itself, looking down from the crown of this monstrous, mysterious, earth-changing force, but the inner-glacier tour did seem like a nice bonus.

Have I mentioned that the weather in Iceland is fickle? Like, puts-Black-Hills-weather-to-shame fickle.

It was snowing when we woke up the morning of our second scheduled glacier tour. By the time we arrived in Husafell for our rendezvous at the base of the glacier, the sun was shining in patches, but the wind was wicked. The tops of the mountains were not visible, and there was no sign at all of the glacier.

But we hopped into our monster truck (ex-missile launcher, to be precise) and started rumbling up the side of the mountain. We stopped at base camp, just before the edge of the glacier and got out for photos and a quick chance to use the “ice toilets.” (Not actually made of ice, but you wouldn’t know that to sit on one.)

Iceland Langsjokull 1
Missile Launchers the whole family can enjoy, in weather that no one can. This was at the base camp, about 500 meters lower than the point on the glacier where we entered the tunnels. I had no idea, when this picture was taken, that it would seem tropical in retrospect.

Back in the truck to head to the glacier proper. Things got whiter and whiter. Here’s a picture:

 

 

 

 

Haha, just kidding, that was only a few blank lines of text, but it might as well have been a picture. I could not see where the snow stopped and the sky began because it was all the same color, and it was frickin’ freezing.

Turns out it was a really good thing we decided to sign up for the tour that went into the glacier, because anything that would have been scheduled on the glacier that day would have gotten canceled, canceled, canceled. (On the way back down after the tour, our guide said they would have even canceled our tour if they had known the blizzard was going to start so early. Never realized I could be so grateful for an 8-wheeled monster truck with deflatable tires and double-paned windows.)

Iceland Langsjokull 2
You can actually see it blizzarding in this photo, if you look at our faces. Behind us is nothing by the white void and the tunnel into it.

The insides of a glacier are SO COOL. (Also SO COLD. I think Dustin and I were each wearing 4 or 5 layers of shirts and sweaters, plus those parkas I’d been so worried would go to waste.)

Iceland Langsjokull 3
Groping the glacier. Did you know that glacier ice is not the same as frozen water? It’s compressed snow, which has completely different physical properties, including the capacity to hold water, to warp, flow, and chew mountains to rubble. 
Iceland Langsjokull 4
Peering into the crevasse. Crevasses form due to stress and pressure on the ice that causes it to shift and deform, tearing apart in places and reforming in others. 
Iceland Langsjokull 5
Look at that blue. It’s caused by the way water molecules distort light as it travels through them. (Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with air bubbles.) The tunnels were lit by LED lights cached behind the ice. It was gorgeous.
Iceland Langsjokull 6
Look, the mythical Dustin! He was in the glacier too.
Iceland Langsjokull 7
Ermagerd, we’re in a glacier!
Iceland Langsjokull 8
❤ ❤ ❤

Now this next bit you’re not allowed to click on unless you promise not to judge, because when our guide asked if anyone wanted to sing in the ice cave, I wanted to say yes SO BADLY because – you guys! SINGING IN AN ICE CAVE! – which is not to say I really wanted an audience or really wanted Dustin to film it, or was in any kind of shape to perform, but since all of those things happened anyway, I might as well share. (Sorry it’s sideways. I don’t know how to fix that.)

YOU GUYS. I got to sing in an ice cave. They could have left me there doing that for a couple hours and I would have stayed happy (loss of feeling in toes not withstanding.)

But instead they made us go back outside into the blizzard, and it was really, really awful out there. They made up for it by feeding us hot chocolate once we were back in our monster truck.

Iceland Langsjokull 9
They heated the hot chocolates by sticking them on the radiator while we were inside the glacier.

So I didn’t get to stand on the top of a glacier and gaze at the grand expanse of ice and power, but I’d say what we got instead was a pretty good deal.

Now here are a few pictures of other random things we did and saw over our four-day stay:

Iceland Church 2
Here we are nearly getting blown away in front of the Hallgrenskirkja.
Iceland Church
Seriously. These people measure their wind velocity in meters-per-second. They predicted 40/mps winds this day (same day a the glacier blizzard). That’s about 90/mph, folks.
Iceland Houses
Just a couple old houses, sticking out of tufts of grass and basalt. Not sure how old. Iceland has been settled since around 900, but it’s a place where buildings don’t last. 
Iceland Rainbow 2
Bonus rainbow, with ocean, fjord, lava field, and snow storm.

Things we missed in Iceland that we’ll just have to make up for next time (ohhh, there will be a next time): We didn’t get to see any auroras because the hour of sunset and the clouds in the sky didn’t cooperate. We also didn’t get to see any puffins, even though there was one screeching of the breaks for a bird on the side of the road that turned out to be something else instead. Lastly (and most sadly), no volcanoes erupted while I watched. (On the other hand, I am now an expert on how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that blew its top back in 2010 and stopped air traffic all over Europe. I’ll demonstrate my skills for you when we get home.)

And now I’m in Paris and I can see the Eiffel Tower from my room and I’ll tell you all about that another time. 🙂

Glaciers, Part 2

The marvels of Day 2 didn’t stop with glaciers, though I confess I spent the rest of the day peeking back over my shoulders to check on the glaciers as we went.

Iceland Glacier 5
Look! Do you see that thing?! It grows up ABOVE the mountain tops.

Our next stop was at the basalt column cliffs and black sand beaches of Reynisdrangur where Dustin let me drool on the rocks to my heart’s content. The formations are stunning and sometimes even alien. These rocks are literally the earth being created.

Iceland Rocks 4
Coolest columnar basalt cliffs I’ve seen to date. It doesn’t hurt that they’re above a black stone beach.
Iceland Rocks 3
Yep, the formation is just like Devil’s Tower.
Iceland Rocks Selfie 3
These photos never capture scale. Let’s just say there’s a lot of cooled lava above our heads.
Iceland Rocks 5
Do you have any idea how amazing this guy is to let me run amok on a volcanic island for four days?
Iceland Rocks 1
Lava rocks! I mean, seriously!
Iceland Rocks Selfie 2
Holes in cliffs, black sand beach, volcanoes everywhere.

 

And sometimes the rocks look like trolls.

Iceland Rocks 6
See them? They’re really tiny at the top of this photo, by the cliff on the horizon.
Iceland Rock Troll
And sometimes they look a whole lot more like trolls. This is a sculpture of Bardur, a giant who lived on the glacier here.

We finished our day in a cozy little guesthouse that served Swiss food for dinner and didn’t offer coffee in the morning. (Coffee is serious business in this country. We are still confused.) This was particularly difficult since the morning of Day 3 saw Dustin insisting we be on the road by 8am.

“It’ll be worth it,” he said, as I hauled my jet-lagged booty out to the car.

We headed up to the Snaeffelsness, a peninsula on the western coast of the country that is home to some of the most gorgeous coastal mountain scenery I’ve seen.

Iceland Rainbow 1
And rainbows. Sorry about the bad photo. There will be more bad photos of rainbows coming up.

And also this wooly sheep. He was on the road and stopped to say hi.

Iceland Sheep 1Iceland Sheep 2

Iceland Sheep 3
Uh… hey. Got any cookies?

Most importantly, Snaefelsness is home to the Snaeffelsjokull, a glacier covering a volcano made famous by Jules Verne as the start of the adventures in Journey to the Center of the Earth. And the best part was that there was a snow cat waiting on the side of the road when we pulled off.

Y’know that thing about the best laid plans? Well, occasionally they spring leaks in their heating systems and can no longer be driven up the sides of glaciers, even for people who have giant crushes on glaciers and really need to be driven up onto one.

And thus did the Awesome Glacier Adventure turn into the Glacier Adventure That Was Not To Be.

But Iceland is full of amazing things, so we pulled over to the side of the road and climbed into this volcano instead.

Iceland Volcano 1
Just another roadside attraction.
Iceland Volcano 2
Peering into the crater.
Iceland Volcano 3
Deciding to venture into the crater.
Iceland Volcano 4
I’m in this picture. Do you see me?

Next up, the conclusion of my epic glacial adventures.

Glaciers, Part 1

When last I left you, Dustin and I were standing at the top of Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, like so:

Iceland Waterfall Selfie 6

And I was admiring the ice cap glaciers visible in the near distance. They are absolutely remarkable, and until I saw one with my own eyes, I had no idea how deeply impressed I would be by glaciers.

I started to wax poetic about how cool glaciers are, and how incredible it would be to actually visit one.

“What am I supposed to do?” Dustin asked. “If I have something like that planned, I can’t tell you about it now, or it wouldn’t be a surprise. But if I don’t have it planned, and I don’t say something, you’ll be disappointed and not surprised.”

“That’s easy,” I replied. “If we get to the top of this waterfall and I see we can reach a glacier by hiking for an extra hour, I’ll ask you if we can do that, or if I should wait because you have something else planned. But if the opportunity isn’t right at hand, I’m having fun so I won’t ask.”

And y’know what our next stop was?? Here’s a hint:

Iceland Glacier Selfie
ERMAGERD, I’M ON A GLERCIER!

Just around the corner from Seljalandsfoss waterfall lives the Sólheimajökull, an outflow glacier, which means a bit of glacier that is oozing in slow, geological time out from underneath another, bigger glacier, in this case the M<>jokull (I swear I’ll come back and spell this right later) glacier. A short hike led us back to where we could see it, just sitting there, flowing in the minuscule, macro, magical way that only megatons of ice can do. No picture can describe how immense it actually feels to be looking at this thing.

Iceland Glacier 1
This is a really big piece of ice, and I’m walking right toward it. 
Iceland Glacier 2
It’s right behind me now! (And, most likely, also under me. There’s so much debris at the tip of a moving glacier you can’t always see the ice.)
Iceland Glacier 3
I touched a glacier!
Iceland Glacier 4.jpg
I stood on a glacier!
Iceland Glacier Selfie 2
And I liked it. 🙂 

And once again, I have so many more adventures to share, but I’ve run out of hours and pictures. I’ll compose on the plane tomorrow. See you then!

 

Iceland is the Coolest

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:

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09ujfsm
These are all from different waterfalls, I swear. 

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. yux8gxd

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.

qhfilhu
The first day was the most beautiful weather day. No furry hood required… yet.
fxgbdpr
But it wasn’t exactly summer swimming pool weather. 
ferlj7r
Compare the happy, beer-drinking Icelanders in the water to the fully geared tourists on the walkway.

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.

psmsozu
Strokkur erupts so briefly we figured we’d watch it rather than try to time a selfie.

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.

po8ll4z
Laura knows a safe distance from an erupting geyser when she sees one. Other visitors clearly (based on footprints) did not.
nxb9i5s
Stay out. Y’know. If you want to.
e0qgp1m
Boiling mud pot. I might have tripped on it.

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.

2xlgnxt
Actually, you can’t see the blue in this photo. You’ll have to trust me that it was incredible.

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.

stjta8q
See the sheer rock on the right of the picture? That’s what we’re climbing up in the following pictures. 
mofbunb
Dustin clings to the chain provided for “safety” as he comes around a ledge above a 40-foot drop. The sign at the bottom of this climb simply suggested that it “might not be for everyone.”
k9bys43
Made it to the top! I dangled over the edge to peer at the waterfall, but Dustin’s feet aren’t as sticky as mine. 
owo7hny
Taking a Danger Selfie.
rugfw79
The actual Danger Selfie, with Self and Waterfall.

We followed this up by dodging behind Skogafoss, where my preparedness came in delightfully handy once again.

ksh2c49
I am the most prepared packer in the universe. I had a plastic poncho for Dustin too, but he said it didn’t match his beard. 

Then off we went to Sjelandfoss for a quick hike and mudslide.

tw8izgt
This country is lousy with waterfalls. They practically photobomb you.

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!

 

A wildlife day

We spent the day in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone, since Dustin had to come out this way for a couple of business meetings.

Let’s play a game. Can you spot the river otter? Hint, he really wishes we’d go away and leave him in peace.

2016 Otter 1

How about here?

2016 Otter 2

Or here? (He’s being sneaky in the other pics. This one is just proof that I’m a terrible photographer.)

2016 Otter 3

New game. Can you see the bears?

2016 Bears

That one wasn’t very hard. We found them right by the Yellowstone River Picnic area, where they were digging for grubs and merrily ignoring the 700 tourists who had stopped to see them.

Now here’s a bonus shot of us hanging out in Boiling River this morning.

2016 Boiling

It was a good day in Yellowstone. 🙂

A Hierarchy of Chores

LaundryWhen I was little, we had a housekeeper. She came in once a week to vacuum the
carpets, scrub the toilets, and try her best to make the house feel like it did not contain three young children and a handful of hairy pets. I remember thinking, as I contemplated whether cleaning my room or loosing my dessert privileges was the greater evil, that she had the absolute worst job in the world. I hated cleaning my room, and it was just one little room! This poor woman had to clean whole HOUSES, and they weren’t even HERS, and she had to do it EVERY SINGLE DAY.

And that, I suppose, is the kind of thinking that karmicly lands you a job cleaning toilets every single day.

I run a bed and breakfast these days. I have four guest bedrooms, and in the 120 days of a Black Hills summer, each of those four rooms gets cleaned (on average) 3.5 times each week, making for a total of 14 toilets scrubbed every week of my summer.

Yes, I did the math. You see, a person starts to be concerned about average toilet-scrubbing rates after one has scrubbed so many toilets that one’s eyes start to go crossed.

The other thing one starts to do, at that eyes-crossed point in the game, is one starts to make ranked lists in one’s head about the relative awefulness of each chore. It turns out scrubbing toilets is in no way my least-favorite chore. So here, for your consideration, is my Ranking of Chores, in order from most to least favorite.

Laundry
Sorting it, putting it in the washer, starting the dryer, and even folding it. Laundry is such a bulky chore that getting through it really makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Besides, it’s warm and smells so nice.

Making beds
Crisp, fresh sheets, hospital corners, artfully arranged pillows. Another chore that is large in volume and makes it look like you’ve done a lot of work.

Sweeping the floors
An easy way to really make a place look clean.

Cleaning sinks
They’re not usually as dirty as the other bathroom fixtures, and making the faucet all shiny makes me feel like the guests will really believe the place is clean.

Cleaning toilets
Let’s face it: modern technology makes this really easy. With a disposable sponge on the end of a long wand, you hardly even have to touch the toilet!

Putting laundry away
It’s clean. It’s folded. It’s sitting in a mountain twenty towels high on my dresser. The mystery of why it’s so hard to get it from there to inside of drawers or closets is akin to the mystery of what happens to socks in the dryer.

Mopping floors
Stupid hardwood floors. Stupider laminate floors.

Hand-washing the special dishes
Hmph. Soapy, crumby water. Boo.

Cleaning bathtubs
I can’t explain quite why I loathe this task so much. Bathtubs are big and the things that get left on the bottom are never, ever nice things.

For all that, none of these tasks is so bad. When you clean a toilet nearly every day, it doesn’t have a chance to get aggressively gross. And if you can get some good tunes or a good story to listen to while you work, the repetition doesn’t become so mind-numbing.

And when strangers pay you for the privilege of judging your housekeeping, there is serious satisfaction in having a sparkling toilet to offer up for their consideration.

Antisss—

ipation. 🙂

That moment when you are poised on the brink of something wonderful, waiting for it to begin, anxious to experience every glorious second that is to come, and savoring the knowledge that every little morsel of it still lies ahead. That frisson of excitement, of wonder, of expectation. Waiting for Santa. Staring at the outside of that college admissions letter. Lowering the Sorting Hat onto your head.

Don’t get me wrong. When the moment comes, the experience itself will also be wonderful, but the anticipation is special. For those moments before the leap, every possibility exists. You already know it’s going to be good, but it might actually turn out to be amazing. The reality has the potential to be extraordinary, or life-changing, or magical.

And that’s where I am, poised on the brink of something wonderful, made even more entrancing by its mysterious nature. For our 10th wedding anniversary, Dustin and I are going on a Grand European Excursion, and Dustin’s gift to me is that he is doing ALL of the planning, and the details of the voyage will be revealed to me only as they are happening. I am about to be surprised by three weeks of new places, delicious food, and incredible experiences. That is the sum total of what I know about the trip so far.

“Oh, how can you let him do all that without even consulting? I could never give up that much control!” you say? (I know you say that, because everyone we’ve told about this trip has said it.)

Here’s the thing: my husband is amazing, he’s really good at this stuff, and I love surprises.

(Also, I’m really bad at planning trips. So seriously. This is a gift.)

I haven’t written many blog posts in the last couple years. Life has been preoccupying for many reasons – some of them good, some of them difficult, many of them just Life. Writing is one of my passions, though, and it needs to reclaim a place in my life. One of my goals over the next month will be to write on a regular basis, and this upcoming adventure provides both an excellent excuse and brilliant subject matter. Dustin will be guest-blogging, as well, so you’re double lucky if you follow along.

Lest my poetic waxings about incredible adventures make you feel jealous or make it appear as if my life is only excitement and fun, I plan to take a couple opportunities during this Week of Anticipation to get back into the writing groove by posting a few slice’o’life stories about some of the less glamorous things we’ve been up to recently. Tune in next time for musings about such titillating topics as cleaning bathrooms, searching for the perfect audiobook, constructing a dream bathroom for someone else to use, or musings about why the show Naked & Afraid is so great.

I know you’re dying to find out.