Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finishing the Golden Circle - Day 2 (part 2)

(This is part of a series of posts about our 2011 trip to Iceland. The first is here, and the second is here.)

Strokkur landscape

Geothermal landscape near Geysir

Day 2 (continued)

Compared to the epic[i] scenery of Thingvellir, in all its raw and ragged glory, our next stop on the Golden Circle felt a little more subdued. Geysir is a massive, well, geyser. Or, more correctly, Geysir is THE geyser…the source of the English word, and the general European concept of geysers stems from this great grandfather of all geysers. It’s located northeast of Thingvellir in an active geothermal area[ii] and the site contains several other smaller geysers and mineral pools/fields of hot water springs. On our way there we got our first good shot of Icelandic sheep, and saw the hulking mass of the volcano Hekla[iii] in the far distance.

Icelandic Sheep Icelandic Farmhouse (B&W)

Hekla landscape

Icelandic sheep, Icelandic farmhouse, Brooding Hekla

As we were driving up the valley to Geysir, we saw a massive head of steam coming from the distance. I assume this was Geysir erupting. Unfortunately, this means we didn’t get to see it erupt ourselves, due to the infrequency of its eruptions[iv]. When we arrived and made our way through the tourist throngs, Geysir was just a steaming, sulpherous pool of water[v].

Geysir. Sort of.Geysir landscape (B&W)


This is where Geysir should be, Geysir landscape, Geysir’s pool

However, the nearby Strokkur geyser was a frequent erupter, so we still got a good show[vi] (and an unending source of innuendo[vii]). While the fading light was a concern for our itinerary, it made for some fantastic photographic opportunities. There was even a wedding party braving the scalding water to take pictures while we were there.

Strokkur LandscapeStrokkur landscapeStrokkur eruptionStrokkur ExplosionLast light on Geothermal PoolsEpic wedding photos

Azure colored Pool

Strokkur landscape, Strokkur erupting, Strokkur erupting again, Strokkur exploding, Last light on geothermal pools, Epic wedding photos, Azure geothermal pool,

The third and final stop of the Golden Circle is the massive Gullfoss waterfall. As with much of what we’d see in Iceland, its scale is hard to hold a mental picture of. On the drive to the waterfall, we had our first good view of one of the many ice caps of the highlands in the distance[viii]. Even with the ridiculously long day near the Arctic Circle, we were racing against the light, and by the time we got to Gullfoss, its valley had already passed into shadow. We still got a brief time at its rim to contemplate its immensity[ix]. The sheer ferocity of its spray in the wind negated most of our attempts at photography.

Ice Cap Dominating the Landscape

Gullfoss WaterfallGullfoss waterfall (B&W)

Langjokull ice cap dominates the landscape, Gullfoss Waterfall, Gullfoss detail

After a brief stop at the tourist cafĂ© for “traditional Icelandic soup”[x] , we set out for Hella, our camping destination for the night[xi]. The light on the drive to Hella[xii] was crazy…even late into the night, light suffused through a dense and low cloud cover/fog mixture, providing a surreal landscape of shifting colors. The campground in Hella[xiii] was pretty nice, though no one was there when we pulled in to pay. Given the hour, we just found a nice grassy spot down by the river, and settled in to try to get some sleep in the wee hours of the morning[xiv].

Sunset (HDR-ish)

Epic light

Sunset (finally), Suffused twilight

To be continued…


[i] I will try not to use “epic” too much during these Iceland posts. But in terms of the Viking culture and awe-inpsiring landscape, “epic” is probably more fitting in this context than most others I can think of.

[ii] Well, all of Iceland is an active geothermal area. This area is just ESPECIALLY active.

[iii] Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and had been threatening to erupt before and during the time we were there.

[iv] Apparently the frequency changes based on earthquake activity, and currently only happens a few times a day. When it was younger, it could erupt more often. Let the jokes commence.

[v] In all fairness, as steaming sulphurous pools of water go, it was fairly impressive.

[vi] Public blog..must resist…crude humor…

[vii] Four thirtysomethings of mostly intellectual leanings spent the better part of 30 minutes watching Strokkur, and making immature jokes fairly non-stop. I was proud of us. Our Lonely Planet guidebook was hip to the joke too, with a tongue in cheek description of Strokkur “building and building to a climax and then erupting…”, etc.

[viii] The massive ice caps don’t just fill the horizon…they ARE the horizon. Literally the only way to photograph them is in extreme wide angle/panorama style.

[ix] It was one of those situations in which perspective plays tricks with your sense of scale. I was not as impressed until I looked at what I thought was a small, person-sized outcrop of rock near the base of the falls, and realized that that the very small specks on that outcrop were people. I was literally knocked back on my heels by the abrupt adjustment of perspective. This was a frequent problem for me in Iceland, especially when trying to gauge distances for photographic settings. Everything was on such a massive scale, that no one element seemed as large as it actually was until you had something familiar (like other people) to judge it against. An immense waterfall in an even more immense landscape is hard for my brain to accurately combobulate.

[x] This was commonly advertised fare in Iceland…it usually consisted of watery vegetable soup with a few forlorn pieces of lamb in it…for about $20 a person. This is one of the few times that Lonely Planet has lead us astray, since they recommended it.

[xi] To give a sense of the small population, and tourist heavy focus of the economy: We had met/been subjected to a gaggle of asian-american teenage girls at JFK airport who were on our same flight. We saw them multiple times throughout the trip. Usually, we heard them far in advance.

[xii] At the time, the silly Rhianna “Umbrella” song was popular, so every time we said Hella, passed a sign for Hella, etc., my brain immediately supplied an “ella…ella” afterwards.

[xiii] Ella…ella…..see? I told you.

[xiv] Between the cold of that night (it stayed quite warm the rest of the trip, but my ultralight sleeping back wasn’t made for the chill) and some nearby teenager doing his best death metal growl impression in a nearby field, sleep didn’t come incredibly easy.

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