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Höfði and Skútustaðir

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Mývatn is not a very big lake. You could easily drive around its perimeter in about 45 minutes and so it was a little surprising when our loop turned into an all-day adventure. But we weren’t about to speed past sights as amazing as the Höfði Nature Park or the psedudocraters of Skútustaðir.

Höfði

Found on the southeastern corner of Mývatn, the Höfði Nature Park is a private reserve with paths that wind through a forest thick with birch and end at the lake shore. Along with Ásbyrgi, Höfði is one of the few places in Iceland where you can actually walk through the woods, and we really enjoyed the novelty of being around big trees. It almost felt as though we had been teleported to a different country… until we arrived at the lake shore and found a group of bizarre volcanic rock formations. Yep, still in Iceland.

Further along the road circling Mývatn is a collection of psuedocraters at Skútustaðir. These formations occur when superheated water covered by molten lava explodes violently to the surface. At Skútustaðir, this happened over and over, and the result is a rolling landscape of colorful craters. A path leads around them, and from the top of the craters, there’s a wonderful view over Mývatn.

Locations on our Map: Höfði | Skútustaðir

Cabins right at Lake Myvatn

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October 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm Comment (1)

The Earth Is Angry: Hverir and Grjótagjá

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Like an irritable old codger fed up with the neighbor kids trampling his flower bed, the Earth has posted “No Trespassing” signs all over Iceland. “Nothing says Stay Away better than a hissing pool of mud,” reasons the Earth. “And what’s more, I’ll make it stink of sulfur!” Makes sense, but what do we humans do? We turn it into a tourist attraction! Man, are we annoying.

Hverir Hot Springs

The Earth is at its boiling, steaming worst in the Hverir geothermal area. Pools of bubbling mud, strange rock piles like mini-volcanoes relentlessly belching steam, and a nearly unbearable stink of sulfur… just the kind of place we humans love! What’s wrong with us? Why should busloads of tourists seek out this seething little park near Mývatn?

It must be the novelty. Places like Hverir aren’t going to bring us to tears with their glorious beauty, but it’s fun to see another, darker side of our planet. And I suppose there’s a kind of beauty to be found here as well.

Grjótagjá Hot Springs

Nearby Hverir is Grjótagjá: another spot where the Earth once had a rage fit. Grjótagjá. The name even sounds like a growl. Here, the crust has simply cracked in two, creating a long, jagged fissure into which pools of geothermally-heated water have collected. Years ago, these cave pools were popular spot for bathing Icelanders, but after a series of eruptions that ended in 1984, the water became too hot.

Earth: “Growl, grumble, grjótagjá… Earth ANGRY!” [Cracks the crust]
Humans: “Oh hey, look everyone, a new swimming pool! Thank you, Earth!” [Jumps in pool]
Earth: “I said leave me alone!” [Erupts volcanoes]

We spend our whole existence polluting it, ripping up its forests, killing its atmosphere and dumping our garbage into its oceans… it can’t be any surprise that the Earth wants a little space to itself. A place free of our annoying and destructive behavior. But do we get the hint? Sorry, Earth, you’re just too fascinating to leave alone, even when you’re angry. Maybe especially then.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Hverir | Grjótagjá

Dimmuborgir Guesthouse

More Pics from the Hverir Hot Springs
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More Pics from the Grjótagjá Fissure
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October 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm Comment (1)

The Jarðböðin Nature Baths

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While we enjoyed our visit to the Blue Lagoon, we did have a few complaints. It was too expensive, too crowded and although the landscape of black lava was striking, it could have benefited from more variety. Iceland was apparently listening to us and taking notes, because we found all our complaints improved upon at the “Blue Lagoon of the North”: the Jarðböðin Nature Baths.

The Jarðböðin Lagoon

Situated just a couple miles from Mývatn, the baths at Jarðböðin are the perfect way to end a day packed with activity. We visited after touring Viti, Leirhnjúkur, Hverir and Grjótagjá, and our bodies were in desperate need of rejuvenation. The water in the pool was at a perfect temperature, hot enough to be slightly alarming at first, and we soaked our tired bones for well over an hour.

In addition to the main pool, there’s a hot tub, steam rooms and a pool of refreshingly cool water. The Jarðböðin lagoon is artificial, with water provided from a nearby borehole owned by the National Power Company. Rich in minerals beneficial to the skin, the water also deters bacteria without the need for artificial cleaning agents.

Jarðböðin does suffer from the same problems as the Blue Lagoon, but to a lesser degree. At $20 per person, it’s still expensive to visit, but not outrageously so, and the pool is well-known enough to be crowded, but not to an unpleasant degree. We really enjoyed ourselves here and nearly returned the very next day.

Location on our Map

(Jarðböðin Protip: There are two sets of dressing rooms; one inside and the other just outside the main building. Almost everybody goes to the first room, so if you head to the back, you’ll usually find yourself alone.)

Cabins Right At Lake Myvatn

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October 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm Comments (0)

The Lavafield of Leirhnjúkur

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Not far from the Viti Crater on the northeastern side of Mývatn, we encountered the lavafield of Leirhnjúkur, which is part of the Krafla volcanic region. Nearly thirty years after the last eruptions, the ground here is still smoking and hot to the touch.

Lavafield of Leirhnjúkur

There’s a five-kilometer path leading through Leirhnjúkur, which took us a couple hours to complete. It should have been faster, but we were slowed significantly by both the snow and the scenery. Many of the trail markers were completely buried and, for safety’s sake, we took our time. With hot pools, steam vents, craggy lava rocks and sections of super-heated dirt pockmarking the ground, Leirhnjúkur is not the kind of place you’d want to accidentally veer off the path.

The lavafield provided a study in contrasts. It was bizarre to be standing ankle-deep in snow, while touching a scorched-black patch of earth that was still painfully hot. The latest volcanic activity here occurred between 1975 and 1984, a period during which there were nine eruptions. These “Krafla Fires” gained fame across the world for their curtains of lava.

Another amazing sight in a region simply full of them, Leirhnjúkur was the most exciting hike we did while at Mývatn.

Location on our Iceland Map

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October 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm Comment (1)

A Surreal Visit to the Viti Crater

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The Viti Crater is part of the Krafla volcano range just to the northeast of Mývatn. Viti is Icelandic for “Hell”, and we experienced some unreal weather on the morning we chose to visit.

Morning Viti

The crater is best known for the astonishing turquoise water that pools in the base of its bowl, but although we walked all around Viti’s entire circumference, we didn’t see the water even once. A ridiculously heavy fog had blanketed the region, obscuring everything. With the recently-fallen snow, the whiteness was especially impenetrable, visibility down to mere meters.

Before we returned to the car, the fog lifted slightly, creating a perfectly straight line of clouds which we were standing just above. We still couldn’t see into the crater, but the panorama was bizarre. Clear blue skies above us, and white fog below. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Location on our Map

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October 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm Comments (3)

Mývatn – Iceland’s Vacation Destination

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Mývatn, a northeastern lake about an hour’s drive from Akureyri, is the preferred summer vacation spot for Icelanders. They come for the mild temperatures, the wealth of nearby activities and some of the country’s most beautiful and tranquil nature.

Huge Vulcano Iceland

Mývatn is the kind of place which requires at least a week to fully explore. We had four days here and it wasn’t nearly enough. The shallow, surprisingly small lake is so picturesque, we could have spent an entire day just relaxing on the porch and taking it in. Mývatn formed during volcanic eruptions around 2600 years ago, and the surface of the lake is dotted with islands of lava, psuedocraters and rock pillars.

There are also plenty of birds. Mývatn is world-renowned for the hundreds of species it attracts, from owls to falcons, and especially ducks. We’re not birdwatchers, but did make time to visit Sigurgeirs Bird Museum, where hundreds of birds native to Iceland have been stuffed and displayed in a nicely-lit and well-organized collection. In the museum, we also learned about Mývatn’s marimo, or “moss balls”: perfectly-round balls of algae that form here and in just a handful of other lakes around the world.

After the museum, we checked out the Dimmuborgir Lavafield, where a network of walking paths snake through giant lava columns and incomprehensible rock formations. Dimmuborgir translates to “Dark Castles”. An ominous name, and it does feel as though you’re trespassing into the territory of evil elves. One lava tube toward the back of the park is called Kirkjan, or the Church. With a stony black pulpit and enough room for a good-sized congregation, this is clearly where Dimmuborgir’s malevolent munchkins practice their dark arts.

Dimmuborgir Lavafield Kirkjan

We had been invited to spend our nights in the excellent Dimmuborgir Guesthouse and Cabins near the lavafield. Quiet, comfortable and with an excellent breakfast buffet that included both sweet geothermal bread and home-smoked salmon, this was the perfect place from which to enjoy the region. Our days at Mývatn were packed full of activity, and every night we returned to our cabin completely exhausted. From our porch, we had a great view of the lake and would spend every evening relaxing with the peaceful sounds of early fall.

It was quiet during our visit, but Mývatn fills up quickly in the summer, so the earlier you book accommodation the better. Another summertime annoyance is provided by millions of small flies that swarm the water’s surface. In fact, Mývatn means “Lake of Midges”. We didn’t encounter any of the pests during our visit in mid-September, so that and the lack of crowds might be worth keeping in mind while planning your own trip.

Locations on our Map: Sigurgeirs Bird Museum | Dimmuborgir Guesthouse

Links: Sigurgeirs Bird MuseumDimmuborgir Guesthouse

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October 23, 2013 at 4:10 pm Comments (6)
Hfi and Sktustair Mývatn is not a very big lake. You could easily drive around its perimeter in about 45 minutes and so it was a little surprising when our loop turned into an all-day adventure. But we weren't about to speed past sights as amazing as the Höfði Nature Park or the psedudocraters of Skútustaðir.
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