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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

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

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

Rent Cabins At Lake Myvatn

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

The Hellisheiði Power Station

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Just outside the hot spring haven of Hveragerði is the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station. If you want to visit, don’t worry about accidentally driving past without spotting it. This is the world’s largest geothermal plant, spouting giant columns of steam high into the atmosphere, and it’s unmistakable.

Hellisheiði Power Station Iceland

The plant was completed in 2006, before the financial crash, when Iceland was still filthy rich, so no expense was spared. Hellisheiði is state of the art, and beautiful to behold. As a fan of industrial design, Jürgen was in heaven during our short visit. But even those of us less enthusiastic about power plants will find it worthwhile. Inside, there are interactive exhibits which describe the process of harnessing geothermal energy from the earth, and demonstrate exactly why Iceland has a practically endless supply of it.

We also spent time walking around the grounds outside the plant. With the Hengill Mountain Range in the immediate background and white clouds of pure steam shooting straight up into the air, incredible photo opportunities are not hard to find.

Location of Hellisheiði on our Map

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October 8, 2013 at 7:05 pm Comment (1)

The Hot Spring Town of Hveragerði

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Precariously situated in the middle of an active geothermal area southeast of Reykjavík, Hveragerði makes for an easy excursion from the capital. During our visit, we explored hot springs, ate an geothermally-cooked egg and treated our feet to a therapeutic mud bath.

Hveragerði Mudd Bath

Nowhere else in Iceland is geothermal power so intricately connected to everyday life as in Hveragerði. Here, you can visit geothermal bakeries, eat bread fresh from geothermal ovens, buy vegetables in geothermal greenhouses, play golf with geothermal vents blasting out of the ground around you, tour a nearby geothermal plant, walk around a geothermal park, and take a dip in geothermal waters.

With the Varmá River running through town and the Hengill Mountains providing the backdrop, Hveragerði is stunning. But I must question the sanity of anyone who says, “Yes, this is where we shall settle! Here, where scalding steam bursts forth from the earth. Where muddy pools of boiling water open up below unsuspecting feet. Where the earth quakes regularly. Here, the exact spot that nature is clearly trying to warn me away from, is where I shall make my home.”

Our first order of business in Hveragerði was a visit to the Geothermal Park, where a short trail leads around a number of bubbling, smelly hot springs. We bought an egg to boil in one of the pools and paid a little extra to take a footbath in hot mud. There might not be anything as weirdly pleasurable as the feeling of warm clay squishing between your toes. Afterwards, we stopped into one of the town’s bakeries for coffee and a delicious cinnamon roll fresh out of the oven.

Re-energized, we set out to explore the trails which lead from town into the foothills of Hengill. We saw the golf course and a number of steaming vents that had opened in the ground. These trails eventually lead to the wonderful hot spring rivers that we had visited a few weeks back, but for today we’d had our fill of geothermal-related activities and turned back toward town.

On almost any trip to Iceland, you’ll be passing right through Hveragerði on your way to or from Reykjavík. And while the town might not have enough to keep you entertained for days on end, the sheer strangeness of its sights definitely make it worth a stop.

Locations on our Map: Hveragerði Geothermal Park

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October 7, 2013 at 9:37 pm Comments (5)

Deildartunguhver and Hraunfoss

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On either side of Reykholt are two remarkable water-related sights. Measured by the volume of water produced, Deildartunguhver is the largest hot spring in Europe. And Hraunfoss, or the “Lava Field Waterfall”, is precisely as strange as its name implies.

Deildartunguhver

At Deildartunguhver, a massive amount of water super-heated at 97°C (207°F) is continuously pumped out of a terrifying crack that has opened in the earth. The spring is powerful enough to supply the hot water needs of both Borgarnes (34 kilometers away) and Akranes (64 km).

We were visiting on an extremely windy morning, when the billows of steam produced by the springs were being blown straight across the ground. Half-expecting to have my face melted off, I stood briefly inside one of the steam clouds. Stinky and hot, but survivable. Deildartunguhver is not an especially beautiful sight, but witnessing the sheer, seething power of the earth is undeniably impressive. And a little scary.

Hraunfoss Wasserfall

We were touring the region without our own transport, which proved tricky since there’s only a single bus serving the area daily, but the friendly folks at the Fosshotel Reykholt helped us arrange a trip out to the Hraunfoss Waterfall. Here, the Hvitá River which comes thundering down from the glaciers is joined by countless tributaries hidden underneath the lava fields to the north.

The water streaming out of the porous walls of lava and crashing into the river makes for an oddly beautiful sight. Hraunfoss isn’t the most powerful waterfall we’d seen in Iceland, but is among the most unique.

Locations on our Map: Deildartunguhver | Hraunfoss

Great Hotel near both sights!

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September 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm Comment (1)

Geysir – The World’s Original

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The Haukadalur Valley, found along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge just northeast of Þingvellir, is an especially restless area of geothermal activity. Along with other bubbling pools of rotten-smelling sulfur, it’s here that you can find Geysir. This is the original — the geyser which lends its name to all others.

Geyser

Geologically speaking, Geysir isn’t the world’s “original” geyser, but it was the first encountered by Europeans, and the first to enter the lexicons of Western language. Geysir has always been fickle and heavily affected by the region’s frequent earthquakes. During its heyday, it was exploding as dependably as Old Faithful, but quieted down in the 20th century. In the 1990s, impatient visitors were triggering spectacular eruptions by throwing stones into the crater, and even adding soap.

Today, Geysir is completely asleep, and will likely stay so until the next round of earthquakes awaken it. Luckily for tourists, its little brother Strokkur isn’t ready for bed. At irregular intervals of around fifteen minutes, Strokkur shoots water 100 feet (30m) in the air, less than half the height reached by Geysir in its prime, but enough to impress.

Haukadalur is one of the standard stops on the Golden Circle tour, between Þingvellir and Gulfoss. Besides Geysir and Strokkur, there are a number of other, smaller geysers to check out, each with its own personality. There’s foul-tempered Litli-Geysir (Little Geyser), constantly bubbling and spewing forth its sulfuric stench. Strange Blesi consists of two pools: one of the most beautiful blue water, and another which looks like mud. And the less said about ugly, semi-active Óþerrishola (Wet Hole), the better.

In fact, I think I’d better stop describing these geysers entirely. Erupting, foul-smelling spouts with names like Strokkur and Wet Hole… the profane jokes are just too easy. Honestly, who names anything “Wet Hole”?! But I will take the high road, Iceland, and stop here.

Location on our Iceland Map

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August 14, 2013 at 6:37 pm Comments (5)

The Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach

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Close to the Perlan Building, and directly underneath the path of roaring planes landing at the nearby Reykjavík airport, is the Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, one of the city’s favorite hangouts.

Icelanders love bathing. Every town, no matter how big, has a pool. Reykjavík has a dozen! And then there are the naturally-occurring geothermal hot springs scattered about the country. It doesn’t matter if it’s a river, a pond, or just a hole someone has dug into the ground, point out a puddle of lukewarm water to an Icelander and he’ll be disrobed before you’ve put your finger down.

So despite the terrible weather, it was no surprise to find Nauthólsvík fairly crowded on the day we visited. It’s a neat spot, near downtown and absolutely free. The small crescent-shaped beach is full of fine golden sand imported from Morocco, and the water in the bay is nearly warm enough to swim in.

But the big attraction on cold days is Nautholsvík’s long, narrow hot tub. We joined the crowd which had congregated here, after taking a very thorough, buck-naked shower in the locker rooms. In Iceland, you’re expected to shower carefully, completely nude and with ample soap. Most pools even have diagrams posted to show you exactly the areas on which to concentrate your scrubbing. If you don’t shower, or try to keep your trunks on, you’re likely to find yourself being scolded by a naked old Icelandic dude. And nobody wants that.

Location on our Iceland Map
Nauthólsvík – Website

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August 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm Comment (1)
The Earth Is Angry: Hverir and Grjtagj 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.
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