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

Me and Mósa, My Icelandic Horse

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Our time together was short, but Mósa didn’t need long to work her way into my heart. I loved her soft coat, her short stature, her rich color, and how she farted with every other step. I loved her mane, and her mild countenance when I accidentally pulled some of it out. I loved how determined she was to speed past others when it came time to gallop. I loved her stubbornness. And most of all, I loved that she didn’t buck me off, although it would have been so very easy.

Me And My Horse

We were invited on a morning ride with Hestasport, based in Varmahlíð’s beautiful Skagafjörður Valley. Hestasport is among the oldest horse recreation companies in Iceland, with roots that go back to 1974. They offer tours to fit any level of interest or skill, ranging from an hour to a week.

After meeting our guides for the day, we were introduced to our horses. Perhaps because they’ve evolved to cope with the country’s rough nature, Icelandic horses are known for their lively characters. They’re wilder than their cousins on the continent, a bit more spirited. They’re also smaller (technically ponies), and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Mósa was charcoal gray with a black stripe running down her spine. She was, I assured her while stroking her mane, by far the prettiest horse in our group. “Even if you are a little farty”.

Another unique trait of Icelandic horses is their number of natural gaits. Other horses are born knowing how to walk, trot an gallop, but Icelandic horses can also tölt and skeið. This ability and their friendly demeanor have made them popular around the world. There are, in fact, more Icelandic horses in Germany than Iceland. But once a horse has left the island, they are never allowed to return. Strict laws on importation have kept Iceland’s stock exceptionally pure.

Our tour with Hestasport lasted for a couple hours. Mósa was well-behaved and only once disobeyed my command to continue moving. Because they’re smaller, Icelandic horses are more comfortable to ride than other breeds, and I was only partially incapacitated after two hours in the saddle. Riding an Icelandic horse is one of the country’s quintessential experiences, and Hestasport is a great place to do it.


We also had a wonderful night. In addition to the riding, Hestasport rents excellent cabins that have access to a large hot tub. Exactly what an aching body needs after a day atop a horse. The cabins themselves are nicely outfitted, with heating, good showers and fully-equipped kitchens. Very comfortable.

Location of the Hestasport Office
Hestasport – Website

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October 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm Comments (5)

Hveravellir: Halfway through the Highlands

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At the midway point of our journey along the Klöjur Road, we stayed overnight at Hveravellir. After hours of desolate lava fields and no signs of life (apart from the occasional shrub), we greeted this lonesome outpost like Bedouins stumbling upon an oasis in the desert.

Hveravellir Iceland Blog

Hveravellir is a lodge with the most basic of services: some food, a room to relax, beds, and most importantly, people to talk to. The Klöjur Road gets lonely! So, although I felt bad for the two girls working in the lodge, nothing was going to stop Jürgen and I from blabbing their ears off. I’m sure the tale of our harrowing journey through the highlands was fascinating to them. I’m sure they hadn’t heard the exact same story a million times before.

Once we got our fill of human companionship, we explored the area. Hveravellir is built around an active geothermal area, and a short path leads past a number of bubbling, sulfur-spewing holes in the earth, each with its own name and personality. Öskurhóll is a white volcano-shaped mound spitting out constant clouds of steam at high-pressure. Fagrihver is a beautiful light-blue pool with crystallized sulfur covering half its surface. Eyvindarhver is an evil, yellowish spring; in the infrequent moments when it isn’t belching smoke, you can see a horrific, moaning face in its depths.

Eyvindarhver was named after Eyvindar the Outlaw, a famous figure from Icelandic history who lived in exile with his wife, Hella. One of the harshest punishments in 17th-century Iceland was banishment to the country’s highlands. It was basically a death sentence, but in the unlikely event that the criminal should survive twenty years, he or she would be pardoned. Eyvindar and Hella were among the few to withstand the elements for so long, and they managed it by living part-time in Hveravellir. Here, they could stay warm, and even boil sheep in the hot springs.

Not all of the hot springs at Hveravellir clock in at a deadly, sheep-cooking temperature. In fact, the best thing about staying here is the perfectly-heated tub just outside the sleeping quarters. After a long day on the road, nothing could be better.

Location on our Iceland Map

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October 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm Comments (0)

Norðurfjörður and the Pool at Krossnelaug

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The Westfjords’ Route 647 ends at Norðurfjörður, a tiny settlement underneath the imposing Krossnesfjall Mountain. After arriving and setting up our tent at the beach-side campsite, we took a short excursion to an amazing pool called Krossnelaug.

Krossnelaug is fed by natural hot springs trickling down off the mountain, positioned right along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. After the long day of driving, it was a pleasure to soak our bones here, with a backdrop provided by the wide open sea and a soundtrack by the lapping waves. And with the departure of the rowdy Icelandic family who had been sharing the pool, the experience got even better.

On the way back to our tent, we stopped at the small fishing harbor and spotted a seal in the water with a herring between its teeth. A growing army of seagulls had designs on its meal, but the seal was too clever. Between bites, it would flee underneath the water, leaving the gulls to squawk in frustration, and then reappear a few meters away. A humorous sequence, like something out of a Pixar flick, and a fun way to end an eventful first day in the Westfjords.

Location on our Iceland Map: Krossnelaug
[Save money and buy all the outdoor gear you’ll need before coming to Iceland: Tent, Boots, Backpacks and Trekking Poles]

Going on a Road Trip? We rented our car from SADcars!

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August 27, 2013 at 8:09 am Comment (1)

Underground, Underwater: Lava Caves and Hot Springs

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Driving around Iceland with a guidebook and a map can be rewarding, but even the most astute tourist won’t find everything on their own. To reach certain places, you’ll have to enlist the help of experts. That’s what we did, in order to explore a secret lava cave and an amazing hot spring.

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Our trip was run by Icelandic Mountain Guides, a tour company operating out of the capital. Shortly after our pick-up, we had helmets affixed to our heads, and were entering a tunnel found in a lava field just outside Reykjavík. I’ve been in caves before, but none formed by a flowing river of lava. The experience was different. At 4000 years in age, this cave is relatively young and fairly shallow.

At times, the tunnel narrowed precariously. In order to complete the tour, we had to get down on our hands and knees and wedge through a couple small openings. Not a huge problem for me, but a considerable one for 6’6″ Jürgen (who, it turns out, does a very clumsy crab walk). We saw some stalagmites and the bones of a poor lamb which had become lost in the cave, and learned a lot about the unique geology of Iceland.

Next up, the part of the journey I had most been looking forward to: hot springs. We drove out to the Hengill Mountains, where we’d recently completed a fun walk lovingly nicknamed Hengill Death Hike. But today would be less dangerous. After a 30-minute hike past steaming vents shooting out of the over-heated earth, we arrived at a river in which people were bathing.

Crazy Icelandic People

The river here combines both cold water streaming down off the glacier and hot water bubbling up from the earth, mixing to create the ideal temperature for a bath. Despite the difficulty of reaching it, the location is no real secret — a lot of other people were present when we arrived. But no matter. The river is long, as rivers tend to be, and we were able to find a nice quiet spot to soak our bones.

Icelandic Mountain Guides – Website

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August 24, 2013 at 1:58 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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