As we left our hotel we found a charming park nearby, filled with bird houses and child activities. It appears Icelanders really love nature and seem to make the most of their time outside.
We headed east through southern Iceland, first stopping at the waterfall and black sand– Seljalandsfoss. We found the site filled with campers–these people seem to love to backpack, hike, camp and hitchhike around a country we found to be very warm and friendly. Yes, hitchking seems to be an excepted–and safe–practice for young people. We also experienced a sense of safety and comfort thoughout the country–a bit of Ozzie and Harriet-land, revisited.
We were now in an area severely affected after the glacial flood that followed the volcanic explosion at Eyjafjallajokull in 2010 (the one that shut down air traffic to Europe.) The glacier falls, complete with a trekker behind the water, have a story…a treasure is buried somewhere in the falling mist.
Wild flowers flourish in the plain covered with volcanic ash. Water is the curse and life blood of these barren volcanic areas and mist from the falls creates a micro-environment supporting an emerald green oasis.
When volcanic activity melts the glaciers, huge water flows occur, periodically flooding areas, carring tons of silt. Huge black mounds of sand and ash are still visible from dredgers opening channels for the water to escape to the sea in 2010. We learned the road crews often tear up roads to give the flood water a path to escape so they could save their bridges. One of the most important jobs in Iceland must be a steam shovel operator…they are always in demand!
As we left the flood plain, the land turned lush, nurished by the volcanic minerals.
A few miles farther, we stopped at the dairy farm in the valley below the eruption and watched a movie on their life during and in the months that followed…the total devastation of their lives for several months and the help from the surrounding communities to bulldoze and shovel tons of ash that left a thick layer over their land.
They were lucky… the glacial flood come down the other side of the mountain, so they “only” had to restore utilities and water then deal with remnants of the weeks of the black tephra clouds raining debris after the explosion. Their cattle and horses survived in the barns until the earth amazingly rebounded in a matter of months. They have a poster by the house showing the volcanic cloud decending upon them.
The family vegetable and flower gardens, grape vines and pastures became lush and green by the end of the season- fertilized by the volcanic deposit. The valley is absolutely beautiful now…a remarkable testament to survival and rejuvenation.
From there, we headed east to the 62 M waterfall at Skogafoss, a few miles away. It was magnificent, nestled in hills dotted with sheep. We saw a large group of young people visiting–they were high school students from the DC area, a National Geographic tour lead by a glaciologist. We met up with them again later in our trip and had a chance to chat. Lucky kids!
Dual dancing rainbows formed in the mist at the base.
Next, we headed to the coast, we pasted the Myrdalsjokull glacier with the Katla volcano. This is overdue for eruption and is expected to cause mass devastation and tidal waves that will probably deluge the city of Vik and their beautiful church.
We walked on the VIK black sand beaches
and chilled our toes in the surf by the 60 M Reynisdrangur Needles.
The end of our long day took us across a wide expanse of barren lava fields–these were unusual, rolling not jagged…
Before reaching Skaftafell, at the foot of the Vatnajokull glacier– the biggest glacier outside of the poles– we saw the true power and devastation of a glacial flood following the latest volcanic eruption of Grimsvotn in 1996.
This unleashed 3000 billion liters of waters in a few hours, running to the sea. Crumpled girders have been left as a monument to the force of melted glacial flood water that finally broke free carrying ice bergs up to 200 TONS, the size of three-story buildings. These repeated events have created area the largest sand flats in Iceland.
From here, the Vatnajokull glacier loomed ahead.
Our Skaftafell hotel sat with the glacier at our back door.
We explored a bit before finding a spot for wine and cheese overlooking the glacier.
Again, this hotel has a very European feel—small proportions, tiny sink, much like a dorm room, but with a huge window at the glacier-end of the room. (Emphasis on the important stuff!)
Tomorrow, we hike!