Day 36: into the highlands

The weather in Iceland can be a bit … fickle.  The winds in this part of the North Atlantic tend to be fast and furious.  Storms can replace clear skies in a matter of minutes and be followed by sunshine just as quickly.

In my last home, Las Vegas, a weather forecaster could write three words on a piece of paper (sunny … dry … hot) at the beginning of the year, read it aloud every single day, and be assured that forecast would be right 90% of the time.  In Iceland, the weather service has a much tougher job.  You pay attention to the forecasts and you keep your plans flexible.  You want to pay attention to these folks.
The forecast map. You want to pay attention to these folks.

Monday was a bank holiday – basically a day off akin to Labor Day or Memorial Day in the US.  That meant no classes at the University, and that meant an opportunity do a little adventuring – provided the weather cooperated.  And checking the forecasts, it looked like there was going to be a sunny spot right smack dab in the middle of the country, in the highlands …

The Icelandic highlands tend to be a little inaccessible.  Almost all the population lives along the coast, or in the river valleys nearby.  The highland roads are mostly rugged and not frequently traveled.  It’s a shame, because the countryside is amazing.

A bit secluded.
A bit secluded.

On Sunday evening, I decided to visit Hveravellir, a geothermal spot between two large glaciers, about 200 km from the capital and accessible after traveling the last 100 km or so over roads scraped out of the rock and sand of the highlands lavas.  After posting in the student Facebook group, three other folks signed on to take an adventure in the interior of Iceland.

Monday morning, we headed out from Reykjavik.  The weather was initially rather dubious:

Forvitni, my 4WD, faces the highlands shortly before he acquired his name.
Forvitni, my 4WD, faces the highlands shortly before he acquired his name.

But the countryside was gorgeous:

We passed Langjökull, the second-largest glacier in Iceland, and Hvitárvatn, the lake formed by its meltwater.  We crossed a one-lane wood plank bridge over the Hvitá river, which feeds the enormous Gullfoss waterfall a few dozen miles downstream.

Then it was into the highlands, and the mountains and desert there.

Somewhere along the way, someone remarked that the landscape looked a little like Mars.  It was at that moment that my car got its name:  Forvitni, the Icelandic word meaning “Curiosity.”

After a fair amount of bone-rattling driving (and the probably-foolhardy-but-completely-successful fording of a modest stream), we arrived at Hveravellir, an oasis of hot springs, steaming rivers, and eerily-screaming steam vents.

The site is a nature preserve, with a campground and a small canteen that serves sandwiches, coffee, and similar fare.  We took a bit of a break after the long drive to visit the springs and a small house built in old style with stone walls and sod insulation — the same sort used when Hveravellir was one of the few inviting spots on the journey between Reykjavik and Akureyri, the largest city in the north.

An old-style house.
An old-style house.

Then we headed back across the highlands, toward the University and home — but not before taking a few more pictures, of course.  It was a long day, but utterly breathtaking and well worth the time.

One thought on “Day 36: into the highlands

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