It was snowing on the way to the airport at Keflavik. Yes, winter is coming.
My friend Mo came out from Las Vegas to visit at the end of October. It was his first trip to Iceland, and after hanging out for a bit in Reykjavik and taking a day trip through the Golden Circle, we decided to head east along the ring road.
The timing was perfect. This was the week of thermodynamics homework assignment #3, an analysis of a combined-cycle cogeneration power plant based on a single GE 9HA.01 gas turbine engine and GE D650 steam turbine engine outfitted with two turbines. We had reached a point where nerves were getting a little frazzled: one of my teammates said that with all the kilograms, kilojoules, kilowatts, and kilopascals involved it was beginning to sound like a murder-suicide pact. Definitely time for a road trip.
First on our itinerary was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, a 200-foot tall beauty featured a couple of years back in a LIFE magazine special as one of the world’s hundred “must-see” sights. I think Mo agreed.
About a half mile away is the lesser-known (and, to my mind at least, even prettier) hidden waterfall, Gljúfrabúi. Translated from Icelandic, its name means “the canyon dweller,” and you have to thread your way about a dozen yards along a stream passing through a crack in a sheer cliff face to get to it.
Mo had no words to describe it. Actually, that was what he kept saying most of the trip: “I have no words.”
After a brief stop for dinner in Vik, we went on to Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a small town with a long name that happens to be the site of the most extensive (and lethal) volcanic events in recorded history: the Laki eruption of 1783-84.
Over 100 craters opened along a miles-long fissure, spewing lava thousands of feet into the sky. During the eight months of the eruption, more than three cubic miles of molten basalt poured from the earth, and hundreds of millions of tons of poisonous gases were released into the air. The Laki event poisoned people and livestock in Iceland and beyond, and triggered droughts and famine in Europe and North Africa. An estimated six million people are believed to have died as a result.
But it was pretty quiet when we got there, so it seemed like a good place to spend the night. Fortunately, the skies cleared for a bit, and Mo got one more chance to say “I have no words” before turning in:
The next day, we drove along the southern coast to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. There were a number of small towns along the way with the mandatory gorgeous waterfalls.
Eventually, we made it to Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Iceland. With an area larger than some American states and enough water to fill two of the Great Lakes, Vatnajökull makes its own weather. Not surprisingly, that weather is cold.
The glacier has retreated considerably from the edge of the ocean, but it still flows into a number of lakes and lagoons along the coast, the largest of which is Jökulsárlón. Icebergs fill the lagoon and drift out to sea on the tide. When the wind is right, massive blocks of ice get stranded on the shore. As she does so often in Iceland, Nature shows off her wild side here.
After spending the afternoon on ice, it was time to drive back to Reykjavik – a long drive, made a little more challenging when the snow started up again. Winter is coming.
All images by author unless otherwise indicated in the captions.