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Day Five - Mud Pits, Midges, Cold Desert and a Wild Puffin Chase

The Cold Desert
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One of my main goals for this trip was to see some Puffins, hopefully up close. I had been chatting with Hylnur and he told me of a colony that could be found in nearby Borgarfjörğur, which was about 90 minutes away, and naturally, on the other side of yet another mountain. I completed another nervous drive and found myself in a very picturesque little fjord town surrounded on three sides by mountains, leaving the other side facing the sea. After driving up into the cliffs, I stopped to ask about the Puffins and was informed they haven't arrived just yet. Come back in a couple days, I was told. Doh! It wasn't a complete loss, I suppose, as the valley and fjord were very much worth visiting.

After making my way back to Route 1, I began to notice a gradual change in the landscape as I crossed into the cold desert region. No longer were there horses and sheep everywhere and even the vegetation was sparse at first, then eventually nearly all life was nonexistent. It was quite a change from the rest of the country I had seen. Just lava rock, sand, and scattered pockets of ice. It was also exceedingly windy, often throwing my little car out of its lane a bit. The good part is the road in the desert region is freshly paved and the nicest I had driven on my journey.

After a short while I saw a sign for Dettifoss, which is purported as Europe's most powerful waterfall, listed as merely 28km away. Sounded like a worthy venture. The road, though, was quite bumpy and very much reminded me of driving in Costa Rica. The 28km seemed much more like 93 and it was a good while before I reached the falls. It was a powerful and impressive sight and certainly a worthwhile visit, however.

Just before Lake Mıvatn I ran into a significant area of volcanism, as unique a sight as I suspect I'll ever see. There were bubbling mudpots, steaming crevices, sulfur deposits, boiling springs and fumaroles. The sulfur gases rising up were quite pungent and the whole area was very active. It was really fascinating and I had a difficult time pulling myself away. I walked around the entire area twice and lingered at each stop a good while.

Volcanic Activity Near Mıvatn
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Boiling Mudpot
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Volcanic Fumaroles and Mudpots
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Mıvatn, which translates to "Lake of the Midges," is aptly named. The midges, which are small two-winged flies, are everywhere. I was told they are attracted to carbon dioxide and would therefore target your mouth and nose and this was no exaggeration. As I walked around the lake and various dormant volcanoes, I was dive-bombed relentlessly by these tiny, determined insects. And when I decided to drive around the lake, it was as if I was driving in a hailstorm, with thousands of midges bouncing off my windshield every minute.

Hotel Reykjahlíð was an excellent place to stay with a fantastic view of the lake. The owner was exceptionally nice and helpful. After checking in, I went out for some fish stew at a nearby cafe and then visited some more of the unusual geothermal occurrences.

The crater Viti is about 300 meters in circumference. It was formed in a tremendous explosion in 1724. This explosion marked the beginning of activities called Myvatnseldar, lasting for five years, the longest known eruption in Iceland. The bottom of the crater was boiling for over a century after the explosion, but now is a peaceful turquoise pool of water.

Viti Explosion Crater
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Námafjall Volcanic Activity
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Mıvatn at 3:00am
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I then went for a hike up a hill called Námafjall which has many fissures, fumaroles, and sulfur deposits, climbing over the warning ropes to get an up-close look. I then walked way back among all the smoldering black lava which seemed to go on forever.

It was getting near game time, so I headed back to get ready for the hockey finals. After the game, I took a walk outside, where it was still very light at 3:00am and the lake view was impressive.

Day Six

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