Iceland (Part 5): Eastern Region

 

Detail Map of Area near Jokulsarlon

After four consecutive days in a different hotel every night, we slowed the pace a bit and signed up for two days at the Hali Country Hotel, just up the road from the famous Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon and the black sand “Ice Beach.”  Our guide, Haukur, had also arranged for an early morning visit to a puffin colony at Cape Ingolfshofdi.

View from the “Trail” leading down from Cape Ingolfshofdi  as we return to the SUV

Puffins spend most of their lives living in the open ocean but in the spring many of them flock to coastal colonies in Iceland.    But it takes some effort to get close to them as the image above suggests.  There was no road and no visible trail to the base of the promontory where the puffin colony was located.  The several kilometers of splashing through marshes and undulating fields of soft lava ash makes one imagine they are testing a prototype for a new carnival thrill ride.  Then comes the hard part, trudging with a pack of camera gear up a steep slope of lava ash and sand, something akin to climbing a sand dune.

But at the top, one finds a field of lush green grass which stretches out invitingly….to a sudden drop off a vertical cliff high above the ocean.  The puffins nest in burrows they have found or excavated themselves, bringing in grass and feathers as lining for the chicks.

The puffin’s diet consists almost entirely of fish, which it captures by swimming under water using its semi-extended wings as paddles and its feet as a rudder. We couldn’t stay too long in any one spot because the puffins would wait until we were a safe distance before entering their nests and feeding their young.

As cute as the puffins are, their neighborhood has a bad element…a large thug of a bird known as the great skua.  The skuas build their nests on the ground out in the open, almost as bait for naïve trespassers whom they attack with with fiendish glee .

When a bird this large (4-foot wing span) is heading directly at your face…….

The Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon is not far from Cape Ingolfshofdi and is a favorite stop for most visitors because of its dramatic scenery, easy access, and its full range of services (café, souvenirs, boat rides, etc.)  Icebergs breaking off the Vatnajökull glacier float in the lagoon eventually working their way out a narrow channel into the ocean.  Once in the ocean, many will be pushed up by the tide onto a black sand beach, the famous Ice Beach, providing numerous opportunities for photographers.

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

At the back of the parking lot away from the tourists, a flock of Arctic Terns had taken possession of a field  for a nesting colony.  The tern is famous for its incredibly long migration route, the longest-distance migration of any bird, moving between its Arctic breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland and its non-breeding territory in the Antarctic, a distance that approaches 25,000 miles. And they share one characteristic with the skua: the ferocity of their attacks on trespassers.  Although they are much smaller, they use a team approach, overwhelming the target with their numbers.

(Nikon D810 & 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 70mm; 1/5,000th sec @ f/7.1, ISO 400)

There is a second glacial lagoon, Fjallsarlon,  just a few miles down the road from the far more popular Jokulsarlon.

Rick and Michele setting up their shots at Fjallsarlon

The lagoon is smaller than Jokulsarlon; there are no tourist services and the water is not as blue.  But the solitude was a nice contrast.  When it was time to leave, Haukur suggested a short hike to some nearby ponds where we might find some geese.

Barnacle geese with goslings

One of the most magical experiences on any Iceland tour is a visit to the Ice Beach.  It is here that the last remnants of a dying glacier wash up on a black sand beach and complete their thousand-year life cycle.  These stranded crystal sculptures seemed almost alive as the surf swirls around them, refracting and reflecting the dim light of the late evening.

Last Vestiges of a Glacier

 

 

Next:  Lupines and More…….

Iceland (Part 4): Lake Myvatn Region

Map of Day 4 Merged (JPEG)

The Lake Myvatn Region derives its name from the large lake of that name and is characterized by a violent landscape created by numerous volcanic eruptions over the past 3,000 years.  We were reminded throughout the day that there still is considerable power and heat below the surface on which we walked.

On this morning, we awakened to find that the snow had continued overnight long enough to change the character of the scenery. It was hard to believe this was early June.

D-17-06-07-3862_64-Pano (Volcano)Volcanic Crater, Early Morning after a Snowfall

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Namafjall Geothermal Field

An early start enabled us to arrive at the popular Namafjall geothermal field before the crowds and we had the place to ourselves.  It reminds one of Yellowstone with the many mud pots, fumaroles, and venting hydrogen sulfide gas.

D-17-06-067-3822 (Iceland)Namafjall Geothermal Field

 

D-17-06-07-3872_74-Pano (Iceland)Unnamed Lagoon, Somewhere on Highway 1, Lake Myvatn Region

D-17-06-07-3984 Crop (sheep)Lamb with its Mother, Somewhere on Highway 1, Lake Myvatn Region

D-17-06-07-3989_94-Pano (Iceland)Snow on Mountains, Somewhere on Highway 1, Lake Myvatn Region

As we drove we west on Highway 1, we were repeatedly confronted with scenic opportunities and they were coming so fast that we failed to record the locations of the above three images.

The afternoon was spent hiking around the Leirhnjukur area, a name which means “clay hill” and refers to a porous hill of rhyolite rising 150 feet above a surrounding lava field.   Steam is venting  through the rhyolite and in some places it has turned to clay.  The hike takes one up the hill, through some rugged lava formations, thermal pools, and numerous  steam vents.  One can’t help remembering that Kafla, a nearby volcano responsible for much of what we were seeing, last erupted in 1984 which really wasn’t that long ago.

D-17-06-07-4054_55-Pano (Iceland)Leirhnjukur, View from the Trail (note hikers on top of the hill)

D-17-06-07 SONY 1456 (Iceland)View from the Overlook, Leirhnjukur (Trail is along near edge of black lava field)

D-17-06--07-4178_80-Pano (Iceland)View from Leirhnjukur (Taken just before we began the descent back down to the car)

The name Dettifoss could be loosely translated as ‘The Collapsing Waterfall’. Considered to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe, it plummets into a gorge which is 330 feet across and about 144 feet straight down. The water comes from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe, whose sediment-rich runoff colors the water a greyish white.

D-17-06-07-4240_41-Pano clone (Dettifoss)Dettifoss, View from East Side

(For scale, note small black hiker at edge of falls on opposite side)

D-17-06-07-4262 (rdy2size)Dettifoss, View from East Side (Taken from the edge of cliff about 50 feet above the river)

Selfoss, a smaller waterfall is an easy 1-mile hike upstream from Dettifoss.  Not as high, but its horseshoe shape is rather elegant.  When the water is running higher than when we were there, it would have been even more impressive with numerous cascades falling off the edges of the canyon walls for several hundred meters on both sides.

D-17-06-07-4312 (upper falls)Selfoss, View from East Side

(The pools of standing water in the foreground are often part of the cascade)

 

Next….the Famous “Ice Beach”

Iceland 2017, Part 3:  The Northern Tier

 

Iceland 2017 Day 2 Map JPEG (Final)

Map of Day 2

Over the next two days we crossed the northern section of Iceland, checking out a few of the well-known stops and making occasional forays into less-traveled areas.  The area is a starkly beautiful landscape of geothermal features, bizarre lava formations,  steaming fumaroles and volcanic craters. We also experienced a full range of Iceland’s notoriously fickle weather patterns: sunshine, overcast skies, rain, sleet, snow, high winds, no wind and even sub-freezing temperatures.  It made for some interesting photographic challenges.

The north is less frequented by tourists due to the distance from Reykjavik, but has much to offer, ranging from historical and cultural sites, unique landscapes, and unexpected roadside photo ops.

Day 2 started with a turn off the main Ring Highway (Route 1) onto Route 715, a dirt road that leads to  Kolugljufur Canyon and a pair of waterfalls on either side of a short bridge.

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Kolugljufur Canyon, Photographed from the Bridge

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Kolugljufur Canyon, about 100 Meters Downstream from the Bridge

 

We had several opportunities to stop whenever we saw an interesting roadside scene.  One example is an abandoned house alongside a cascading stream shown in the image below.

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Abandoned House, Skagi Peninsula, Somewhere along Route 744.

 

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Icelandic Turf House with Connecting Rooms

 

The turf farmhouse in Glaumbaer is a great place to learn about Icelandic history.  A farm has  been on this site since the 9th Century.  Turf houses date from those earliest days but the buildings here are more recent, constructed in the 18th Century.  There is also a small museum and a Tea House which serves light fare featuring Icelandic dishes.

Back on the road our guide, Haukur Snorrason, demonstrated once again his ability to sense when an unplanned opportunity might arise.  As we approached a large pasture containiing about 20 Icelandic horses, he chose to pull over saying that it looked like something was about to happen. Little did we know.

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Icelandic Horseplay

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No animals were harmed during the filming of these pictures

It seemed that as soon as one pair became bored with their game, another pair would start up.  We didn’t want to leave them, but our primary goal for the day was Godafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods.

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Godafoss, in a Light Rain

The waterfall derives its name from the year 1000, when Iceland converted to Christianity.  The head of the island’s legislature, known as the law-speaker,  dispensed his pagan gods by throwing them into this waterfall as a symbolic act of the conversion.

For us, the chief problem was the deteriorating weather.  As the rain became heavier and temperatures began to fall, we cut our visit short.   As we headed east, the rain turned to sleet and then to snow and shortly afterwards, we spotted a pair of fly fishermen standing in the middle of a river, oblivious to the weather.

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Fly Fishermen in Snowstorm

Next…the Myvatn Region

 

Iceland 2017, Part 2:  The Road Trip Begins

 

Day 1, 8:00 AM:   Right on time our guide, Haukur Snorrason, arrived at our hotel and soon we were heading west out of Reykjavik. Also with us was Hadda Gisladottir. She and Haukur are the joint owners/operators of Phototours and the Hrífunes Guest House where we would be spending the penultimate night of the trip.

Day 01 Map Merged

Route on Day 1

In the months prior to our arrival, our email exchanges with Haukur provided a wealth of options for consideration.  His extensive experience as an Icelandic  photographer and guide helped us develop an ambitious plan. It included several well-known and frequently photographed locations, a generous number of lesser known spots that he suggested, and some built-in time to take advantage of a few unexpected opportunities that might arise.  And now we were finally underway, eager to experience whatever lay ahead of us.

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Overview of Hraunfossar

Within a few hours we were overlooking Hraunfossar (Lava Falls), a 900-meter wide lava field that originated long ago from a volcanic eruption beneath the Langjökull glacier.  The 40-mile long field is porous, enabling  glacial meltwater and rainwater to move  through it until reaching the terminus at the Hvítá River where it emerges as countless waterfalls cascading into the river.

Next up, an arranged stop at a nearby working farm where we could fraternize with some of the famous Icelandic horses (For more on this delightful animal, check my 2015 post here.   

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With socialable and curious personalities, Icelandic horses love to engage visitors

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So friendly you need a super-wide (e.g., 14-24mm) to capture the entire animal.

 

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The sheep on this farm know where to position themselves for a picture

Iceland’s landscape is a magnet for tourists and has made the tourist industry an important economic sector.  But the landscape also provides an even more significant economic benefit: renewable energy.   One such source is geothermal energy and so we made a brief stop at Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring.  The water emerges at 207°F and is moved via pipelines to provide hot water and central heating for towns as far as 40 miles way.   Overall, Iceland satisfies 87% of its demand for hot water and heat with geothermal energy, a key aspect of its energy strategy.

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The Hot Water Pumping Station at Deildartunguhver

 

A hidden waterfall is always a special treat and our first one was a short hike from a highway in Snaefellsnes, a peninsula in Western Iceland.  Other than a vague sign at the pull-over stop, there was no hint that this 30-foot cascade was less than 200 yards away.  Perhaps six other people came by while we were there.

 

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Roadside Waterfall (1/800th sec. @ f/10)

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Detail of Cascade (0.4 sec @ f/16 with ND Filter)

The Kirkjufellfoss waterfall, however, with Kirkjufell Mountain as a dramatic backdrop, is one of the country’s major attractions and a good number of people were here when we arrived.  Still, with careful timing, a bit of patience, and use of the photomerge technique, one can get an image containing no tourists.

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Kirkjufellfoss waterfall

(Two images photomerged; 24 mm lens, 0.8 sec. @ f/20 with ND Filter)

 

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Lupines bloom in June, usually peaking around the 2nd and 3rd weeks of the month and are a common sight at this time of year. This field was well off in the distance and probably would have been unnoticed by most travelers.  But Haukur suggested we take a detour off the main highway onto a dirt road to check it out.

 

D-17-06-05-3090 Crop & Clone (Iceland)

Icelandic Horses, Afternoon Light

Another unexpected opportunity appeared about 40 minutes after the field of lupines, so we stopped again, grabbed our telephotos, and fired away.  And again, this was a scene we had to ourselves.

After checking into the Gauksmyri hotel, we departed immediately for another well-known location, the site of Hvitsekur Troll Rock, a sea stack just off the shore of Vatnsnes peninsula.  We arrived at the perfect time; it was low tide and the sun was about to set.  On the downside, it was quite cold (around freezing) and very windy.  But perhaps because of those factors, along with the late hour (about 11:00 PM), only a couple of other people ventured down to the beach.

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Hvitsekur Troll Rock at Sunset

Next: Across the Northern Tier……..

 

Iceland, Part 1: Reykjavik

 

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Overview of Reykjavik, from the observation deck of the Hallgrímskirkja Church

Virtually everyone who travels to Iceland begins and ends their visit in Reykjavik, the northernmost capital city in the world. Despite its location just below the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s climate is milder than one would expect due to the influence of ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream.  At the same time, summers are quite cool, with lows in the 40s and sometimes below.

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A typical side street in Reykjavik, with a decidely non-urban backdrop featuring Iceland’s dramatic landscape.

The name Reykjavik translates roughly as “Smoky Bay,”  a reference to the steam rising from geothermal vents observed by early Viking settlers in the 9th Century.  The island currently has a population of about 330,000 persons, yet more than 2/3 of them reside in the capital region.  By comparison Fairfax County, Virginia where I live, has over 1 million inhabitants.

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A view up the the hill toward the Hallgrímskirkja Church around midnight in early June.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Iceland’s history is that it has the oldest parliament in the world. The “Alþingi”  was established as an outdoor assembly around 930 AD and was moved to Reykjavik in 1844.  Its survival during a long and often turbulent history enabled the country to maintain a semblance of control over its political destiny even as it became part of the kingdom of Norway in the 15th century and eventually under Danish control.  World War II severed the link with Denmark and Iceland became an independent Republic on June 17, 1944.

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The Hallgrímskirkja Church with a statue of Leif Eriksson in the foreground.  The vertical columns evoke the balsaltic columns which characterize the geology of Iceland’s landscape.

Despite its small size, Reykjavik is a “happening” place anchored by an impressive concert hall, the Harpa, with its colored glass façade evoking the country’s volcanic geology.   Additionally, there are upscale restaurants, art galleries, vibrant street art, and a lively nightlife scene.

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The Harpa Concert Hall which held its opening concert on May 4, 2011. It houses the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the offices of the Icelandic Opera. The interior architecture is equally dramatic.

 

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Example of Street Art, a 40-foot mural by Li-Hill, a Canadian artist currently based in Brooklyn.  Entitled “Deacon of Dark River,” it was completed in 2015.

 

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Prikid, a casual cafe by day, jammin’ hip-hop joint at night (according to folks who have been inside)

 

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Reykjavik boasts a good number of stylish boutiques such as this specialty store, Ofeigur, which carries Icelandic jewelry, dresses by Hildur Bolladittir and hats by Liivia Leskin

But for many who visit here, the most dramatic location is found along the shore of the bay where the stainless steel “Sun Voyager” points its prow out to the sea. Often mistaken as a Viking ship, the artist described it in more general terms of the human experience: calling it “a dreamboat, an ode to the sun, symbolizing light and hope.”

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The “Sun Voyager” by Jón Gunnar Árnason

This was my second trip to Iceland, an expedition over the island’s  storied landscape which, like most visits here, began and ended with a day in Reykjavik. I was accompanied by two fellow photographers, Rick and Michele and, as we prepared to lave the capital, our intent was to find some places that were off the beaten track.  We even hoped we might find one or two special places that were off any track, beaten or otherwise.

 

Next:  The road trip begins……

Iceland Part 4 (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!)

It’s been a busy time since the eclipse on 27 September, primarily because I am running around trying to get ready for my Open Studio Event in 7 days. But that is a subject for another post.  Today, it’s time to bring out some more images from Iceland.

Readers may have noticed that Icelandic place names tend to be extremely complicated and hard to pronounce.  But there is at least one exception, the small town of Vik located on the south coast.  Perhaps the most notable feature here is its black sand beach, characteristic of a country populated by active volcanoes.  Not far away are the cliffs of DyrhÓlaey where we spent the good part of the afternoon.  One doesn’t have to walk far from the parking lot to get a good view.

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Cliffs of DyrhÓlaey

The classic vista here, however, is from a promontory that looks back toward the cliffs.  It is only about a 10 minute walk from the location shown above.  This is a perfect example of how the scenery can radically change in a very short distance.

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View from the Promontory, Looking West

And after a 20-second stroll to the opposite edge of the promontory one is treated to this view.

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View from the Promontory, Looking East

That evening, the group visited the Reynisfjara Beach, best known for its sea stacks.  One thing to remember about photographing on a beach close to the water is the need to pay close attention to the waves.  I have always observed that precaution, except for approximately 3 seconds on that evening when I turned to respond to a question from another member of the group. In that brief moment an unusually large wave pounded ashore with surprising speed and water was suddenly rushing past me above my knees. I turned to rescue my camera and tripod but it was too late.  My camera was down, I followed, and I saw another member of our group being dragged into the ocean while he desperately held his camera and tripod above the water surging around him. One of the tour leaders reacted quickly and grabbed that camera before the water claimed it.  With his hands free, the downed member was able to get back up about the same time I did.  I retrieved my camera but it was ruined, as was the lens.  The photographs on the card, however, were unharmed.  The image below was taken just a few minutes before this happened.

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Fortunately, I had a back-up camera body and lens and managed to capture the sunset about 40 minutes later.

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Sunset, Reynisfjara Beach

Keep Shooting (but watch those waves)…….

Iceland: Part 3

Iceland is a land shaped by fire, ice, and water.   It sits astride two major tectonic plates which are being gradually forced apart by the pressure of molten rock deep within the earth.  At the surface glaciers inexorably move through the mountains, slowly carving new landscape formations.  The melting ice from the warming climate and heavy rainfall in the mountains generates innumerable waterfalls, some tumbling over cliffs 200 feet and higher.

As a result, there are spectacular opportunities for the landscape photographer when weather conditions cooperate.  During our time in Iceland, we were treated to a few special moments but more often found ourselves in fairly challenging conditions.  But the challenges are part of what motivates us to take our cameras outdoors whenever we can.  Because sooner or later persistence will be rewarded with a magical ephemeral moment.  A moment you never forget.

One of the favorite spots for photographers in Iceland is the small blue glacial waterfall called Brúarfoss. Although well known to visitors, it can be extremely hard to find.  Fortunately, we were on a photo workshop led by Ian Plant, ably assisted by Alex Mody, and Ian unerringly directed our driver through a maze of unsigned dirt roads to a trail head.  After a short hike we were there and it was immediately obvious why everyone wants to see it, even in poor weather conditions.

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Brúarfoss from the Pedestrian Bridge (wide angle photomerge)

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Brúarfoss, from the Shallows (wide angle photomerge)

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Brúarfoss, from the Pedestrian Bridge (telephoto photomerge)

The next day we arrived at Gullfoss (Golden Falls, located in the canyon of the Hvítá River) for a sunrise shoot, but my efforts to capture the grandeur of the monster cataract were mostly unsatisfactory.  However, a few attempts were OK and are shown below.

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Early Morning at Gullfoss, View to the West

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Workshop Participants, Gullfoss

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Brief (5 seconds) Rainbow, Gullfoss

At midday, we got a break in the weather just as we arrived at Seljalandsfoss, located close to the Ring Road (Route 1).

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Seljalandsfoss at Midday

Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall approximately 200 feet high.  It has a cavern to the sides and rear that allow people to walk behind the falls.  This image is a side view from within the cavern.

To be continued…….

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