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.

 

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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……

Journey to the Middle of the World

Ecuador 01 Overlook of QuitoQuito, Ecuador from the Overlook at Panecillio

The first time one visits a country, especially on a very short trip, the experience can be frustrating because you only get a glimpse of some of the possibilities.  This is particularly true for Ecuador because, despite its small size, it is an incredibly diverse land.  About the size of Nevada, Ecuador boasts volcanic peaks as high as 20,000 feet, vast tropical forests, and palm-fringed beaches on the Pacific Coast.  There are more bird species per square mile than any other South American country and more orchids than anywhere else on earth.  But the biggest draw is the famed Galapagos Islands which sit on the Equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador’s coast and that was the reason we were there.

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Some “Wildlife” in Quito

Our schedule included only two days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  Surrounded by volcanic peaks, some still active, Quito is the highest capital city in the world (9,300 feet) and the closest of any capital to the equator.

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Standing (and Jumping) on the Equator in Ecuador

A tourist attraction known as the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City) is considered a must for anyone who wants a photograph of themselves straddling the northern and southern hemispheres.  The actual line is about 240 meters to the north, according to the guide, but no one seemed to care.

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Long View of “TooFly” Mural at the Central University of Ecuador

It is less well known that Quito is a hotbed for street artists and we headed for the Central University of Ecuador on a quest to find what was billed as the tallest street art mural in the country created by graffiti legend Maria “TooFly” Castillio in 2015.

Ecuador 02 TooFly Mural

The Mural, as Seen from Directly Across the Street

Castillio, a native of Ecuador, is now based in New York City and has installations in a number of countries.

The next day we visited some of the more common sights in the city such as the Virgin of Quito, a 134-foot tall statue towering over the city on a hill known as the Panecillio, and the Casa del Alabado Museum of pre-Columbian art.  Despite some skepticism on my part concerning the wisdom of the latter choice, it turned out to be a fascinating way to learn about the history, culture, and arts of ancient Ecuadoran cultures that populated this area for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.

Ecuador 05 Virgin of Quito

The Virgin of Quito, a Gift from Spain

Ecuador 06 Shaman

Pre-Columbian Scuplture of a Shaman (5,000 to 1,500 B.C.)

 

Next Post:  Random Street Scenes in Quito

Northwest Passage–A Short Video

For a change of pace, I thought I would offer up something a little different in this post.  The previous ten posts about this Northwest Passage journey have consisted of words and still photographs.  This time it will be a video report with a musical background.

The Northwest Passage: Into the Arctic Circle

This was my first experiment with video and it was clearly a learning experience.  Perhaps the most important lesson is that, at least for me, a video production is a team effort.  Above all, it requires a talented editor and I had the good fortune to have an excellent partner in this effort.  Her name is Samantha Politis and she took a batch of video files shot with my Nikon D810, a few seconds of drone footage captured by Fredieric Michel, the ship’s videographer, during the visit to the Ilulissat Icefjord (used with his permission), a musical score that she and I selected (license fee paid) and weaved them into a 3 minute video.

I hope you will take a look and let us know what you think.

Next Post (This time for real)–Smoke and Fire)

Northwest Passage (10)

First, many apologies for the long absence since the last post.  But now it’s time to resume the story of this journey.

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Edinburgh Island, Overlooking Coronation Gulf

Following our experience standing fog-bound on a piece of sea ice about the size of a handball court, we departed Victoria Strait and sailed west.  The next morning we arrived in the Coronation Gulf, near the location where Samuel Hearne, a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fur trader arrived in July 1771. By reaching this point he became the first European to reach the North American shores of the Arctic Ocean. He took a 1,000-mile (one-way) overland route from the west side of Hudson Bay, following the course of the Coppermine River which empties into the Gulf.  As Hearne looked out over the ice filled water, he concluded—incorrectly—that this was not a viable route for a Northwest Passage.

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The Route Through Coronation Gulf

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Ridgeline View of Coronation Gulf

Samuel Hearne was yet another colorful figure of North American exploration.  After joining the British Navy at age 11 and seeing considerable action in the Seven Years War, he sailed to Canada and signed up with Hudson’s Bay Company for whom he explored much of the unknown territory north and west of Hudson Bay.  His 458-page book, “A Journey from Prince of Wale’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean” was highly praised when published for its meticulous detail of the areas he explored and for his lucid descriptions of life among the Native Americans.  It has since become a remarkable collectible.  A first edition copy sold for $11,000 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.  A detailed history of Hearne’s life can be found in Kenneth McGoogan’s book, in which he asserts that Hearne was the inspiration for Samuel Coleridge’s epic poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

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Fall Colors, Edinburgh Island

On this day, however, we would land on tiny Edinburgh Island, across the Gulf from where Hearne stood almost 250 years ago. Here we would undertake a 3-mile roundtrip hike up a valley featuring the colorful hues of tundra at the height of autumn.  The valley was flanked by steep cliffs on both sides and we spotted several peregrine falcon nests on the ledges.  Their occupants could be seen spiraling above, looking for prey.

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Entering Jesse Harbor

The following day we continued west to Jesse Harbor on Banks Island where we encountered an environment quite different from the vibrant tundra on Edinburgh Island.  Here was yet another variant of the polar desert, one with very little vegetation. We hiked past meltwater ponds up a barren ridge and later descended to a sandy beach like none we had seen on this trip.  Other than some distant muskox, there were no sightings of wildlife but we did see numerous signs (tracks, scat, bones, and hair tufts) of animals and birds.  They apparently chose not to stay around to greet us.

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The tracks of dozens of birds and small animals surrounded the muddy edges of this pond. 

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Tracks of Large Bird on the Beach

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Single Vertebra Bone of Unidentified Animal

Next Post–Smoke and Fire!