Iceland (Part 6) Southern Region

Map of Chapter 6 Crop JPEGMap of Southern Region

Our next overnight was at the Hrifunes Guest House, a charming inn off the beaten track.  Hrifunes is jointly owned by Hadda Gisladottir who traveled with us for the first several days of our journey and by our photography guide Haukur Snorrason.  The meals are served family style and we can attest to the excellent skills of their kitchen staff and the comfort of the rooms.  As I mentioned in Chapter 1 of this odyssey, Hadda primarily manages the guest house while Haukur primarily manages the photo tour operation.

D-17-06-12-001 (Iceland)View from the Reading Room, Hrifunes Guest House

D-17-06-12-002 JPEG (Iceland)Dining Area of Hrifunes Guest House

The next morning we headed off for the Valley of Thor, an area  without roads, bridges,  hotels, or restaurants. But that will be the subject of the next post.  We still had a number of stops on the way.

It didn’t take long for Haukur to abandon the main highway for a destination he had previously spotted from his plane when scouting for remote photo locations.  Needless to say, we had this location all to ourselves.

D-17-06-11-7213 (Iceland)Undisclosed Location, Southern Iceland

 

After returning to the main road, we spotted a large field of lupine that seemed to be calling for us to come and photograph it.

D-17-06-11-7267_74 (Iceland)Field of Lupine

The small village of Vik is an excellent place to stop for lunch and/or stroll along a black sand beach and/or capture some images of the hillside church above the village.

D-17-06-11-7314 (Iceland)Hillside Church Overlooking Vik and Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks

After lunch, we were planning to check out the Dyrholaey Lighthouse, but the road was jammed with traffic and so we opted for a nearby spot which gave us an excellent overview of Arnardrangur, a massive basalt monolith standing on Reynisfjara, the black sand beach.

D-17-06-11-7359_64-Pano (Iceland)Arnardrangur, with Reynisdrangar Sea Stcks in the Distance

A short distance from here, we came upon Skogafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland.  Its name comes from the Skoga River which tumbles over a 200-foot cliff befopre continuing to the sea some 3 miles away.  At one time, the coastline was marked by these cliffs, but receded long ago.  The river below the falls holds a large salmon and char population and is popular with fishermen between July and October.

D-17-06-11-7388 (Iceland)Skogafoss, Mid-Afternoon Light

This picture is somewhat deceptive because this is a popular tourist stop and several hundred people were there with us.  But almost all were behind us to avoid the mist or climbing the 370 steps to the top of the falls where there is an overlook.

As one travels along the Route 1 in Iceland there are numerous farms on what appears to be a wonderfully serene landscape of waterfalls and/or snowcapped mountains. We stopped briefly at one that seemed especially nice as shown in the image below.

D-17-06-11-7400 (Iceland Blog 2)Family Farm in Idyllic Setting

But upon examining an explanatory sign next to the entrance road, we discovered that there is a downside to some locations.  In the case of this property, that downside revealed itself on April 14, 2010 with the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.  We would be headed in the general direction of that volcano next.  But Haukur didn’t seem concerned.

Google Image

 

Next:  Into the Valley of Thor……

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

D-17-06-07-3776_77-Pano (thermal park)

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 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.

D-17-06-05-2603 (Iceland)

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.   

D-17-06-05-2780 (Michele)

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

D-17-06-04-2846 Crop (Iceland)

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

 

D-17-06-05-2822 and 24 (Iceland)

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.

D-17-06-05-SONY-1435 (Iceland)

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.

 

D-17-06-05-SONY 1442A (Iceland)

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

D-17-06-05-2934 (Iceland)

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.

D-17-06-05-2975_76-Pano (Iceland)

Kirkjufellfoss waterfall

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

 

D-17-06-05-3018_20-Pano (Iceland)

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.

D-17-06-05-3124_25-Pano (Iceland)

Hvitsekur Troll Rock at Sunset

Next: Across the Northern Tier……..

 

Hidden Gems: Cape Charles, Virginia

 

Note:  Special thanks to my photographer friend Kim, who introduced me to, and guided me through, this special place.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a 70-mile tract of land on the Delmarva Peninsula enclosed by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west.  Its northern border with Maryland and Delaware separates it completely from the rest of Virginia.  On the Atlantic side, a series of barrier islands forms the longest remaining natural coastline along the entire eastern seaboard.

Cape Charles 04 Sunset

Sunset overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Charles, Virginia

Although this region is one of the earliest colonized areas of North America, Native American tribes flourished here long before European settlers first arrived at the beginning of the 17th Century.  Characterized by fertile, easily tilled land and surrounded by the bay and ocean  waters, the area remained a seafood and agricultural region with scattered small towns for almost 300 years.

Cape Charles 03 Pearl Valley

Pear Valley 18th Century home, National Historic Landmark

(This tiny, frame house outside Eastville, VA has one room downstairs and two partial rooms in a sort of attic. It is an example of a middle class home in 1740)

In 1883, a group of railroad investors hatched the idea of a rail-sea link that would extend the terminus of the existing rail line in Maryland 65 miles down the peninsula to a massive pier where the rail cars would be loaded onto special barges that would carry them across the 36-mile stretch of water to a terminus in Norfolk.

Cape Charles 11 Old FerryPier

Sunset Old Ferry Pier, Cape Charles, Virginia

The creation of the new rail-sea line was the reason for the creation of Cape Charles which, from its very conception, was a planned community and its original layout is still visible today.  Many of the original  homes still stand, a diverse range of styles including Victorian, Colonial Revival, and even some of the Sears and Roebucks houses that were delivered as a “kit” of 30,000 pieces and a 75- page manual.

Cape Charles 02 Kellys Pub

Intersection of Mason and Pine Streets (looking left)

The above image shows a former bank, dating from the early 20th Century, that has been renovated and is now a popular Irish pub.

CapeCharles 03A Libray

Intersection of Mason and Pine Streets (looking right)

The above image shows a former bank, dating from the early 20th Century, that became a branch of the Bank of America and is now the town library.

With daily trains arriving from New York, the town quickly became the economic center of the  lower peninsula.  Benefitting from a planned system of paved streets, electricity, telephones, and central water and sewage systems, it was more cosmopolitan than the other shore towns.  But the glory years began a downturn with the Great Depression in the 1930s, the decline of the railroads after World War II, and the opening of the Bay-Bridge tunnel in 1964.

Cape Charles 05 AT Altitude Galley

The At Altitude Gallery, opened in 2015 by photographer Gordon Campbell in the renovated Wilson’s Department store and exhibiting his dramatic aerial photography of the Cape Charles area. 

But, after several decades of continued economic and population decline, the trend has reversed.  As indicated in the above image, new businesses have opened and its potential for tourism has been recognized.  As indicated in my images below, photographers are particularly smitten with its natural beauty and diversity of subject matter.

Cape Charles 08 Oyster Sunrise

Sunrise at Oyster

(Oyster is small unincorporated community, named for its fishing industry, located about 5 miles from Cape Charles on the opposite side of the peninsula.)

Cape Charles 01 Osprey

Osprey Nest at Sunrise, Cape Charles, Virginia

Cape Charles 09

Sand Dunes off Bay Avenue, Cape Charles, Virginia

Cape Charles 10 (Kite Surfers)

Kite Surfers, Cape Charles, Virginia

Cape Charles 07 Eyre Gardens

Eyre Hall Gardens, Cape Charles, Virginia

(Eyre descendents have owned land in the lower portion of Northampton County continuously since 1622 for 12 generations. The gardens, while privately owned are open to the public and are among the oldest gardens in the United States)

Galapagos Islands (Part 3)

The Galapagos Islands and Charles Darwin have been inextricably linked since the publication of his “Origin of the Species” 25 years after he visited the islands as a 22-year old geologist aboard HMS Beagle.  While Darwin is generally credited with conceiving the idea of evolution, the theory actually had its beginnings with a French naturalist, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, who died in poverty and obscurity six years before Darwin arrived in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s contribution, however, was equally important.  He explained how and why evolution occurs.

So when you travel to the Galapagos Islands, an eerie feeling comes over you as you realize that the individual birds, mammals, and reptiles you are viewing and photographing most likely are direct descendants of the very creatures that inspired one of the most revolutionary scientific conclusions in history.

At the same time, this wildlife sparks a sense of wonder regardless of its ancestry.  And that is what the rest of this post will focus on.

Galapagos 29 3 Boobies

Blue-footed Boobies Conferring

Although I rated the Sally Lightfoot Crab as having the coolest name, my overall favorite should be no surprise;  it is the blue-footed booby.

Galapagos 30 Booby

Their ridiculously colored blue feet, serving as their namesake, ironically are contradicted by the steely gaze of their arresting eyes and the impeccable sleekness of their plumage.  When their stare fixes you, you become grateful that you are not a small fish.

But while humans may smirk at their garishly colored feet, the color blue is a very big deal to both the male and female booby.  The  males take great pride in their fabulous feet. During mating rituals, male birds show off their feet to prospective mates with a high-stepping strut. The bluer the feet, the more attractive the mate.  The short video clip below was filmed by our trip leader.

(Video by James Zimbelman, Smithsonian Institution)

Yet, when you watch the birds in their role as a predator, you realize why that piercing glare gave you pause.  Circling high above the ocean in search of anchovies and other small fish,   they will suddenly fold their long wings back around their streamlined bodies and plunge into the water at speeds up to 60 mph.  It happens so quickly that I failed in every attempt to capture that critical moment of hitting the water.  The best I could do was the shot below, when a successful plunge was followed by the bird as he/she was taking off.

Galapagos 10 Blue Footed Booby

Blue-footed Booby on Take-off Run

There are many ways to see the Galapagos Islands including larger ships (about 90 passengers), small charter vessels that may take as few as 12-16 passengers, or on-island lodging (ranging from regal to rustic).  Choosing the latter may restrict your ability to visit more than 1-2 islands unless you are willing to change lodging a few times.  The variety of wildlife you will see depends on which islands you choose to visit.  Not all itineraries are the same.  But however long you stay, you will be glad you made the journey.

Galapagos 26 (Straight Shot No Tricks)

  Frigatebird at Sunrise, Galapagos Islands

(Technical: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm; exposed @ 1/800th sec. @ f/16, ISD 400; No Photoshop trickery used in positioning the bird over the sun)

 

Galapagos Islands (Part 2)

Galapagos 20 Approaching Storm

Approaching Storm at Sunset

(Techniical Stuff: Nikon D810 handheld on moving ship with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 150mm; exposure 1/250th sec. @ f/14, ISO 800; four images photomerged)

The volcanic archipelago making up the Galapagos Islands is relatively young by geological measures and on some of the newer islands you may see only the initial stages of plant life.

Galapagos 12 Cactus

A Cactus Plant Finds a Spot on a Lava Formation

One of the strange aspects of volcanic activity is the formation of lava tubes.  Don’t ask me for an understandable explanation, but it has to do with the lava flow cooling and becoming hard on the surface, while still-hot lava continues to move under the hardened surface.  In some cases, when the eruption ends, the last of the moving lava proceeds through the channel, draining it and leaving a long cave behind.

Galapagos 22A Lava Cave

Lava Tunnel

(Technical Stuff: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 24 mm; exposure 1/25th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 1600; two images photomerged)

The tunnel was interesting but very dark and creepy, a great location for a horror movie. And it was the wildlife we wanted to see so not a lot of time was spent there.

Galapagos 28 Sea Lions and iguana

Two Sea Lion Pups Napping as Marine Iguana Strolls By

The Galapagos marine iguana is the only iguana that has evolved from a strictly land-based creature to one that swims and feeds in water.  They are found nowhere else on the planet.  They feed on ocean algae, often fully submersed, and even have a special gland common to marine birds that enables them to extract excess salt from their blood and sneeze it out several times a day.

Galapagos 11 Sea Lion YawningSea Lion Yawning

The sea lions found in the Galapagos Islands are the smallest of the sea lion species.  The female gives birth to a single pup a year after mating and she stays with it for the first week after birth.  She then will depart for one to four days to hunt, while other females of the colony stay behind to watch over the youngsters.  Eventually, the pups join their mother to develop swimming and hunting skills.

Galapagos 28 Mocking BirdGalapagos Mocking Bird

(Techniical Stuff: Nikon D810 handheld with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm; exposure 1/250th sec. @ f/8, ISO 800; very tight crop of final image)

The smaller birds, such as the Galapagos mocking bird, were more timid than most of the island wildlife but they still provided photo opportunities on occasion.  Interestingly, there are seven subspecies of the Galapagos mockingbird, and each one seems to be largely endemic to different islands of the archipelago.  Apparently, it was the differences (such as beak size and shape) among these birds, as well as his better known study of the Galapagos finches (15 subspecies) that sparked Darwin’s thinking about adaptive evolution.

 

Galapagos 24 Floreana IslandSunrise, Floreana Island

 

 

Coming Next: The World Famous Blue-Footed Booby

Galapagos Islands (Part 1)

Galapagos 21 Another Sunrise           Sunrise on the Equator, Pacific Ocean

The Galapagos Islands are a chain, or archipelago, formed by volcanic action over the past 5 million years.  Located on the equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador. But what makes them special is the unique array of wildlife that is found there.  Many of the species are found nowhere else on earth and, because they lack natural predators, most have no fear of the thousands of tourists (even photographers) who come to see them every year.

Galapagos 02 Land Iguana

Galapagos Land Iguana, Feeding on Succulents

The Galapagos Land Iguana is primarily an herbivore, feeding mostly on cacti and other succulents and thus can go for long periods without drinking water.  This species can weigh up to 13 pounds and they can live for as long as 50 to 60 years. The female lays up to 20 eggs in burrows they have excavated.

Galapagos 07 Frigate Red Chest

 

There are two kinds of frigatebirds on the islands, but the males of both variants possess the distinctive red throat pouch which inflates into enormous heart-shaped balloons. It can take up to 30 minutes for the pouch to completely fill as the male hopes to enthrall a passing  female.

Galapagos 03 Frigate Bird with Nest MaterialFrigatebird Carrying Nesting Material

 

Nesting occurs in colonies that may include members of both variants.  The nests are constructed mostly by the female with materials brought in by the male.  The birds can have wing spans of 7 feet.

CGalapagos 04 Frigate ChickYoung Frigatebird Chick on Nest

The female lays only one egg and it may take 40-50 days to hatch.  Both parents share in the nesting and feeding after hatching.  It will take another 20-24 weeks before the juvenile fledges but they continue to be fed for another 20 weeks or more before they fend for themselves.   Because of the length of this cycle, the female can reproduce only once a year at the most.

Galapagos 27 Comorant

Galapagos Flightless Cormorant Drying “Wings”

The Flightless Cormorant is unique to the Galapagos and is found on only two of the islands.  Only 1,000 breeding pairs exist.  Having no land-based predators, natural selection favored those birds that were better built for swimming and diving.  Their wings are about 1/3rd the size needed to fly.

Galapagos 17 ComorantFlightless Cormorant with a Catch

Their courtship is unusual because it is the female that aggressively seeks out the male, and subsequently will depart her partner and offspring to re-mate serially with different males while males raise the young by themselves.

Galapagos 08 CrabSally Lightfoot Crab (Yes, really!)

Winner of my award for the creature with the best name (barely edging out the blue footed booby), the colorful  Sally Lightfoot Crab is a common sight in the Galapagos Islands.  According to one source, this little beastie is named after a famous Caribbean dancer because of its incredible agility.  I don’t know about the namesake, but these guys are quick.

Galapagos 01 SurfWave Breaking in Late Afternoon Light

 

Next:  Galapagos Islands (Part 2)