Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Discovering Iceland- Amazing Powerful Waterfalls (and a few more birds to boot)

After leaving Flatey Island, we actually got a full eight hours of sleep in preparation for a big day of major water.  Gullfoss is one huge and complex waterfall.  It is a prime destination for the day buses from Reykjavik, so we were away quickly the next morning.  Arriving at 08:30, there were only a few visitors from nearby lodging and campgrounds. I took my first photo from the car park about 300 yards away.  The mist from the falls made it difficult to keep the lens dry.  It is immense.

There are two drops in Gullfoss. At the top is a broad cascade. Fortunately, the wind blew the mist away from this location.

After the river Hívtá sweeps over the cascade, it collects itself in a wedge to make a sharp drop to the right. Then the river plunges to the left through a narrow canyon.  It is a brutal drop.

The mist from Gullfoss creates an ideal environment for grasses and wildflowers as seen along the pathways. While I concentrated on the falls, Pam also found Water Avens and Wild Geranium.  It was a nice surprise.

Our visit at Gullfoss was timed to end when the buses arrived. We made a brief stop at the thermals at Geysir which is the namesake for all geysers.  It goes off about once every five minutes.  If you have been to Yellowstone, this is a little tame.

Our wonderful driver and guide, Johann Óli Hilmarsson, is familiar with some lesser known but wonderful spots bypassed by the Grayline buses.  Leaving Geysir, he detoured from the main highway into what appeared to be a campground.

There, we saw Faxifoss.  (By now you might guess that "foss" means "falls" in Icelandic.)  The river ran  over a broad ledge.  It was curious to see a nice island in the pool below the rushing water.

I suspect that the real reason Johann Óli picked this place to stop was the nice little cafe overlooking the falls. We had lunch on the deck interrupted by a short rain squall.

Maybe Johann Óli was looking a little smug because we would learn that the next waterfall was a stunner.   It was the twin falls of Haifoss .  Google Maps describes it as "a dynamic waterfalls in a secluded location."  That summed it up just right.  The river splits nearly a half mile above the drop and neither side steals all the flow. That seems against the natural order.

Haifoss is roughly 4 miles from the pavement.The road was so rough that, as we climbed, we saw a progression of smaller cars that the drivers parked in favor of walking.  Some of the rocks used for the road were the size of a baseball. Substantial ground clearance was needed.

Let's look separately at the two drops. The right hand falls  comes first. It drops into a hidden pool in a violent plunge. This and the other drop are about 122 meters. That's 400 feet!

The other falls offered an impressive rainbow.  The river enters from the side and pushes the flow off to the side as it descends.  It rivals Gullfoss in brute size because of the height.

It had been a day for big and powerful landscapes.  Back to the hotel for dinner at 19:00.  It was a busy day.

You might think we'd done enough, but just past midnight  we loaded up for the nearby  Floi Nature Preserve.  After all, the sun doesn't set until after midnight. We first found Black-tailed Godwits fussing over us because they had chicks in the grasses. They would take to the wing, fly about fussing and return to somewhere near the usually hidden chicks.

Then we went to a series of ponds that had good numbers of Red-throated Loons, some with a chick.

That was a pretty full day.  Next, we had a long drive up the east side of the ring road - so yes, another early start for Seljalandsfoss.  No birds, I promise.  There were big waterfalls of many shapes, a cute house and the leaning tower of basalt.

Seljalandsfoss drops 200 feet over a lava wall.  It is one of the few that people can walk behind for dramatic views.  It is pretty wet.  I skipped that. To me, the defining view includes the rich carpet of yellow flowers thriving in the misty spray.

There was a trail along the lava wall to the left where I found a small 5 kw water turbine, plus some familiar blooms I'd expect in my beautiful Finger Lakes - Wild Geraniums.  We also found Cow Parsnip, which is also common in our Finger Lakes.

On we went to Skogafoss, another big one.  It is 50 feet across with a drop of 200 feet.

Walking back to our van, I was struck by the idea of big and little that was in the waterfalls and in the vehicles.  The little green guy is actually a camping rental.  I don't think I would fit. The monster at the right is for access to some of the more remote locations that surpass even the road to Haifoss.

Just past Skogafoss, Johann Óli pulled our van into a side road where we found some traditional buildings sheltered near the mountain.  Imagine this view in autumn or winter.

Reaching the town of Vik at midday, we saw one of the iconic rural Icelandic churches perched up on a hilltop.  The visitor may love the rich blue color of Alaskan Lupines surrounding the church, but the residents hate how these invasive plants are choking out their native plants. Johann Óli cringed each time he saw a visitor photographing a massive field of lupines.

Vik is the location of a black beach with sea stacks.  Nice scenery, though we hit it at a time of high wind which blew the fine black sand, making it uncomfortable and a danger to the camera.

As we progressed, there was talk of a secret place to photograph that was special.  Secret meaning not heavily visited.  Arrived to find so many vehicles, it was hard to park.  (Likely a new travel guide broke the silence?) Anyway, it was unusual even if no longer a secret.

More interesting, and virtually deserted, was a basalt outcropping that we explored in the evening. 
Basalt is a hexagonal column of lava formed when lava cools slowly. The columns can be 50 feet high.  In one place we found a leaning column of basalt.

Next, we will reach the shoreline below the immense Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon that is part of Iceland's largest glacier, Vatnajökull.  The glacier is over 3,000 square miles in extent and averages 1300 feet in thickness.

Jökulsárlón and Vatnajökull will get their own blog posting.


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