Thursday, July 27, 2017

Discovering Iceland- A Fine Conclusion

Our trip benefited from fine weather.  Temperatures were around 50°F with no heavy rain and only a few truly windy days. Continuing along Highway 1, the Ring Road circling the island, we were on the coastal planes, shadowed by the massive Vatnajökull Glacier. In places there were fertile fields of grass with cattle, sheep and horses.  Other sections were large expanses of lava rubble that spoke of large floods unleashed when volcanic activity melted a part of the ice until the water broke loose in a wall of water and rock.

Making an early start on the next day, our tour van pulled onto a rough road that suggested a gravel mine to me. It was a birding detour. We saw Skuas, called the pirate of the seas.  Not at all attractive.  Try as best we could, we could not even get flight photos.  Not very exciting.  We continued walking along the road with the van trailing us, and it did become more interesting as Golden Plovers were seen. 

They were acting in a way that suggested there were chicks present.  This was getting better.  With time a little chick was seen. It was amazing; it was already showing some of the adults' brilliant patterning.

We did not stay close to the plovers very long and were soon on our way north towards a glacial tongue at Svinafellsjökull.  To be honest, I took this photo so I could spell it and find it on the map later.

It was a good place to walk up on a moraine for our photo to send home. In all of the daily hurrying about, it is easy to miss the signs and the family photos.  Once home, you can be at a loss for spelling Svinafellsjökull.  It doesn't exactly roll off of my tongue, and I am sure I mispronounced 100% of the Icelandic names. You would laugh at what I go through to get the Icelandic alphabetic characters into the text.

Leaving the glacier, we only went about 11 kilometers before another unexpected detour, this time off to the left and close to the mountain.  Hofkirkja is the sole remaining sod church in Iceland.  That is one excellent reason to stop.  The second pretty good reason is that it has a restroom in a nice grove of trees nearby. 

This was so beautiful that I am tempted to break my rule to only show one photo of a given attraction.  This was in my top ten of the entire trip. 

There was also another stop for Icelandic horses.  Never happened when I had an apple with me.  No matter though, they were glad to get a little head rub.

All along the drive, there were these massive tongues of glacial ice breaking through the mountains on the way to the sea.  The black streaks of rock in the ice speak to the forceful attack on the mountain by the glacier's mass.

We passed the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon to the Hali Country Hotel that would be home for two nights. We did not stop at the lagoon initially, in favor of an evening shoot with the best light. Also in my top ten for the trip was my lunch of marinaded Arctic Char.  Heavenly.

We filled the afternoon with an excursion farther north to a black sand beach at Stokksnes.  The sea breeze was kicking up the fine black sand; I limited my photography out of fear of where the sand might enter.  This was the site of a US radar station during the Cold War. I had to wonder if assigning someone there was sometimes a sort of punishment, especially in the dark winter.

The real highlight of the day was after dinner. Even at 22:00 in the evening, the parking lot at the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon was packed.  The low evening sun shown through the many small bergs stranded in the lagoon, as the tide began to rush out through a small opening to the ocean. No other glacial lagoon connects to the tidal cycle.

Down on the edge of the lagoon, a photographer can find a rich selection of ice forms as the tide shifts grounded bergs and floats others out to sea.

Getting low can yield many nice compositions that border on abstract.

The contribution of reflections add interest too.

While I was doing this, Pam was wandering around the lagoon's outlet as the tidal flow was increasing.  The shapes of the little bergs caught her interest, and then she spied a seal active in the outflow.  In a magical moment, a berg in the shape of a seal swept past while in the distance the dark outline of a real seal surfaced.

It was getting close to 23:00 and the parking lot was emptying, but most of us headed to the ocean beach.  Some of the bergs being swept out to sea are grounded on the beach.  Using a very slow shutter and getting very close with a wide angle lens makes for some ethereal images with creamy water surrounding crystal ice forms. This is mesmerizing.

Then, I realized it was almost midnight and most were ready to find the hotel.  Oddly, on one side of the mountain to the left was the glow of the setting sun, and to the right side was an early glow where the sun would appear a few hours later.  

Tomorrow was our last full day before returning to Reykjavik, and we aimed to make the most of it. We backtracked on Highway 1 to Svartifoss.  It required a steep 1-1/2 mile march up.  I say "march" because we wanted to get there before the buses from Reykjavik arrived.  Svartifoss is a straight plunge of 65 feet off of a beautiful wall of hexagonal basalt columns. It was worth the effort.

Along the trail near the falls, there were profuse beds of Wild Geranium, just like at home.

Returning from Svartifoss, we took a rough road to see the face of Fajarsalon glacial lagoon.  The panorama view is too wide to include the complete view.  In the middle of the glacier's face are two extremely tiny dark spots. Those are large zodiac boats on an excursion to see the face.  It's the only way I know to suggest the size of the glacier.

Our stretch of good weather was coming to an end, as was the trip. The next morning was a long drive in rain to Reykjavik.  We made another stop in Vik, and saw the sea stacks from a new perspective.  

 The rain brought in some waves. I love the coast when it gets stormy.

A rainy day seemed perfect for concluding our trip on the island.  We arrived at the Fosshotel Rekjavik with time to prepare our baggage for an early morning bus to the airport, and then gather for a farewell dinner.  Our companions and leaders were fine company, and the people in Iceland delightful.

Asked about my favorite of the trip, I could not pick one.  I'll go for the top ten:
  • Gullfoss -   are real brute of a waterfall
  • an Atlantic Puffin with a beak full of Sand Eels
  • A Golden Plover and its fuzzy little chick
  • Haifoss -  the high twin falls are spectacular
  • Hofkirkja- the last sod church
  • an overnight on Flatey Island
  • Red-throated Loon and chick
  • Arctic Char in all possible presentations
  • Black-tailed Godwit
  • Our travel companions
It will be difficult to top this trip in the future.  But, I will keep looking for something at least equal.

Thanks for your interest.



  1. Paul, I thoroughly enjoyed both the narrative and your fantastic pictures. What a great experience. Iceland is an intriguing place on may levels.

  2. Ravishingly beautiful and wild. I can practically feel the sea mist when viewing your images. I especially like Vik and the sea stacks.

  3. That was a wonderful essay, Paul, the way you have taken us through your travels in Iceland. The quaint churches, the glaciers and falls and the puffins of course!