The Golden Circle
This is the journey most tourists take either on their own or by bus - a one day affair that gets you viewpoints, geysers, waterfalls, craters and fissures - where the continental plates are literally ripping apart, leaving seams of crystal water in their wake. These fissures are in Þingvellir (Thing-vet-ir) National Park, where you can don a dry suit (the water is around 35F) and go snorkeling. We headed onward to Geysir, where multiple geysers sit, but only one - Strokker - actually erupts with any force. Geysir, from which all geysers are named, stopped erupting years ago, and only becomes active during earthquakes or other volcanic activity. Still, Strokker is impressive, sending a boiling, sulfurous blast of water 70-80 feet in the air every 5 minutes or so. Not much further away is Gullfoss, a massive waterfall that we would have stayed at longer if it weren't for the strong cold winds gusting from the frozen interior of the island.
This being the far end of the loop, we start heading back, taking various gravel roads toward Kerið crater. The back roads, which are almost always gravel, are where you find the unexpected viewpoints and experiences, and it was here that we met our first Icelandic horses. We stopped to take a picture, but the moment you get out of the car and walk toward the fence, they’ll just walk toward you, stick their head over and give you a sniff while you pet their mane. They’re incredibly friendly. If you travel here with a child, expect to be hounded incessantly for the rest of the trip about getting one. Hell, I want one. I just need a farm.
Kerið crater is a volcanic formation from about 6000 years ago. The bottom of it sits below the water table, so there's a lake of sorts at the bottom. It’s used as a performance space every now and then - Björk and others have performed on the lake while concert goers line the crater.
The church at Skaholt wasn’t really open for season yet - but I talked my way in nicely to the woman cleaning up - who barely spoke a word of English - and who let me take a few photos of the interior as the light streamed in through the stained glass windows.
After a day of more cold wind, we found a respite while taking a gravel road around Þingvallavatn - the large lake at Þingvellir - before finally coming across an expected sight of a bubbling, steaming stream leading to another geothermal plant at Nesjavillir. The ground filled with steaming water leading back to a billowing power plant framed by the snow peaked mountain of Hengill was an epic moment. By the end of this day we had seen so much it was hard to keep track. This country is a bit mind-blowing, and we’re barely seen most of it yet…