Iceland – Day 4

Day 4 of our Iceland adventure involved a very long drive and was the most spectacular day yet. Here are some of the highlights:

Foss á Siðu

Foss á Siðu

Dverghamrar ("Dwarf Rocks")

Dverghamrar (“Dwarf Rocks”)

It is rumored that Dverghamrar is a dwelling place of the Huldufólk or “hidden people.” We didn’t see any hidden people (of course, because they’re hidden) but I’m pretty sure we heard them.

Walking through an Icelandic forest

Walking through an Icelandic forest

The running joke in Iceland is that if you get lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. This forest was a little taller than that, however, but also very small.

Fossálar

Fossálar

I’m not sure if Fossálar is this waterfall’s true name as there was no signage, but I did a Google search and it seems to be well-known by that name. However, Fossálar means “Foss Alarm” in English and I think that is just a bit too punny to be a waterfall’s real name. I like it, though. And the waterfall was amazing.

The approach to Skeiðarársandur and the glacier Vatnajökull

The approach to Skeiðarársandur and the glacier Vatnajökull

Remnants of a bridge destroyed by the 1996 eruption of Grímsvötn and the ensuing jökulhlaup.

Remnants of a bridge destroyed by the 1996 eruption of Grímsvötn and the ensuing jökulhlaup.

A jökulhlaup is a glacial outburst flood that is the result of a subglacial eruption. They generally produce an insane amount of water.

A vast field of lupine.

A vast field of lupine.

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón (“Glacier River Lagoon”) is a glacial lake that started to form around 1934 by the retreat of the glacier  Breiðamerkurjökull. Large chunks of ice calve off the glacier on a regular basis and are deposited in the lake, where they remain until they become small enough to get swept out to sea via the river Jökulsá. It is a stunningly beautiful and fascinating place, the experience of which is only slightly marred by the vast quantity of visitors (and, per Mom, by the dearth of pancakes).

Jökulsárlón was our turnaround spot so after taking a ridiculous number of photos, we began the 3-hour drive back to our cottage. We had remarkably decent weather during our journey on Day 4, only to return to more pouring rain on the way back. Sigh.

Iceland – Day 3

The theme for Day 3 in Iceland was wind & rain, wind & rain, and more wind & rain. It was tempting just to stay warm and dry inside all day but the rain let up for about one minute in the early afternoon and that was enough to get us out the (Unfortunately, that was about the ONLY minute in the whole day that wasn’t horribly windy and rainy).

Our first destination was Dyrhólaey, a cape with a very large arch through it that is visible from our cottage. I wanted to go to the top to see the lighthouse and also because I’ve heard it’s the best place in the area to see puffins. (Click on the photos to see a larger version if you wish).

There is a steep and narrow dirt road that leads to the top of Dyrhólaey and up we went. On the way up, we encountered several people who were WALKING up the road. They could barely stand up against the wind and we smugly commented on how foolish that was. Immediately upon arriving at the top, it became quite apparently that getting out of the car was a VERY bad idea. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a strong wind. So back down we went. This was the view on the way down:

Unwilling to give up on the day, we decided to head over Reynisfjara, a very cool black sand beach with an impressive display of columnar basalt and a cave, Hálsanefshellir. We had to link arms to keep from being blown away, but once we got to the beach, the wind wasn’t so bad. We spent a very long time at Reynisfjara photographing the waves and the different perspective of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks. I even managed to spot a single puffin high up on the cliff, but was only able to get a couple of very bad photos of it. Here is the view looking back at Dyrhólaey.

Here’s a very small sampling of the impressive columnar basalt:

 Visitors to Iceland just LOVE to make stacks of stones:

The pounding surf and the Reynisdrangar sea stacks:

The walk back to the car was absolutely horrendous, as the wind was now in our faces. We were so glad when we finally made it back to the parking lot that Mom tried to jump into the first tiny red car we came to. “Wrong car!” I yelled. “What?” Mom yelled back as she started to climb into the car, much to the surprise of the guy in the driver’s seat, I’m sure. “WRONG CAR!” I yelled louder over the crazy wind. “Oh,” said Mom, and off we went to find our own red car.

By that time we were done with trying to brave the weather so we retreated to our cozy cottage and listened to the howling wind from the INSIDE for the rest of the evening, fervently hoping for better weather tomorrow.

I propose that we change the name of Iceland to Windland.

For a few additional photos from Day 3, go to my SmugMug Day 3 gallery HERE.

Iceland – Day 2

Our second day in Iceland was quite eventful, even though we didn’t leave our charming cottage until after lunch. The weather has been pretty unpleasant and we were kind of waiting around to see if it might change. It didn’t but we decided to venture out anyway. (It did get nicer the further east we went).

The cottage where we’re staying for the first week of our Iceland adventure is on a farm called Mið-Hvoll (“Middle Hillock”) located a few miles west of the adorable little town of Vik. These are some of our neighbors on the farm and the surrounding area:

Oystercatcher

We decided to take a road trip to the east on the Hringvegur (“Ring Road”). Along the way, we stopped at a place called Laufskálavarða, which is a lava ridge that is absolutely covered with stone cairns. Adding a stone to a cairn is supposed to bring travelers good fortune on their journey. We couldn’t have added a rock if we had wanted to as there was nary a spare stone to be found.

Iceland is replete with waterfalls and it is very important to photograph every single one. We saw a waterfall off to our left and wanted to get closer to take photos. We saw a car coming onto the highway from a side road and thought surely that side road would take us closer to the waterfall. We soon came upon this scene:

Creepy, right? I’m thinking, “We have no business being here. I’m backing on outta here.” Mom says, “Let’s go have a look!” She was quite insistent. So I crept along slowly, waiting for someone to come at us with an axe or something. There were absolutely no signs of recent inhabitation, just a bunch of old vehicles and a handful of sheep.

I speculated that those were the vehicles of all of the other people who dared to approach the creepy house. Also please note the preponderance of red vehicles. Our rental car is red. Time to go. (We did survive the experience unscathed, by the way).

Next stop was Kirkjubæjarklaustur (“Church Farm Cloister”).  A Benedictine convent was established here in 1186 and was in operation until the Reformation in 1550. The prominent double waterfall, Systrafoss, is a reference to the nuns of this convent.

Another nearby attraction is Kirkjugólf (“Church Floor”). This interesting geological formation is comprised of columnar basalt seen from the top. It’s not hard to imagine how Kirkjugólf got its name.

We stumbled upon this cute little waterfall, Stjórnarfoss, quite by accident as we were on our way to photograph a different but not nearly as photogenic waterfall.

After eating dinner at the local gas station and picking up a few things at the grocery store, we decided it was time to head back. On the way, we pulled off onto a couple of different side roads to try to get photos that captured just how weird the terrain was in that area. The lava is covered in a thick layer of moss and it’s pretty surreal looking.

And this here is an Icelandic forest:

We made one last stop on the way back at the town of Vik. There is a beautiful black sand beach there with cool basalt sea stacks called Reynisdrangar. I braved the wind and cold to capture some dusk photos and videos. It was spectacular.

And that’s it for Day 2. I’m not sure how many photos I’ll have for Day 3 because the weather is the worst yet and is not letting up for a second!! I really REALLY want the weather to get nice long enough for us to go horseback riding. Cross your fingers!

Iceland – Day 1

My mom and I have now embarked on our grand return trip to Iceland. We first visited Iceland in June/July of 2006 while I was on R&R from my then-job in Iraq. I had wanted to go to Iceland since I was a youngster and when I invited my mom to go along she said, “Sure! Why not?!” We had a fabulous time, fell in love with the country, and vowed to go back. Nine years later, here we are.

Here are a few highlights from Day 1.

The highlight of the flight over was, by far, flying over Greenland. The coasts are SO rugged and the in-between expanse of nothing but whiteness are all very impressive.

The west coast of Greenland

The west coast of Greenland

The east  coast of Greenland

The east coast of Greenland

The next highlight of the day was Urriðafoss (“Trout Waterfall”), a little-known but quite spectacular waterfall on the river Þjórsá, the longest river in Iceland. The information sign states that Urriðafoss is the most voluminous waterfall in Europe.

Urriðafoss

Urriðafoss

Unfortunately, Urriðafoss is being threatened by a proposed hydropower station. It would be a tragedy to lose this impressive natural wonder.

This is Alaskan Lupine and it is EVERYWHERE here in Iceland.

Nootka Lupine

Alaskan Lupine

This beautiful and ubiquitous plant was brought to Iceland in the late 1800s to help combat soil erosion but has become quite invasive.

Þorvaldseyri is a lovely farm located at the base Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier whose underlying volcano erupted so spectacularly in 2010.

Þorvaldseyri

Þorvaldseyri

The cave on the right in the photo below is called Rútshellir. It was pretty cool and there were sheep and horses too.

Rútshellir

Rútshellir

So that’s about all I have from Day 1. I’m actually at the end of Day 2 as I write this and I took WAY more pictures today, so I better get busy with the next blog post!

Sleepy Squirrel

This sleepy little squirrel was lounging in my cottonwood tree yesterday, obviously enjoying the warm sunshine after Sunday’s sloppy wet snowstorm. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I’ve ever seen a squirrel napping.

Did you know that over ONE-THIRD of all mammal species are rodents?!! I find that quite astonishing.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – Vernal Equinox

In celebration of the Vernal Equinox, today I will feature Colorado’s beautiful state flower, the Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), aka the Rocky Mountain Columbine. Last year was a banner year for the Columbine in Colorado’s Front Range and I was fortunate to see absolutely stunning displays of Columbines on three separate occasions.

Kenosha Pass Columbines

McCullough Gulch Columbines

Crater Lakes Columbines

The Crater Lakes Columbines were the best of the lot. As I mentioned in my blog post about that hike, I very unexpectedly came across a hillside along the lake that was just COVERED in Columbines. It was a stunningly beautiful and truly breathtaking sight to see. What made it even more interesting was the horde of Hummingbird Moths that were flitting from bloom to bloom, lapping up the yummy Columbine nectar.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 1

Spotted Saxifrage (Saxifraga bronchialis ssp. austromontana) is one of my absolute favorite Rocky Mountain wildflowers. I’m generally partial to cute things and this little flower is just plain CUTE.

The habitat of the Spotted Saxifrage is typically in subalpine and alpine life zones but I’ve seen it in the montane zone as well.

Spotted Saxifrage, near Mount Evans

Spotted Saxifrage, near Mount Evans

The Latin word saxifraga means “rock breaker.” Depending on the description one is reading, this name refers either to the rocky habitat in which the plant often lives OR it indicates the plant’s alleged medicinal use for treatment of kidney stones.

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

The Spotted Saxifrage is a larval host and nectar source for a butterfly called the Astarte Fritillary.

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 2

Double Bladderpod (Physaria acutifolia), aka sharpleaf twinpod or Rydberg’s twinpod, was another new find for me last year, or perhaps just another often-seen-but-newly-identified one. Like the Yellow Alyssum featured earlier in this series, the four small petals of the Double Bladderpod give it away as a member of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family. The inflated seed pods (not shown) are the source of the “bladderpod” moniker. This plant can be found in open soil patches in the plains, foothills, and montane life zones of Colorado.

Double Bladder Pod, South Valley Park

Double Bladderpod, South Valley Park

“Physaria” is Greek for “bladder” and “Acutifolia” is Greek for “sharp-edged foliage.”

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 3

There are over 200 different species in the genus Castilleja, commonly known as Paintbrush, Indian Paintbrush, or Prairie Fire. They can be found in a multitude of colors; however, it is difficult to determine species based strictly on color because Castilleja is a prolific hybridizer.

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Castilleja is a hemiparisitic plant, meaning it depends partly on the roots of grasses and forbs for its own nourishment.  This plant was named after Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo.

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 4

The distinctive, fragrant blooms of the Sand Lily (Leucocrinum montanum), aka starlily, mountain lily, or Star of Bethlehem, are among the first to make a spring appearance in the foothill zone along Colorado’s Front Range.

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

The Sand Lily looks like it has six snow-white petals, but in reality, it has 3 petals that alternate with three sepals. When the petals and sepals of a plant’s inflorescence are indistinguishable from each other, they are collectively referred to as “tepals.”

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

Native American tribes used parts of the Sand Lily as both a food source and a treatment for sores.

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space