Iceland – Day 7

On Day 7, we thought we’d give Dyrhólaey another try. If you’ll recall, we drove to the top of Dyrhólaey on Day 3 and couldn’t even get out of the car because the wind was blowing so hard. Day 7 was a much nicer day with much less wind and a morning that was absolutely free of rain, so it seemed like a good day for another attempt. After making an appointment to go horseback riding in the afternoon, we headed in the direction of Dyrhólaey. By the way, Dyrhólaey means “door hole island.” For obvious reasons. Except it’s not an island.

I decided first to stop at a parking lot below Dyrhólaey that seemed to be quite popular (i.e. crowded). I first noticed this breathtaking sight:

This large chunk of basalt sitting right on the beach is called Arnardrangur (“Eagle Rock”) because eagles used to nest here, although no one has seen any here since 1850. There were bunches of people clumped together taking photos toward the cliffs and I knew that could mean only one thing: PUFFINS!! And sure enough, there were puffins. Lots and lots of puffins.

Please note that the puffin in the last photo appears to be sitting on a puffling. Awwwww!!!

We spent an inordinate amount of time photographing puffins. They were quite plentiful and they are SO very adorable! We wandered around the area and got great views of the beach below Dyrhólaey, then went down to said beach and spent another inordinate amount of time there.

The photo above shows where a Dutch couple fell 40 meters down to the beach when the edge of the cliff gave way at the end of May this year. They both survived.

Oh, and there were more PUFFINS!!

With our horseback riding appointment rapidly approaching, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the puffin place and off we went back to the farm. As soon as we started driving back to the farm, the rain started. Of course. We were, however, absolutely DETERMINED to ride Icelandic horses on this trip so we went ahead with our plans.

We met up with our super nice guide, Deborah, then headed to the horse place and got our trusty steeds and ourselves all ready. Mom was assigned to a very handsome blond horse whose Icelandic name meant “Sunshine.” I got a brown and white fella whose name in Icelandic meant “Chief.” Mom’s horse was a slow-poke and mine kept trying to go back to the barn.

Neither of us had been on a horse in quite some time (and then some), so even getting ON them was an adventure. Icelandic horses are, in general, smaller than other horses but boy did those stirrups look high off the ground!! We kindly requested a box to stand on to facilitate the process. Mom made me promise not to film the horse-mounting process, so, being the good, obedient daughter that I am, that part will have be left to your collective imagination.

With Deborah expertly leading the way, we headed of toward the nearby black sand beach for our rainy, windy ride. Keep in mind that any photos taken DURING the ride are not very high quality as I was too busy trying to hold on for dear life to worry much about composition, focus, exposure and such. Plus it was raining. And REALLY windy.

Upon reaching the beach, Deborah asked, “Do you want to try going a little faster?” We both responded with a resounding, “NOOOOOOOOO!” But I think we went faster anyway. Icelandic horses have an unusual gait called the “tolt” which looks really smooth and easy, but to me it just felt bouncy.

This was the view of Dyrhólaey  from our turn-around spot:

Since Mom didn’t dare let go of the reins to take photos during the ride, this is just about the only photo of me to commemorate the experience

As you can see, taking a selfie with a horse is not an easy task :)

So that was the last day of our stay on a farm near Vik, and what an eventful and memorable day it was!

Iceland – Day 6

Now that I’m actually BACK from Iceland, I’ll try to get caught up on my daily trip reports. It got a little overwhelming while we were there because we were SO busy, plus I took SO many photos (8,883 to be precise) and I just didn’t have time to go through them every day. Now where were we? Ah yes, Day 6…

On Day 6, we woke up to the usual rain, but carried on with our plans to visit the tiny hamlet Skógar and the nearby waterfall Skógafoss nonetheless. Skógafoss is an impressive waterfall that can be seen from the Ring Road but is best experienced up close. If you go, be sure to bring something to wipe the water off your camera lens because this waterfall produces a lot of spray. It’s possible to approach quite close to the falls, but you WILL get wet. And if you have a lot of patience, it might actually be possible to get a few photos without people in them (which is generally my preference).

Sometimes it’s nice, however, to leave some people in a photo to lend a sense of scale.

A trail that climbs up the right side of the waterfall leads adventurous visitors to loftier views of the falls. Continuing to follow the trail would lead one on a long trek over the Fimmvörðuháls Pass between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. We opted not to do this.

Next on the agenda was a visit to the Skógar Folk Museum, which contains thousands of artifacts and several reconstructed buildings from the settlement period of Iceland’s history. There is a fascinating reconstruction of a turf farm, where you could walk inside and get a good feel of what it was like to live on an Icelandic farm during that period.

The indoor part of the museum was extremely interesting and we could probably have spent hours inside perusing all of the thousands of exhibits, which included an entire reconstructed fishing boat.

Nearby there was also a Museum of Transportation, which we opted not to visit as it was getting quite close to closing time. We did opt for the apple cake and coffee in the coffee shop, however. Yum.

On our way back to the cottage, we decided to take a side road that led to a glacier called Sólheimajökull. Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of Mýrdalsjökull and due to its location and shape, it is very sensitive to climate change. Sólheimajökull has retreated dramatically in the past decade which can be seen in the vast moraines that have been left behind. Visiting it was kind of depressing.

Sólheimajökull is one of the glaciers featured in a very interesting documentary called “Chasing Ice.” It’s on Netflix if you’re interested. You can also watch a time-lapse video of Sólheimajökull’s retreat HERE.

Back at the cottage on the farm, we were rewarded with our first semblance of a sunset since our arrival. The views of both Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull were also quite stunning and you can actually see both of them in the photo below. Eyjafjallajökull is to the left of the big rock island called Pétursey and Mýrdalsjökull is on the right above the farm. (Click on any of the photos in this post for larger views).

 

Iceland – Day 5

I have fallen terribly behind in going through my photos and in blogging about our adventures, but we’re taking a little down time today (Day 11) so I thought I’d work on getting caught up.

Day 5 was a challenge. The morning was ok, but in the afternoon the rain was relentless and the wind was the fiercest yet. It was starting to feel like we were going to have horrendous weather during our entire two weeks in Iceland. It was hard not to feel a little despondent, although despondence is not an option when an adorable dog is patiently waiting for you to play fetch with him. (I later found out that my surrogate dog’s name is Whiskey and that he is a shepherd/border collie mix).

After lunch we headed into town (town being Vík í Mýrdal, the southernmost village in the mainland of Iceland). We went to Icewear, a souvenir-type store with bunches of I-can’t-afford-those Icelandic sweaters and lots of other stuff. Afterwards we went to the small grocery store but the check-out line was too long and we didn’t actually NEED anything anyway. As we were leaving, Mom said, “Now let’s GO somewhere!” During our previous jaunts east on the Ring Road, I had noticed a side road that went off up a canyon of sorts and I had wondered where it went, so that’s we decided to find out.

It was a pretty amazing drive but hard to get good photos because it was raining so VERY hard. The road kept going and going and I was getting nervous because the weather was SO bad and we had NO idea where this road went. I kept envisioning us breaking down out there in the middle of NOWHERE and having to walk for help in that torrential rain.. Mom kept urging me on, bless her adventurous little heart, but I finally had to turn around. Hey, the rental car is in MY name, not hers!! ;) We did get to see some pretty cool scenery that, I’m sure, would have been stupendous had it not been for the weather.

But mostly it all just looked like this:

The highlight of the drive came on the way back when we saw this pair of Whooper Swans with their single baby cygnet.

And then we headed back to the cottage, fervently hoping for better weather on the morrow.

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