The agenda for our 10th day in Iceland was the famous “Golden Circle” (<–click there to see our route), which consists of the following ultrapopular tourist destinations: Þingvellir National Park, the Haukadalur geothermal area (commonly referred to as Geysir), and Gullfoss. First up was Þingvellir.
Þingvellir is an extremely interesting area both historically and geologically. The Alþingi (“Parliament”) was established at Þingvellir in the year 930 AD and remained there until 1798. The Lögberg (“Law Rock”) was the centerpiece of the Alþingi and was a natural platform for holding speeches. Every year when the people assembled at the Alþingi, the elected lögsögumaður (“lawspeaker”) would preside over the assembly at the Lögberg and recite, from memory, the entire body of laws. No one knows the exact location of the Lögberg, but a likely spot is marked with a flagpole.
Of course, it is the geology of Þingvellir that I personally find most fascinating, since I am a major geology nut. Þingvellir National Park is situated in a large rift valley that is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the divergent plate boundary between the North American and European tectonic plates. Iceland is one of very few places on Earth where a divergent plate boundary makes an appearance on land and Þingvellir is the one spot in Iceland where these plate dynamics are most evident. The area is filled with a veritable swarm of fissures where the two plates are tearing apart at a dizzying rate of 7mm (1/3 inch) per year.
The most dramatic evidence of the rifting in Þingvellir is called Almannagjá, where the rifting forms a canyon. The left side of the photo below marks the eastern boundary of the North American plate.
The next photo shows the opposite end of Almannagjá and the North American plate is on the right side here.
Öxará (“Axe River”) flows through part of Almannagjá and at one spot in the river is a grim little pool called Drekkingarhylur, where, up until the early 18th century, adulterous women met their demise.
Öxará drops into Almannagjá further upstream as the lovely waterfall called Öxarárfoss.
On the way back to the car after visiting Öxarárfoss, we took a little detour into a beautiful old forest of evergreen trees, quite the rarity in Iceland.
I discovered something interesting about Almannagjá while I was doing a little bit of research for this blog post. In 2011, a new fissure manifested in the south end of the canyon, right in the middle of the walking path that multitudes of visitors used every day to visit Almannagjá. Scientists speculate that the fissure may have begun to form as a result of an earthquake in 2000 and had been covered with a fairly thin layer of gravel and dirt. The path into the south end of Almannagjá was closed for quite some time while a wooden walkway was constructed to prevent people from falling into the 32-foot deep crack. Compare the next photo with the new walkway to the one below it, which I took from close to the same spot in June, 2006. (Also notice the lack of PEOPLE in the 2006 photo. Tourism in Iceland has increased significantly since our first visit).
I could have happily wandered around the fascinating fissures of Þingvellir for the rest of the day but it was already mid-afternoon and we had a ways to drive to the other Golden Circle spots. So off we went.
Next up is the Haukadalur geothermal area (aka Geysir)… stay tuned!
As always, you can click on any of the photos above to see a larger version. Check out many more Day 10 – Þingvellir photos HERE.