Total distance covered: 322 km | 200 miles
Lake Mývatn (“Midge Lake”) derives its name from the huge number of midges (flies) that surround this body of water. The flies didn’t bother us. This area had so much to see and do that we found it difficult to leave. Numerous hiking trails of varying length and difficulty allowed visitors the chance to explore this unique geothermal terrain. We decided to spend the morning here and continue our investigation of the area. Our first hike explored around and through the pseudocraters on the southeast side of the lake. These landforms looked like craters, the bottom portion of a volcanic cone with it’s top blown off. The prefix ‘pseudo’ is added as these craters are not actually vents from which lava has erupted. They are not connected to a magma conduit. Instead, these landforms were created by steam explosions when hot, flowing lava came into contact with lake water. The porous lava rock absorbs the nutrient-rich lake waters creating the conditions for a dense carpet of vegetation. Directly surrounding the lake, green life flourished. Close by however (in areas like Hverir where we hiked yesterday), vegetation is extremely sparse. This juxtaposition makes the lakeside flora extremely attractive to humans and birds alike. I was especially intrigued as to what lay just beyond the crest of these pseudocraters. I rushed off to peer inside. I gazed down at the interior concave bowl where it’s center had begun to rise and form another, much smaller, pseudocrater. It was as if the smaller landform had reverberated off its limiting walls and started the process of crater formation all over again. The form and its echo brought to mind the impact of a single drop of water on a still lake. What an incredible landform to play in, hide amidst, and be enveloped by. I imagined the joy this earthwork could bring to families and children alike.
Hverfjall Crater loomed in the distance. This enormous, grey-black landform, similar to the pseudocraters, was the result of molten lava meeting the lake waters. Around 2,800 years ago, an explosion resulted in magma meeting water and Hverfjall crater was created. This large, wide landform of ash and pumice rises 656 feet and stretches 3,280 feet in diameter. After climbing the steep slope of small, coarse lava rock, I stood on the rim and peered down at the 460-foot drop to the concave center. This hiking ground proved to be completely different from yesterday. The ground in this area was completely different from yesterday. Today, the ground provided grip for our hike rather then sticking to our boots as it did yesterday. There were no plants on the steep slopes of this crater. Black and shades of grey comprised this MASSIVE scene.
Along the roadside we spotted a steaming earthen hut. Our guidebook informed us that we could find Hverabrauð (“hot spring bread”) baked in underground ovens in this area. However, to our great disappointment, we were informed at the Visitor’s Center that the ovens were no longer open to the public. Had we discovered someone else’s subterranean oven used to bake bread or cure fish?
A horse coral made from lava rock also attracted our attention as we drove the eastern side of Lake Mývatn. The eclectic combination of wooden gates set off against the lava rock was magnificent.
Storagja + Grjoagja are old, hot springs that were popular bathing holes until their heat dissipated in the ’90s. While the baiting culture has obviously gone elsewhere, these caves are evidence of one that existed in the past. People often socialized, in the warm waters of the area. While we had enjoyed the Nature Baths last night, I was curious as to what other kinds of hot pools might exist. Where were the “hot springs” in use now? How could I find out where they were? Who frequented these places?
On the road to the Krafla Power Station, both a shower and toilet stood out in the open. The darker soil surrounding this installation emphasized the stark white of the porcelain bowl. What was this? Laughing, Mom and I reminisced about the exposed outhouse we had seen in the Westfjords. Was this a comment on privacy?
We decided to revisit the Krafla Power Station in hopes of finding the Visitor Center. In front of the larger buildings, one drive had potential. With no, “employees only” signs, we continued on to discover a small parking area abutting a gated mass of powerlines. A tiny sign introduced us to the Visitor Center. Our car was the only car in the small parking area, so I was a bit unsure if we had found the right place. During our time driving around the Lake Mývatn area, the parking lots have been full. Here, we were alone. Once we stepped inside, we were greeted kindly by a young Icelandic woman. She asked if we would like to view a short film on geothermal energy. While the video was helpful in describing the buildings onsite and their functions, it offered only an extremely simplified version of harvesting geothermal energy. I was most impressed with the drill heads on display in the lobby. As we were still the only visitors, the lady spent some time discussing these large drill heads. She informed us they were made of industrial diamonds. She also invited us to go up to the top floor and look out at the generator. We were excited to see the inner workings of the plant. As we climbed, floor after floor, doorways leading off the stairwell had signs asking us to keep out. At the top flight we emerged onto a large platform overlooking the floor below. There sitting alone was a sole generator. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but this one, quiet machine was definitely not it. Again, where were the people? Slightly disappointed, we headed back down the stairs. At the bottom, beside the doorway, we saw a plethora of hardhats. I wondered when those had stopped being part of the tour? By this time, two more visitors had arrived and were watching the video. We thanked this friendly lady and left the Visitor Center. Outside, the massive buildings, power lines and the complex network of pipes seemed like a completely different world.
We headed for the East Fjords, winding our way through large mountain passes. The mountains in this area are the largest in Iceland, although I must admit, I didn’t feel as dwarfed as I had in the Westfjords. We were headed to Stöðvarfjorður, a small fishing village. While we didn’t have time to visit all of the fjords, I was still particularly interested in Reyðarfjörður. This small town had recently acquired the country’s largest aluminum smelting plant. After taking Julie Bargmann’s Regenerative Technologies course, I can’t help my fascination of industrial landscapes. What impacts might this plant have on its surroundings? Was this plant contaminating the ground? What effects do such a huge operation have on the surrounding community? What do aluminum smelting plants even look like? How is our consumption-crazed society impacting this small town? The building was ENORMOUS, almost a mile long. It felt very separated from the surrounding community, around the bend and out of “sight” sat the enormous factory. We only had a quick glace at this humongous building sitting on the water´s edge. All access was limited. I need to learn more about aluminum smelting if this site is going to have a greater import. What was this industry doing? Where was the power for this immense plant coming from? Why here? Where was the aluminum going? Now that I am in Reykjavík doing research, I am especially happy that we made it to this aluminum smelting plant. I will come back to this topic later, but ALCOA is intrinsically linked to the issues of politics and power in Iceland. The book, Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation by author Andri Snær Magnason describes with wit and imagination political implications surrounding major energy (in particular hydroelectricity) issues and environmentalism in Iceland.
The Drive from Reyðarfjörður to Stöðvarfjorður was considerably shorted by a 3.5 mile tunnel through the mountains. At first appearance, this tunnel was extremely daunting, a big pipe driven though the mountains? After driving through the tunnel, however, I was impressed with the amount of safety pull-offs and its roomy interior. It turns out the company, Mannvit, built this tunnel and other similar to it in Iceland. Mannvit is also involved in geothermal works and “green energy”, perhaps this information will prove to be valuable later?