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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Diamond Circle

Today was our exploration day for northeast Iceland. We got up, had a leisurely breakfast (taco scrambled eggs, hash browns, cinnamon buns, and peaches), then headed out.

We've been east before, to Húsavik, but we chose a different route this time. At the bottom of the driveway we turned left instead of right, and instead of taking the ring road around, we took the gravel road over the mountain. It was very pretty, though it drops you out the other end in an active quarry or construction site.

Our first stop was Goðafoss, a waterfall right off the road that is reasonably large. Mom found a geocache there after Nick and I walked by it several times, and she dropped off her last-but-one travel bug; she's saving the last one for tomorrow's trip. The mud at this place was incredible - it was the better part of an inch thick n the soles of my shoes when we got back to the car, and had to be scraped off. I know that one of the questions on the US Customs form for coming into the US is whether you went to any farms, pastures or fields; I suspect I may be walking out of the Customs area without my shoes.

The next site on our trip was Lake Mývatn. This is the largest lake in the area, and it's a huge hiking area. We saw a nice roadside memorial that seemed to be for two workers who were laying fiber optic cable when they drowned in the lake, and someone from a diatomic plant that drowned the same day. I haven't been able to find any history on this. Mostly we just drove the shoreline - the area is mostly for bike or hiking tours, and we weren't on either. We did stop on the lakeshore for pictures and to scare some sheep, though.

After the lake we headed towards Dettifoss, but stopped on the way at Hverir, a volcanic area. There are a number of boiling mud pots and stream vents coming out of the ground at the base of a volcano. It's not really marked on any of the maps or in the guidebook that we have, but I found it described online as one of the most beautiful and cataclysmic areas in Iceland.

Cataclysmic, certainly, but beautiful... I don't know. The whole area between Mývatn and Dettifoss seemed like driving through the Badlands in South Dakota - there's just nothing but dirt and rock. I suppose the colors produced by the sulfur deposits is pretty, though smelly.

Finally we arrived at Dettifoss. There's a parking lot about half a mile from the canyon, and you can walk a loop from the lot to Dettifoss to Selfoss and back. Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Europe by flow rate. Selfoss, upstream, is smaller, but you can get right up to it. In the US, the barriers would be keeping you back from the edge. Here, they were keeping you towards the edge, away from the open field they don't want you to walk on. It's better in video than it is in words, so click the YouTube link in the blog header to see the video when it finishes uploading.

From Dettifoss we continued north towards the visitor center, passing through an area that used to be its own national park, but is now part of the Vatnajökull park. This means we've been in all three national parks in Iceland now. The road we were on was an F road, one that supposedly requires four wheel drive. It was certainly bumpy, but there weren't any rivers or creeks for ford, or rocks to crawl over. You could have taken a Prius or a Nissan Leaf down the road if you'd gone slowly.

The road took most of an hour to get down, and the whole time we only saw one other car, headed the other direction. They were stopped at a passing point; most of the road is only wide enough for one car, but there are spots every kilometer or so for passing. The road was pretty plain - it looks like someone put the blade of a large bulldozer down and just drove, cutting a path the whole way. In places, the road was cut two feet down from the surface.  Other than the road, it was nothing but heather and similar low brush for miles.

We arrived at at the visitor center about half an hour after they closed, naturally. Looking in the windows, there wasn't anything major to see there, so we headed west on the main road, which looped us through Húsavik and back towards Akureyri. Back in town, we hit the N1 gas station for a parking clock, and Akureyri Fish and Chips for some of the freshest fish and chips I'd ever eaten. Definitely real cod, not whatever frozen whitefish was cheapest.

That was the whole day. Now we're all relaxing, Tomorrow Nick and Rachael are going to explore the town some more while Mom and I fly on a super tiny plane up to Grimsey Island and cross the Arctic Circle. Only four more days until we're flying for home, and I don't want to leave.

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