Glowing magma from horizon to horizon. A never-ending blanket of fire. I'm captivated just thinking about what this area looked like as recently as 1984.
If I'd been standing here back then â€¦ well, I don't even want to think about it. Even now, the ground still spews fumes. I can smell the beanie, farty, rotten-egg stench nearly everywhere.
Blackened slabs of sharp-edged lava. A grey sky. Bleak desolation. I know it doesn't sound appealing … unless you've wondered what the world was like when humans were billions of years into the future.
For me, that's the wonder of my ninth day in Iceland, exploring the Krafla fissure area.
A Day in the North
ReykjahliÄ‘ is a town of about 300 people. You might think that means there's not much to do. Yet I plan on a day packed with activity. Just like yesterday.
Sarah and I start off at Hverir. It's not just another geothermal area: It's a single slab of mountain that is many shades lighter than the surrounding area. When we approached Myvatn yesterday, I thought the sun was shining through a hole in the clouds. But now, that's just the brightness of the rocks.
The flatulent stink is at its strongest here. It's the smell of the earth reconstituting itself. There's something I love about the odor. It tell me the world is alive, not just lifeless rock and concrete. It's awesome.
There are plenty of trails. Obey the signs – the ground is soft in many places. And you don't want to get scalded in a mud pit. You can summit some of the large hills in the area for spectacular views.
The Road to Hell
There are two craters in Iceland called Viti. That's Icelandic for hell. One of them is up the road from Hverir. The crater is filled with electric green water. The wind is absolutely howling, making me reluctant to get near the edge. I wonder if anyone has ever fallen in. The water must be freezing, and scrambling out and back to safety would be a real test. Best not to find out.
Nearby, there's some machinery from the power station. It's harnessing heat from a nearby fumarole. The power is astounding: The roar from the fumarole is loud as any jet engine.
This was about 45 minutes of walking.
To the Fissure
This is not the Caribbean. It is not warm, inviting, relaxing. Harsh, barren, stark – at best. And a reminder of your own insignificance to this planet. A signal that you are nothing.
The Krafla Fissure has tried hard to drive people away. It's nearly destroyed ReykjahliÄ‘ more than once. As implacable as the lava can be, it isn't sufficient.
I picture the lava fountains, the winter sky contrasting with the orange radiance of the magma. I wonder how many lava tubes lie under the wasteland, just waiting to be found.
I could spend weeks here walking the lava flow. Â As it is, a few hours is all I have.
This is an amazing place among amazing places.
One the way out, we made a quick stop for the presentation Krafla Power Station. You can check out parts of the inside, and watch a movie about the fissure, the eruptions and the station itself. It's more fascinating than it sounds.
Time to Kick Back
Currents of murky blue water swirl around me. The water temperature changes every few steps. One moment, I feel like a live Maine lobster getting cooked. Seconds later, I'm scrambling to find a warm spot.
This is the JarÃ°bÃ¶Ã°in viÃ° MÃ½vatn (Myvatn Nature Baths). If you've heard anything about Iceland, you've probably heard of the Blue Lagoon. It's only one of Iceland's main attractions. This is its more remote, more scenic, more laid-back relative.
It's smaller, but still filled with amenities like saunas and steam rooms in addition to the naturally heated, silicate-rich water.
And the most important amenity of them all: ice cream bars. Sarah and I have noticed the Icelandic tradition – families will hit the local pools together. They'll swim some laps, lounge in the hot tubs, then top it off with an ice cream bar. Sounds sensible to me!
That's most of our day, minus a repeat visit to the Cowshed and a decent pizza at Papi's. It's another nice night at Vogar. It wasn't our busiest day. But I loved every second of it.
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