September 5, 2016
Picking up where we left off...
...I woke up from my nap and we continued our way to Gullfoss. When we arrived it was still rather dark; not many clouds in the sky which would mean nothing too special for sunrise color, but there was no one else there, so I was happy about that.
I grabbed my gear and we made our way down towards the waterfall. I had been here the year before, but due to time restrictions, I never made it down to the waterfall itself, but merely observed it from the deck above.
Gullfoss pours over a smaller series of falls before spilling into a canyon and very drastically changing direction. It's quite amazing actually, and unlike many of the other waterfalls in Iceland, this one is actually quite loud.
As I waited and waited, a few other photographers arrived. It was still quiet, however, as I think I saw maybe three other people aside from us. The sunrise felt like it took eternity - the sky was getting brighter with each passing moment, but still, no sun. Finally it broke the horizon and a new day, our final full day of this trip, had arrived.
From Gullfoss we drove just down the road to an area known as Geysir. Now, think Yellowstone, but on a much, much smaller scale. There are springs, pools and importantly, geysers, in this geothermal park. Geysir is a lot like Old Faithful; not as big, but much more frequently active. Old Faithful erupts roughly once an hour; Geysir, on the other hand, erupts once every few minutes; if you miss it, just wait a few minutes and you'll see it again.
We left Geysir and decided to go for another long drive; I really wanted to see Jökulsárlón one more time before we left. We made our way back towards all of the places that I had literally just came from. We drove, and drove, and drove until we made it to Stjornarfoss. It was at this point that I realized a few things: 1) the weather was crap and was likely going to be just as bad at Jökulsárlón. 2) I was tired. I had slept maybe 12 hours over the course of the last 5 days and it was finally catching up to me. 3) I had a long flight followed by one day to relax before leaving Portland and being on the road for another month and a half, so maybe I should take it a little easy.
Once we made that decision, we opted to make a few stops at places we had not yet seen on this trip.
We made a quick stop for gas before leaving and noticed a hitchhiker (which, by the way, you'll see often in Iceland). Having some extra room, we figured we would do our deed and offer a ride. She was a very nice young lady from Germany who was traveling around Iceland - she had been hitchhiking and making travel friends along the way. Now, if you're American this likely sounds a bit odd as we tend to frown upon the entire concept of hitchhiking thanks to Hollywood horror films, but in many European countries, it's not such a bad thing and a rather frequent means of traveling.
She was just trying to get back to Reykjavik, which was where we were heading anyway. I told her we could drive her all the way there if she didn't mind a few stops along the way. She was more than happy to participate in a few adventures, so we were off. The weather was crap; it was cold and raining, so there weren't too many places I wanted to see on our way back. We headed back towards Vík where the rain had let up, but the wind...the wind was brutal! I wanted to head out towards Kirkjufjara beach, an area near Reynisfjara. We drove towards Reynisfjara as I thought the road connected these two beaches, but sure enough, it didn't. We had to drive back out to the main highway, head west and catch the correct road to Kirkjufjara. The wind was intense; we got out of the car and I decided to leave my camera as it was just too windy to get anything worthwhile. People were running around on the rocks above the water, and honestly, I am surprised no one fell in. Some of the gusts were so strong that they stopped you in your tracks, literally; and once the gust stopped, you felt like you were going to fall over from balancing yourself. I grabbed a few quick iPhone pictures and we were on our way.
Considering the weather and the fact that we were exhausted, I decided I wanted to make just one more stop - þórsmörk or Thórsmörk. This is iconic Iceland landscape - glowing green mountains rising about a valley carved out by the still present glaciers of the region; breathtaking is the only word that comes to mind when seeing this landscape.
Now I already knew there was no way we would make the river crossing; the water is too deep and our car was not equipped for it. Plus, I knew we just didn't have the time. I merely wanted to see it up close and not just from afar. So we setoff from Kirkjufjara with our eyes (well, at least mine) on þórsmörk. The road to þórsmörk is the same road for Seljalandsfoss, you just continue down the road until it ends. There's a canyon along this road that I have always wanted to see, so I put it in on my navigation for our quick stop. As I continued down the road, foolishly I was looking out the window, but also looking at my navigation trying to find this canyon - I was doing paved road speed; approximately 80kph. Suddenly, while still maintaining 80, the road went from pavement to rock, and I don't mean gravel road, I mean rocks. I just let off the throttle and let the car slow on it's own because this stuff was wishy-washy, like being on a snowy road. Fortunately nothing bad happened, but maybe I should pay a little more attention.
Eventually I found what appeared to be the area I was looking for. We crept down the little road to what looked like a parking lot, and I do mean crept because our car did not have the clearance to drive this road at a regular pace - I had to slowly sneak around obstacles, including a small stream crossing, and hope not to wreck or damage the car. We parked, grabbed our gear and followed this stream up into a canyon. Wow! The walls of the canyon illuminated with green, the water flowing out was crystal clear - this place was like Oneota in Oregon, but there was no one else there; it was magical! There is a waterfall at the very end, but given our time restriction and that it was starting to rain heavily, we only made it up so far before turning around. On our way out, we were greeted with a typical Iceland scene; sheep. Sheep just standing there, eating grass and looking at us as though they were thinking to themselves, "yeah, pretty awesome place, isn't it?"
By this point the rain picked up, the clouds were darker and lower in the valley so we decided against continuing any further towards þórsmörk. I was sad, but I knew we wouldn't see much in this weather, so we headed back to Reykjavik. We had a very nice conversation with our German traveler, shared stories of our trips; it was a wonderful time. We made it back to Reykjavik and dropped her at her destination before we made it back to Reykjavík Campsite for our final night in Iceland.
The following day we grabbed food, walked around Reykjavik for a bit before heading back to the airport. Iceland is the most beautiful country; each which way you look the views will leave you mesmerized. The landscape is so diverse and mythical, all in a relatively small space. I love Iceland, I want to spend more time there, I want to take more photos of it and I encourage everyone to visit!