Next up on the day's agenda was another, more famous, watery destination: the Geysir geothermal area, home to several geysers and the origin of the name 'geyser'. The Geysir area required an hour-long drive in the direction of Iceland's interior. In fact, we were following the beginnings of one of Iceland's cross-country interior routes - the F35 Kjölur route.
Welcome to Geysir
The geysir area looks a lot like the other geothermal areas of Iceland (well, the three or four we had seen so far, that is) - fully of weirdly-colored ground, hissing and bubbling vents, interesting grey-looking mud. What makes this area unique, however, are the geysers - geothermal features that periodically erupt with steaming and boiling water, sometimes to great heights.
Geysir Interpretive Plaque
The current centerpiece of a visit to the Geysir geothermal area is the geysir known as Strokkur. It is currently the only regularly erupting geyser in Iceland. Not only is it regular, but it erupts often - approximately once every five to seven minutes.
The other neat thing about Strokkur is that the nature of its eruption involves the creation of a huge blue bubble just as it begins to erupt. The shape of Strokkur's hole in combination with the forces involved conspire to keep the rush of superheated steam contained within the water until the very last minute, bulging up the overlying surface of the water and creating a very neat big blue-green bubble. The steam eventually breaches the bubble and the normal progression of a geyser ensues, with a huge plume of steam and water shooting up into the sky.
After watching Strokkur's antics for a while, we toured other parts of the Geysir geothermal area. There are a couple of very pretty still-water hot pools, which I found very reminiscent of the sort of thing you see at some of the geothermal fields in Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.A. - all sorts of delicate blues and oranges and reds, and mysterious-looking underwater openings leading deep into the ground.
Naturally, we also had to visit the site of the Geysir geyser - the namesake of all other geysers. These days it only erupts every ten hours or so, so we had to be content with looking at a calm, shallow pool of water gently steaming in a broad bowl.
Distant strokkur eruption
Very close to the Geysir area is another of Iceland's premiere natural features - the Gulfoss waterfall. It was only five kilometres up the road, and was an obvious stop. And, in case you weren't counting, this would make it the fourth water-related feature for the day!
Gullfoss is probably Iceland's most famous waterfall. It is formed by a two-tiered drop in the Hvitá river that drains southward from Iceland's interior. The combination of the setting, the amount of water, and the unique 45-degree angled two-tiered drop all combine to make it a very pretty sight.
Gullfoss, lowest stage
Gullfoss is reasonably close to Reykjavik and has a good highway leading up to it. As a result, there were a lot of tourists about. No matter, though, because we were entranced with the beauty of the place. Or, if you are a SAR-head like Roland, you gaze into the maelstrom at the bottom and muse about how this would be a "nightmare of a rescue scenario". Fortunately, we did not need to experience such a nightmare, because all of the visitors seemed to be staying [wisely] away from the edge.
On a safety-related note, I did notice that there seemed to be less of an emphasis on heavy fence barriers, even though there were clearly spots that required care and caution. A contrast between the high risk-averseness of the US and Canada and the more relaxed policies of Europe?
Bird's eye view, Gullfoss
Gullfoss was quite scenic, and I spent quite a bit of time with tripod and variable neutral-density filter trying to get interesting shots of the falls (apologies to the rest of our group if I overstayed here a bit too long). Check out the neat shot of Roland and Ewart posing in front of the upper falls. Unfortunately, they weren't quite as steady as they believed they were.
Our visit to Gulfoss also marked a decision point for us. As part of our trip planning, we had decided that we wanted to describe some sort of circle route around Iceland. The question was, would we do it clockwise, or counterclockwise? We were now at the point where we had to commit to making that decision: either we kept going up the 35 on the Kjölur route, committing to a clockwise direction, or head back down towards the south coast and continue counterclockwise. The reason for the late decision-making was related to our desire to climb Hvannadalshnjúkur - Iceland's highest point. We wanted to do all that we could to ensure good weather for the climb, and that meant waiting for as long as we could to observe the forecast for the potential climbing days (which were either the coming Tuesday or the coming Thursday, depending on our direction). As it turned out, Tuesday's forecast for the area around Hvannadalshnjúkur was looking reasonably good, which settled it - counterclockwise it was.
Southern Iceland farmland
So, back down south we went, following various pleasant side roads through southern Icelandic farming country back to the main ring road, where we turned east.
Our itinerary was now firmed up: we would head east, with a two-day backpack up next, followed next by the climbing of Iceland's highest mountain. After that, we would continue our journey around the ring road to the northern parts of Iceland, where we would spend another three days before completing the circuit by arriving back in Reykjavik.
Approaching Seljalandsfoss Area
Observing the passing landscape
The cessation of rain back at the beginning of our hot spring-bathing hike had, fortunately, continued throughout the day, although the clouds stubbornly stayed. Now, however, as we headed eastward across broad, flat farmland, the sun came out, bathing everything in a beautiful, late-evening light. Light that was made all the more dramatic by the departing clouds to the east, which created a dark backdrop. It was with this sort of light that we caught our first glimpse of the foothills of Eyjafjallajökull and the Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss, while much smaller than the heavyweight waterfalls of Iceland, compensates quite nicely with its delicate beauty. A modest stream of water spills over an overhanging cliff at the bottom edge of Eyjafjallajökull's foothills, facing out over the endless plains to the west. We first saw it from many kilometres away as a bright, vaguely wavering streak on the landscape ahead.
Fields and Falls
Happily, it so happened that Seljalandsfoss was also our destination for the night, for there is a nice campground just tens of metres away [from the waterfall] that I had picked.
Both the waterfall and the adjacent campground are immediately off of the main ring road, on highway 249. Since the beautiful evening sun was nicely illuminating Seljalandsfoss, we stopped there first to soak in the spectacle of it. Such moments, after all, can often be fleeting.