29 Jun 2015

North Iceland by adamandheather

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As we scramble down the rocks towards the base of the falls, they turn from majestic to frighteningly powerful. The water has tangible power and fury -- an unrelenting flow of murky green glacier-melt. Downstream, the same water courses through a much narrower chute at an astounding rate.

We're getting into the big stuff now. Goðafoss is on the river Skjálfandafljót, which flows from the giant glacier Vatnajökull. This glacier dominates the eastern side of the island, covering 8% of the nation with an area of 8,100 km² (over 3,100 square miles) and has shaped the landscape through its outlet glaciers, rivers, and underlying volcanoes.

Goðafoss earned its name in 999, when Iceland elected to convert to Christianity. While traveling home from the legislative assembly, one of the priests of the old religion threw his idols into the falls.

We bet that he waited until he was safely across the river before doing so.

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A debate ensues: is the pungent sulfuric odor in the air a powerful accompaniment to the otherworldly geothermal landscape, or just completely disgusting? In the gusty, gloomy 40-degree weather of Mývatn today, it's tough to stay in the moment.

As Iceland's Route 1 stretches east from Akureyri, mountains rapidly give way to a flat, desolate landscape. Green hillsides covered in tundra and tiny birch trees turn in to chaotic, choppy fields of moss-spotted lava flows. As we reach the shores of the lake Mývatn, giant craters, technicolor hills, and billowing clouds of steam appear, evidence of millennia of continuous volcanic activity.