Tag Archives: volcano

Iceland Journal – “Gullborgarhraun” – Snæfellsnes Peninsula, West Iceland

The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” 
― Cheryl Strayed

Most of Iceland remains wild, and untamed, and that is a good thing. As humans, in this era of convenience, it’s refreshing to be in a place like this; a place where we can still feel vulnerable and humbled by nature in its most elemental form.

This is something that has stayed with me, now that I sit comfortably at my desk, recounting this journey through Iceland. Even though we spent much of our time on the road, we did take the opportunity to wander off the beaten path a few times and feel Iceland in its natural form. You don’t have to venture more than a few meters off the road to experience this, as the road is but a thin, temporary, ribbon of civilization.

For example, here in the Gullborgarhraun, or Gullborg lava fields of the Snæfellsness Peninsula you are faced with kilometers of ancient lava, twisted and jagged, slightly softened by the ever-present mosses and lichens, which offer a splash of colour in the otherwise bleak landscape of black and grey rock.

At the centre of the scene sits Gullborg, a short volcanic cone, at one time, the source of all this lava, now rising from the deep lava field and littered with  and accumulation of sharp black ejecta, attesting to the active volcanic nature of this region. It’s a rawness that I’ve never experienced before and something I really appreciate given my formal education in geology, so many years ago.

The first word I used to express the nature of Iceland was ‘raw’, and that stands ever more true, several days into the journey. I suppose that is the real appeal for many of us who have travelled here. It’s one of the few places left in the world where we can experience this kind of wilderness, to enjoy such primal diversity within a relatively small geography. It’s like stepping back in time, to a place where nature ruled and mankind was merely a participant at its mercy.

iPhone 7 back camera @ 4.0mm
1/35 sec; f/1.8; ISO 32

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Iceland Journal – “Mýrdalssandur” – South Iceland

“Mýrdalssandur” - South Iceland

“There was an ocean above us, held in by a thin sac that might rupture and let down a flood at any second.” 
― Stephen King

Mýrdalssandur is a massive outwash plain just east of the town of Vik, on Iceland’s south coast. The Ring Road enters this area after a short run along the mountains near Vik. I have never seen anything like this and at first had no idea what I was witnessing. As far as the eye can see, the landscape has been washed flat, yellow grasses and moss cling tenuously to the black sand, gravel, and lava boulders that make up this vast area for some 25 kilometers. There are warning signs along the road that dust storms of fine black sand, resembling smoke, can be created, if the conditions are right. I was concerned, as we entered the region, as the winds whipped up to over 80 km/h, but the recent rains and coastal fog held the dust down.

Threading their way through this barren landscape are glacial streams of varying size, faint reminders of the torrents of water, or jökulhlaup (glacial outwashes), that created this area.

This region was most recently sculpted by an enormous jökulhlaup, the result of a subglacial eruption of the nearby volcano, Katla.

In 1918, Katla erupted underneath the enormous glacier, Mýrdalsjökull (seen in the background, just beneath the clouds), melting the glacier below the surface and forming a massive sub-glacial lake. The volcano continued to erupt under the ice and increasing pressure caused it to burst out the side of the glacier, creating a violent flood, of water, ice and volcanic debris. The water volume at the peak of the jökulhlaup was estimated to be around 200,000 – 300,000 m³/s, making it, for a brief time, the largest river in the world, based on the volume of water. The jökulhlaup absolutely devastated the area, wiping out homes and farms and leaving this mainly barren plain as evidence of its power.

The region is largely unsettled, primarily due to the risks of future eruptions of Katla, which remains active below the ice, and the frequent jökulhlaups. Because of this and the alien look of the landscape, it was used for the opening scene of the Star Wars, Rogue One movie.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70mm
1/250 sec, f/8.0, ISO 200

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Iceland Journal – “Overwhelmed”


“The stars looked down at me from infinite space. We are tiny, they said, but you are insignificant.” 
― Shane Maloney

On the first day of my Iceland trip, something that came to my attention, almost immediately, was the incredible contrast in scale between the land itself and man-made things, particularly houses, which seem so insignificant against the mass of rock and ice that surrounds them.

Here, a farm which has guest cottages, presumably for hikers venturing into the highlands, seems overwhelmed by its grand surroundings. In the background the rock rises ever higher, disappearing into the clouds.

The icecap , far above, covers Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano, which erupted back in 2010, stalling air traffic through most of Europe. Remember that one? The name that nobody could pronounce? It simply became, “That volcano in Iceland.” By the way, I’ve been getting ever better at pronouncing Icelandic places, including this, simply through researching the places I visited and repeating the names, over and over.

Well, that volcano is in this farm’s backyard, and I often found myself wondering what that would be like, having one of nature’s most powerful and dangerous creations so close.

The coastal plain that this farm faces is a vast, flat lava field, created by previous eruptions, and endless streams of meltwater flows through streams lined with black volcanic rock. The farm, occupies a very small place in time and geography. It was only one of many along the way.

Once more, I’m adding the Google Street View link for perspective:


Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 92mm
1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “Crater Among the Clouds”

“Crater Among the Clouds” - Strútur Volcano, West Iceland

“Sunlight will always follow in a clouds wake.” 
― Anthony T. Hincks

One of the aspects of Iceland that I enjoyed most was that nothing lasts very long. It does not rain all day, nor snow all day, sunshine comes and goes, and the clouds above shift and morph by the minute.

Oh, the clouds and light of Iceland, they are simply unbelievable. Clouds come in layers, each layer with a mind of its own, passing and sliding between one another. One moment you are looking at a dark bank of low clouds on the horizon and minutes later, they slide back like a magical curtain revealing a mountain hidden among them.

The volcanic cone pictured here is Strútur, and ancient volcano in the highlands of western Iceland. As we ventured further inland, seeking the many wonderful waterfalls, one of the roads we had planned to drive turned out to be a “F” Road, one of Iceland’s many interior mountains roads, generally only accessible with rugged four-wheel drive vehicles and largely closed in winter months. This road was marked as a side road on our map, but as we ventured onto it the signage indicated that is was, in fact” an “F” Road, meaning our rental insurance was null and void if we travelled that road.

This slight setback caused us to turn back and take another road to our destination. That decision put us on a road that briefly headed deeper into Iceland’s backcountry and facing a think bank of clouds reaching across the distant horizon of low, rolling hills and lava fields.

As we progressed along this road, the clouds pulled back and revealed this wonderful sight. Strútur, is a large volcanic cone and is 937 meters high. You can see where the cone collapsed and the lava flowed outwards to where I made the photo.

Soon after I made the photo, the clouds rolled back in and obscured the mountain once more.

Once again, Iceland provided me with a brief and wonderful vista and then took it back again, all within mere minutes.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 116mm
1/320 sec, f/9.0 ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)