Who would think that a country named for its vast expanses of glacial ice would also be the home of incredible underground heat. Steam literally pours out from the underground in many parts of this magical country. Lakes and rivers steam in the cold air. There are also abundant signs of volcanic activity, both from the distant past and more recently. We did not see an “active” volcano but beautiful round crater lakes provide a not-so-subtle reminder of the incredible store of energy that lies hidden under this land.
Even the skies and the ever changing light conditions in this awesome land speak of unseen powers, secret energies that luck both above and below the realm of human life which sits so precariously on its ever changing surface. This is the only place I have ever seen a complete rainbow arc, one that stretched across the entire sky like a magical sign from the heavens above!
Steam vents can be noisy as well as hot. One has to be careful not to approach too close. They are hotter than a steaming pot on the kitchen stove. And the potential for harnessing this energy has not escaped the public works department of Iceland. Huge pipes carry hot steam and water down the mountains from key vents. At one point we even drove under a “pipe bridge” where the institutional delivery system needed to cross a road!
There are variegated colors on the desert-like landscape in places where varied chemical compounds issue forth with the steam and then build up in layers on the ground around these vents.
In one interesting spot we saw there were little holes in the landscape that bubbled. And there was mud “soup” that bubbled too. And it is not just heat and steam. These places also have a distinct smell, mainly of sulphur gases that are escaping from Iceland’s underground infernos, along with much water, in the form of steam. This must be really interesting to see in the winter when this steam surely pushes its way right through the land’s snow cover.
Many times the escaping hot water forms pools that then spill over. Many burn little hot channels that cut through the surface layers of earlier deposits.
Some of the landscapes are moonlike. There are weird formations that look like craters made of grey grit. But these are too hot to be on the moon, and they are also seem alive and the shapes and formations change in just months or years to create ever new textures, colors and shapes.
The craters left by dormant volcanoes contain beautiful blue water and seem like inviting swimming pools, but I didn’t dare step to the water’s edge. The steep and crumbling slope was warning enough that one might never be able to get out! Nearby we saw what happened when the volcano last “blew.” There was a very thick and very visible layer of fresh lava, once molten of course, but that had cracked to form a deep chasm as it cooled.
It is not only the public works department that sees an opportunity in all this underground heat. One local campsite where we stayed had steam nearby and had installed its own more primitive means of capturing its power. We were grateful for it as this was one of the only campsites where we had access to free hot water!
And the animals appreciate the steam to. Here sheep were grazing in a field where the little rivulet that ran through it was very warm It was a cold morning and they had found a way to snuggle up to the earthen bank close by to enjoy this natural warmth as well. Unfortunately they started to run off just as I decided to take their picture.
The magic of Iceland’s sunsets are wonderful to behold. And many visitors find the country’s hot spring spas a real draw as well. it is easy to understand how the imagination of local residents has been channeled into a style of storytelling that tries to capture some of this magic. In the next two commentaries I will first speak about the elves of Iceland, and then on a darker note, about what we learned on the topic of its sorcerers.