My first impression, driving up to the area commonly known as the ‘golden circle,’ was that of desolate planetary surfaces, dotted with rocks, alternating with blazing, low-growth fall foliage and stunted yellow-leaved birch trees. The narrative of the Earth’s creation is written in the stones and dynamic energies of this amazing landscape. Photography became a way to read the landscape and uncover the narrative.
The Icelandic suffix ‘foss’ signifies waterfall and Gullfoss literally translates as Golden Falls. In spite of the pouring rain on both my daytime visits to the falls, the power of water falling vertically for 32 meters took my breath away. It’s almost impossible to do these mighty falls justice in a photograph, and I must admit to being shocked by the huge numbers of tourists who trotted down to the last platform, snapped a selfie, and then trotted back to their busses heading for the next selfie location.
Thingvellir (Place of Assembly) and Thingvallavatn (‘vatn’ refers to a lake or pond) are magical locations. The continental rift, the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, is clearly visible here. In one spot along the lake, we found a deep canyon filled with clear, cobalt-blue water. The contrast with the pinks and reds of blueberry bushes is an artist’s dream.
Faxifoss at sunset reflected the surrealistic pink hues of the sky. Another beautiful waterfall, Bruarfoss, involved a muddy 20-minute trek along a difficult to find and practically unmarked path. Surprisingly, a large number of tourists find their way to it. On my way back to the car (we had gone fairly early in the day), I met people squishing along in white sneakers and a very overweight elderly American who plaintively called out to me, “Are we almost there?”
But the most beautiful and fascinating of all the waterfalls we visited was the Hraunfossar: 100 meters of small waterfalls, all bursting out of the lava stone banks of the river, flanked with fall foliage.
The geysers of Haukadalur uncover the secrets of the Earth’s violent interior. Steam escapes from crevices in the ground and hot water deposits minerals whose colors vie with the fall foliage for brilliance. When the Strokkur geyser erupts (and it does so every 5 – 10 minutes), bright blue water wells up and bursts into the sky. Again, we were wise to visit early in the day. As we left, lines of buses pulled into the large parking lot, spilling out tourists eager to take their selfie against the backdrop of the erupting plumes.
Our first trip up into the Highlands of Iceland (surrounding Langjökull ice fields) was via the eastern road, Kjalvegur. A rough dirt track, filled with potholes, it reminded me of Alaska’s Denali Highway. But the landscape it traversed was even more surreal. The photographer who guided our group, Theo Bosboom, told me that astronauts had trained in the Icelandic highlands for moon landings. I can believe it; it felt as though I was walking on the moon or a lifeless planet. And yet, small, bright plants grew among the stones. Life thrives under the most severe conditions.
The next time we visited the Highlands, we took the western route, driving all the way up the Kaldidalur to the edge of the glacier. Black volcanic rocks against glistening white ice give the area a striking, dramatic look and strengthen the other-worldly impression.
Leaving earthly realms and gazing in wonder at the heavens, lit with Northern Lights on three of the eight nights I was there, is the last and greatest wonder I witnessed. I’m no stranger to the Aurora Borealis, having seen it in the past both in Alaska and Norway. But the second night we witnessed it, up at the top of the Gulfoss, the lights danced and swirled so brightly, my photos were often over-exposed.
Iceland reveals the wonders of life on earth in a way that left me speechless. The words I struggle to find now do not do it justice. It affected my photography in a profound way, and I hope the accompanying photos at least show how both the artist and the naturalist in me returned home, filled to the brim with inspiration and love of the world we live in.
You can view more photos on my photography site.
This photography trip was organized by Nordic Vision