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Monday, November 20, 2017

Day 6: Namafjall Geothermal Field (Hverir) Iceland & Grjótagjá Cave

I am sure you have heard me talk about Iceland as the land of Fire and Ice by now and by this point, we have seen plenty of both.  We are recapping Day 6 and at this point in our trip, we had traversed more than half of the island, and had seen amazing landscapes from beautiful green canyons, black sand beaches, waterfalls, iceberg lagoons, and glaciers, to blue lagoons (mostly in the rain of course).  Today we were adding boiling mudpots from a geothermal field to the list of all these crazy things you can find on one island.  If you recall from previous posts, Day 2 had brought us to Geysers at Haukadalur including one that erupted, right off the golden circle. 

While Haukadalur was an experience, this georthermal field was very different and thankfully, away from Iceland's capital city and away from the crowds.  The Namafjall geothermal field, also known as Hverir, is located in Northeast Iceland, on the east side of Lake Myvatn.  This easy stop RIGHT off the ring road is generally much quieter than Haukadalur.  As you drive past the site, you can see the large plumes of steam rising from the area (you can't miss it).  This large geothermal area has various boiling mudpots (formed when a little water collects in the rich volcanic ash surrounding a fumarole) and fumaroles (natural steam vents).   One of my favorite aspects of this area was the crazy walking paths around beautifully colored mineral soils.  

How does it work?  "Cold (ground) water seeps down to the magma layer, where it is superheated (up to 200° Celcius), transformed into steam and then comes back to the surface. This superheated water is mixed with hydrogen sulphid. In mud pools, this fumarole gas is transformed into sulphuric acid. Which dissolves the rock and soil, producing the mud which is so typical of mud pots and their surroundings".  Source

At a depth of 1000m, the temperature at Hverir is above 200 degrees Celsius and of course, there will be a strong sulfur smell.  There is a marked path around the geothermal area where you can leave the main area and really get away from any other tourists who showed up to see the geothermal area.  As you walk around the field, you will notice that the ground is covered in these mineral deposits of various colors.   Some sites say you can hike up the mountains in the area for a great view of the field down below.  We did not have time to hike up the nearby Mt. Namafjall but this site has some details on the hike (taking you about an hour).

I loved this sign posted along the walkway.  "It only takes one set of foot steps for thousands to follow.  Stay safe, respect nature".  This really rang true for Iceland (and yes I have preached this in several posts).  I saw so many foot paths on this island where people had snuck under ropes or out of bound areas for that "famous" or "perfect" shot.  Respect nature, these beautiful landscapes, and follow the damn rules.  

While you certainly don't need to spend a ton of time here, this stop was definitely worth it for me.  It is a great 20-minutes stretch your legs excursion to see another firey side of Iceland. The landscape is unique and the colors of the mineral deposits against the mountainous landscape and steamy skies made for some great memories and photographs.

GPS:  N65° 38' 24.784" W16° 49' 19.788"
KW Worth the Trip? Yes!  Cool area right off Ring Road
Crowds: No, small groups 
Fees: No
Bathrooms: No
Parking: Plenty
Hike: Walking trails available around the thermal field, or a hiking trail up the nearby mountain, Mt. Namafjall.  
Access: Easy
Extra:  Boots may be best for walking across this sticky and steaming landscape

Also in this area you can stop at the Grjótagjá Cave (another Game of Thrones filming location..something about a secret sex cave... not a show I watch).  It is just a glimpse into a turquoise hot pool in a cave (you are NOT allowed to go into the pool).  Skippable but if this is on your list, it is also in this area. 

In early 18th century the outlaw Jón Markússon lived there and used the cave for bathing. During the eruptions from 1975 to 1984 the temperature of the water rose to more than 50 °C (122 °F), though the temperature is slowly decreasing and has fallen below 50 °C again.  The area is still closed for bathing.

GPS: N65° 34' 29.535" W16° 53' 0.868"
KW Worth the Trip? Nope.  Just a peep inside a cave.
Crowds: No, small groups 
Fees: No
Bathrooms: No
Parking: A few spots
Hike: No
Access: Easy enough-off Route 860 (I believe a gravel road). There is a sign indicating Grjótagjá when entering route 860 from the west.  There is a gate you may have to open and close behind you (sheep gate).

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