Iceland. We spent most of our time around Reykjavik. There were countless highlights on the tourist checklist, most centered in proximity to the capital city. We saw waterfalls, thermal pools and whales. In the end, it was a spur of the moment drive that ended up being the coolest thing we did. One day, toward the end of the trip, we had a little extra time. We made a journey to Snaefellsjokull National Park on Snæfellsnes peninsula to see a big volcano. Snæfellsjökull volcano was the setting for Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. That made it a must stop on our itinerary. It was early spring and the air was cool and the days were already getting longer. We knew we had about ten hours to make the round trip to the national park located about three hours northwest of Reykjavik.
We had roughly four hours to see all there was to see on the peninsula and everything between. The drive started out pretty easy. The terrain was flat. The seaside made an appearance now and again. We passed through a long dark tunnel beneath a fjord. Once we got to the Snæfellsnes peninsula the roads narrowed and began to wind through barren countryside. Bright painted houses perched along small streams. There were few other signs of civilization.
The volcano is sometimes visible from Reykjavik. It wasn’t until the road turned west onto the peninsula that the true enormity of it set in. The clouds that rolled inland off the summit kept it obscured. Their whiteness blended with the snow and ice of the mountain to keep the peak camouflaged.
Small cinder cones and rocky outcrops began sprouting up at the foot of the mountain. Evidence of past eruptions was everywhere. Rough a’a’ flows spread across the farmland. More appeared to paint the hillsides with a dark brown.
Snæfellsjökull volcano towers over the surrounding landscape. A massive snowfield and glacier cover the top. At just under 5000 feet, it dominates everything around it.
The road wound toward the national park passing farms along the way. Cinder cones emerged from inside long stretches of fields with rich looking soil. The fields themselves restricted in size by ancient lava flows that surrounded them. The occasional bright colored roof of a structure stood out against the barren landscape.
Fields that appeared to have edible plant life had packs of horses roaming.
Along with the horses, there were sheep grazing the land. Their curiosity was minimal as we drove past. These were the only signs of life we saw as we neared the volcano.
Different types of eruptions have created a diverse landscape filled with a multitude of colors. Each flow adds another layer containing different minerals. These minerals are responsible for the muted kaleidoscope of color.
Thin ribbons of water cascaded down the steeper slopes and cut narrow valleys into the walls of the mountain. Waterfalls fed from the glacier above were visible along the entire wall of the mountain. Streams cut across the road to the nearby ocean.
Rough hiking trails crisscrossed the lava fields. We wanted to get out and explore. Somewhere up in the mountains was a cave that served as the entrance in Journey to the Center of the Earth. The unpaved roads were slowing our progress and cutting into our time to roam the park.
The road hugged the side of the mountain and then snaked upwards through a valley. Blacktop gave way to graded gravel. As we gained elevation, gravel gave way to rutted gravel pockmarked with potholes. We were thankful our rental car was up to the task since services were non-existent.
Clouds obscured the summit. Occasional glimpses of cinder cones peaked through the mist and were visible from below. Shafts of sunlight highlighted features that disappeared just as quick as they appeared.
The gravel road descended and began to smooth. It bisected lava fields that covered the land all the way to the coast. In the days before reliable GPS, and without an English map, we moved forward into the unknown.
Cinder cones dotted the shoreline where lava reached the water resulting in violent explosions. Moss added a bit of color to the otherwise brown color palette created from ancient lava flows.
The town of Hellissandur was the first sign of life we’d seen in several hours. The road split into two lanes and driving was easier. From here, the road followed the coast.
The road paralleled the shoreline. Rocky islands were visible just off the coast. Each island and outcropping created a stunning silhouette as the sun began to sink lower toward the horizon.
In glaring contrast to the blue waters on the left of the road, a rocky jumble of lava littered the right side.
Once off the peninsula, the rough roads improved. Single lane gave way to highway. We eluded storms that chased us back to Reykjavik. We pulled into the capital just after the sun had set, thankful to have been in a higher latitude.