Wednesday, January 22: Geysir
Black Sand Beach
Today was a rather mixed day. I got up at 7:15 and took a shower. Amy got up, and at 8:00 I checked, and there was breakfast, so we got Michael up. We were encouraged that we didn’t hear the wind and rain pounding down like the previous day.
But when we left, it was sprinkling lightly.
Just past Vik, we took Route 215 to the black sand beach. It looked on the map like there was a small road that was a short-cut, but it turns out that the road goes most of the way to the beach but stops on top of the cliffs.
As an aside, it is interesting that in Iceland, rather than numbering the exits, they number the roads instead. So after 215, you then get to 216 and then 217. It isn’t clear how far apart the roads are, but at least you can tell when you are getting close to your road.
Today, the weather decided to smile upon us. Just before we got to the beach, the sun came out. Even though it was an hour or more after sunrise, the sun was low and the lighting was wonderful. The beach was sort of interesting, but the big draw were the huge waves and giant surf. There were two serious photographers there when we got there (fancy lenses and tripods), and another came while we were there.
We spent some time there, taking a large number of photos.
Shortly after we left, we got some sprinkles again, so we thought we timed it perfectly, but then the day dried out. We saw a little sun, but for the most part it was behind the clouds.
At one point, we saw a small pond next to the road with some interesting rocks in it, so we stopped and took some pictures.
We stopped in Hella for lunch, but rather than stop and lose more daylight time, we got some cold sandwiches. Those were much better than getting yet more burgers and fries. I had a wrap with ham and cheese, and surprisingly egg (as well as lettuce). The egg made it much more interesting.
We were headed for Gulfoss (Gold Falls). There were several ways we could get there. Rt 35 went directly there, but it was rather more distant down Rt 1. We came to Rt 30 first, but that didn’t go all the way. We could cross over to 35 on a longer 2-digit road, or on a shorter 3-digit road (a smaller road than the 2-digit roads), or we could go to the end of 35, and then take a gravel road for several km. Each step shortened the distance and lessened the road quality.
I was originally planning on crossing on the 3-digit road, but I got worried when we passed the 2-digit road and saw the sign saying “turn here for Gulfoss”. But then when we got to the 3-digit road, Amy decided to go for it, and we continued on to the gravel road.
I was worried because the map seemed to show a big switchback, which implied that the road might be steep (and possibly icy), but it turned out to be a big zig-zag on relatively level ground, with only the slightest amount of ice. The gravel road was in good condition, but we still had to go relatively slowly, so I’m not sure if one of the other cross highways might have been marginally faster even if longer.
I was looking for some cliffs to find the falls, but there were no cliffs anywhere nearby. It turns out that the falls are not known for their height, but rather for their width and volume.
The falls were in a large river in a small canyon, which plunges into more of a gorge. We parked on top and then hiked down a boardwalk into the gorge to the middle level (there were actually two falls, one right above the other). Unfortunately the trail closer in between the falls was closed as it was too icy.
We took some pictures from the middle level, and then went back up to the upper level, taking pictures all the way.
Afterwards we stopped at the gift shop/restaurant. It is known for a bottomless bowl of lamb stew. Mike didn’t want any, but Amy and I got a bowl (and a refill) each. We marveled at all of the dead animals (fur coats and fur other stuff) that was in the gift shop.
We left around 4:30 (around sunset), but the sun sets really slowly around here. It was only 40km to Geysir, which is sort of like a miniature Yellowstone. I’ve been told that this is the original Geysir, after which all of the other geysers are named.
When we got there, it was dim but there was still enough light for photos. Our accommodations were not at all what I imagined. I sort of pictured a rustic cabin in the woods with a geyser next to it. In reality, this is a big tourist spot. There is a small geyser field on one side of the highway, and a large hotel, restaurant, and gift shop on the other side.
We checked in, got our room key, and found that the geothermal pool and the hot tub were both down for repairs. We were extremely disappointed.
We then went across the street to the geyser field. Geysir hasn’t erupted in years, and most of the others were just hot pools or steaming vents. There was one interesting geyser, however. It had two nifty features: it went off every 6-10 minutes! The other was that it would fill up with water, and you could watch the hole and the small pool it was sitting in. The water would rise and fall and do other weird things. Then a big bulge would erupt, and then a jet of water would shoot out. At the end, the hole was (from our view point) empty. You could watch the water flow back. The hole would fill up, and the cycle would start again.
Geysir is one of the most popular tourist spots available as a day trip from Reykjavik. It is on a loop of about three stops that forms one of the most popular day-long tourist trips from the city.
If you had never been to Yellowstone, it would probably be pretty amazing. Even so, it probably would be more impressive if it were during the day and in the sun. But still, it was pretty neat watching the water do its tricks in that one geyser before it goes off.
Michael, in particular, was disappointed in the lack of hot tubs, but his consolation prize was an “earthquake simulator”, which we think was the “multimedia” show at the gift shop. We went there only to find out that the last show was at 4:00! We weren’t even here at 4! The sun hadn’t even set at 4. Even more surprising, they don’t start until 12. That makes perfect sense if you are coming on a day trip from Reykjavik, but it is lousy if you are spending the night there.
Mike did not leave empty-handed, however. He got a new friend, a small (stuffed) polar bear named Kouf (or maybe Kowf).
Our surprises continued. Our room was not in the main building, which seems to only have the restaurant open. Rather we were in the other building a few minutes walk down the road. We got there and found the parking lot to be a sea of mud. We had to be very careful to not put any of our luggage on to the ground. So we took two trips.
But when we got to the room with the first load, we found that there were only two beds! (And the beds were sized for one person each.) So we left our luggage there, hiked back to the restaurant/reception and complained. It turns out that the clerk (who sounded Russian to me, not Icelandic) apparently did not know what size the various rooms were! She gave us the key to the adjacent room, which we found out actually had three beds.
We had about a half hour before dinner. I started uploading my camera’s flash to the hyperdrive. It was a good thing that I didn’t wait until after dinner, as it was scheduled to take almost an hour! So I let that run while we were eating dinner.
Dinner was very nice, although a bit pricey (at least by US standards). We got one entree each, and two juices and a soda. That set us back by about $90. I wrote most of the day’s updates waiting for our meal.
We were hoping to maybe see some auroras on the walk back to our room, but it was drizzling lightly, so no dice.
Overall, this place is almost the antithesis of where we stayed the previous night. It has all of the charm of a generic road-side hotel back in the US, coupled with almost no guests (and almost no staff), and a five minute walk through the mud or along the road (which fortunately had almost no traffic) to get to food. The only good thing about it is the restaurant had pretty good food, although it had prices to match.
The building itself is a generic box, next to some sort of garage with a gas pump out front--totally unappealing.
The guide book talked about taking a snowmobile trip to see a frozen geyser, but given that there really seems to be not much snow around here, I doubt that the snowmobile would be available.
On the flip side, we just saw a first for our trip to Iceland. We looked out the window, and it is snowing! Apparently the temp has finally dropped below zero, and the drizzle has turned to snow.