Fire and ice

Richard Rowley stands near a glacier while on a recent trip to Iceland. (Courtesy photo)

Richard Rowley stands near a glacier while on a recent trip to Iceland. (Courtesy photo)

Simply amazing Iceland home to glaciers, lava fields

By ROXANNE ROWLEY
Special to the News Advocate

We had the good fortune to visit Iceland recently.

What an incredibly gorgeous country. We saw volcanoes, mountains, numerous waterfalls, lava fields, black sand beaches, greenhouses powered by geothermal energy, geysers, glaciers, icebergs and sheep — lots and lots of sheep. All of these wonders are packed into an island-country about the size of Ohio in the north Atlantic.

While in Iceland, the Rowleys ate tomato soup made from the tomatoes grown in a greenhouse. (Courtesy photo)

While in Iceland, the Rowleys ate tomato soup made from the tomatoes grown in a greenhouse. (Courtesy photo)

Iceland has a population of around 340,000. About 220,000 people reside in the capital, Reykjavik. The remainder are scattered throughout the country in little villages. Iceland was part of Denmark until 1944, when it gained its independence.

Iceland has become a desirable tourist location mainly because of its great natural beauty. Several years ago the number of tourists visiting the country was a steady 400,000 per year. But in the last few years the number of vacationers has surged to 2.8 million, and it is expected to keep rising. Iceland is grappling with this explosion of tourism, furiously building the infrastructure to support it. And they realize there is a delicate balance to maintain as they work hard to keep their naturally dazzling environment from damage. Unfortunately not all visitors to the country are respectful of the natural world.

One of the most fascinating things about Iceland is their harnessing of geothermal energy for hot water and power. Iceland leads the world in the use of renewable energy. We visited a farm consisting of five huge greenhouses heated by geothermal energy and lighted by hydro-electric power. Because there is not an abundance of arable land, a lot of food is produced in greenhouses in addition to imports. The greenhouses we visited grew tomatoes and cucumbers. One ton of tomatoes are harvested there every day. We were treated to tomato soup made from the tomatoes grown there, and it was delicious.

At the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon, amphibious vehicles known as “ducks” took us around icebergs for an up close look at those ancient

Tourists started visiting Gullfoss (Golden Falls) around 1875. It's one of the many water falls in Iceland. (Courtesy photo)

Tourists started visiting Gullfoss (Golden Falls) around 1875. It’s one of the many water falls in Iceland. (Courtesy photo)

chunks of ice and we even got to taste 1,000 year old ice. Even though there was a strong wind from the Atlantic that day, it was an enjoyable adventure.

We visited the now famous volcano that erupted in 2010 spewing tons of volcanic ash into the air and grounding air traffic for several weeks in Europe. It is a mouthful of a name, Eyjafjallajokul (dubbed E15 by the U.S. military because it starts with E and has 15 letters after). There is a farm at the base of the volcano that suffered a lot of damage from the eruption, especially the volumes of volcanic ash that engulfed much of the area. The museum across the road from the volcano and farm is run by the farmer and his wife. It really gives some perspective on not only the damage caused, but the clean up afterward.

Thanks to snowmelt from the mountains and glacial melt, there are many beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, and some even have their own rainbows. It is hard to travel a mile in some areas and not see those lovely flows of water. One of the more impressive waterfalls was Gullfoss (Golden Falls). Tourists started visiting Gullfoss around 1875. A woman named Sigridur in Brattholt, who loved the outdoors, showed visitors the way to Gullfoss. She is remembered with a plaque there as one of the first guides there.

Thingvellir National Park celebrates the site where Icelanders gathered in AD 930 and established one of the world’s first Parliaments. It is also the location of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, or pieces of the Earth’s crust and

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is located in Iceland; it's where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The Rowleys were able to walk along that ridge and enjoy the basalt rock formations from previous volcanoes. (Courtesy photo)

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is located in Iceland; it’s where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The Rowleys were able to walk along that ridge and enjoy the basalt rock formations from previous volcanoes. (Courtesy photo)

uppermost mantle, meet. We were fortunate to be able to walk along that ridge and enjoy the basalt rock formations from previous volcanoes. There were also more wonderful waterfalls.

Then there is the otherworldly scenery where the geysers spout hot water and steam rises through vents in the earth’s crust. It is kind of an eerie sight and evidence of the power of geothermal activity.

The Vatnajokull Glacier is the largest in Europe. It was surprisingly beautiful with various hues of blue. Against the backdrop of the mountains, it was stunning. Regrettably the glacial melt is happening faster than usual due to climate change. Melting that normally would have taken a couple of hundred years now happens in a few decades.

We met people from all over the world enjoying the hospitality of the Icelandic people and the inherent beauty of the country. Surprisingly the climate was milder than we expected. While it does not warm up much past 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, it does not go much below 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.

The rugged splendor of Iceland and the friendliness of the people made for a memorable visit to the Land of Fire and Ice.

Roxanne Rowley is a retired early childhood educator and consultant. She enjoys writing and has had numerous articles published related to early childhood issues.

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