Iceland part 2 - WellsFineArtPhotography

Because I slept with earplugs and my cap pulled down over my face, I didn't notice the intensity of the wind until the tent and support poles began slapping me in the face. "This can't be good" I thought as I roused myself, wishing I could ignore the situation and go back to sleep.. 

I quickly began to get dressed and throw my things into my bag when I heard Peyton outside my tent talking to Colby. I yelled, "Should I break down my tent?"

He yelled, "Yes" over the howling wind. 

It was a real struggle getting my tent disassembled in the wind and getting my things into the car. Peyton and Colby were waking up the rest of the group and getting them to start taking down their tents. Despite the urgency of the situation or perhaps because of it, I seemed to be moving in molasses. The wind pulled and pushed against my efforts to get myself packed quickly so I could help the others. 

Soon enough, I was helping to take down other tents and get everything loaded into the vans. At one point, I picked up a duffle bag and was pulled at a run across the meadow by the wind against the bag. Even though it probably weighed 30 lbs., it pulled my arm out above shoulder height and towed me like a sail. I had to carry it at a crouch back to the van.

When everything was packed, I took the arm of the thinnest woman in our group, hunkered down and race-walked to the campground shelter. 

When Peyton arrived at the shelter, he checked the weather report and saw that we were in a Class One hurricane. We had sustained winds of 70 to 75 mph. Within a half hour, the sustained winds were up to 80 to 85 mph and we had gusts of 100 to 120 mph - officially a Class Two hurricane. That was a first for me.

Fortunately, only one tent was broken and ripped by the wind. We were soon all safe and out of the weather. I give a lot of credit to Peyton, who was up frequently in the night, tightening the guy lines on everyone's tents. For the rest of the trip, he gave his tent to the woman who lost hers and slept in the van.

One of the interesting things we could see from our shelter were the waves in the harbor flowing backwards out to sea, accompanied by a lot of mist churned up by the wind.

After a couple of hours, I went out to the van and fixed myself some breakfast from my bag. I'm glad a brought food from home.

When the wind died down by half, we went into town to a restaurant and then checked into the Alfheimar hotel. Colby explained that the mountain passes were un-driveable and we could all use a good night's sleep after what we had been through. I couldn't agree more. Once the hotel was open for check-in, we all found our rooms and took a nap - ahh - down comforters and a real bed.

After an excellent dinner in the hotel, we drove back to the puffin reserve. It was still grey and cloudy so some of us walked back towards town to a waterfall by the road.

Waterfall by the road

Waterfall from above

I tried to get in position so that the glow of the setting sun would reflect off the water at the top of the falls. After getting my shots there, I looked for a way down to the beach below. Two others of our group had already found a way down. When I got there, I was blown away by the reflected light of the setting sun on the wet rocks.

Red waterfall seascape

With red light on the horizon, we headed back to the puffins to get some backlit or red sky-framed shots. It was difficult to get our cameras low enough to frame the puffins against the red sky. We often had to focus and then place  our cameras at knee level and hope our aim was good. I was delighted with the results.

Puffin with herring backlit by sunset

Backlit wings

Puffin portrait with red sky

After the sun went down, I rode back to our hotel but decided to explore the town on foot as I had seen a turf house on the other end of town that I knew we wouldn't have time to shoot the next day.

Right by our hotel, I walked down towards the water and used a stone pillar to block the rising sun. Then I walked through town, photographing the harbor, the turf house, our campground and the City of the Elves at the end of town. I finished about 3:00 AM.

Stone pillar sunrise

Harbor and town

Turf house with light reflecting off the door

Our prior night's campground and shelter

Alfaborg - City of the Elves

The chunk of rock behind the sign is regarded as the home of the queen of Iceland's elves. It is also very close to the campground we slept in the night before.

From what I have read, a majority of Icelanders have some belief in the idea of elves, gnomes and other invisible folk. They even avoid building roads in sensitive "elf habitat".

The next morning, we headed back across the mountains and South towards Hofn, site of our next campground and at the Hotel Hofn, the best lobster pizza in Iceland.

Along the way South, we passed through layers of old lava flows with waterfalls streams and a large lake. I don't think there is a sedimentary rock to be found in all of Iceland. In some ways, with all the black volcanic rock and green grass or moss, Iceland looks a little like Hawaii, but with glaciers. 

The major roads including Highway One, the Ring Road, are one lane in each direction with no place to pull out or turn around. Good luck if you forgot something at your hotel. You might have to drive 50 or more miles to find a place to turn around.

Another waterfall by the road

We arrived in the town of Hofn in time for dinner. The locally caught lobster was indeed delicious, whether it was in soup, on a salad or a pizza. 

To my delight, we set up our tents after dinner at a nearby campground next to the ocean. I was happy that we wouldn't have to make camp in the wee hours of the morning.

We then set off for also known as Jökulsárlón or Glacier Bay. This is a large bay connected to a glacier on one side and the ocean on the other. The inlet is narrow and indeed, the Ring Road crosses it on a bridge. It was about an hour and a half drive from Hofn. We arrived after most of the tourists had gone. Unfortunately, there wasn't much gap in the clouds and even that closed not long after we arrived.

Because the tide is moving in or out through the inlet, the glaciers slowly sail towards or away from the ocean. Those bergs that wash out to sea often break up in the waves and float back up onto the beach. That beach is called "Diamond Beach" because of all the crystalline chunks of ice on the sand. That evening, there wasn't any noticeable ice on the beach because the hurricane had pushed the icebergs out to sea. 

Jökulsárlón in the evening

Nature's ice sculptures

After a few hours, we headed back to towards our campground but instead of stopping there, we drove North on the Ring Road until we cam to a turnoff on to a gravel road out towards a sand spit with a radar station on the end. Colby put coins into a turnstile and we drove out onto the sand for a half mile. 

The clouds were very thick. It was dark, cold and windy. I ate something, then got out of the car and walked down to the beach while the others waited for some light. Before long, I could see why we had driven out to this desolate place. There were beautiful jagged mountains above the beach. Clouds were moving quickly across the mountains. Light was dimly peeking from behind and there were mounds of sea grass above the beach.

First shot of Vestrahorn

The rest of the group came down and over over to a rock point towards our right. I tried a number of compositions there, settling on one pointed out by Colby that involved perching on the point of a wet, seaweed covered rock, just above the waves. I ended up crouching there for an hour, waiting for the sunrise. For awhile a seal bobbed in the waves nearby watching me, probably hoping I had some fish to share. 

The light kept getting a little better and a little better. As uncomfortable as I was, I didn't want to leave. By the time the sun broke through, the rest of our group was ready to leave. We probably made it back to camp around 3:30 AM.

Vestrahorn sunrise

The next day we continued South, stopping again at Glacier Bay and Diamond Beach. The light was poor again, flat gray but this time with tourists. Fortunately, the rain kept most of them out of our shots. 

Glacier bay the next morning

Diamond beach

I tried to get the classic slow-motion receding water surrounding the chunk of ice on the beach shot, but all of them were blurred. This was because the waves were moving the ice so a 1-2 second exposure had motion blur and also because I had a 10 stop neutral density filter on the camera and neither the camera nor I could accurately focus. 

Peyton says it's better in the Winter anyway because the sun on the horizon diffracts through the ice, making a much more colorful shot. One more reason to return to Iceland in the Winter.

We stopped at another glacier on our way South. The meltwater at this glacier was kind of dirty brown, so it was not very photogenic, but it did provide an opportunity to shoot fields of lupines nearby. Having shots of a prettier glacier in Argentina, I left the group and focused on the lupines.

As we continued South, we drove for a couple of hours with the mountains and glaciers on our right, and the ocean in the distance to our left. For much of that time we sped along a fairly flat expanse of black, volcanic gravel and rock. There were no plants. The whole are looked scoured by a flood. 

Turns out it was scoured by a flood. In 1996, a volcano beneath a glacier erupted and released a flood of meltwater that tore across the land, wiping away everything in it's path. One of the things that was destroyed and swept away by rushing water, chunks of rock and glacial ice was the longest bridge in Iceland, part of the Ring Road. Part of the twisted remains of that bridge were left as a monument to the power of nature.

Twisted girder

As we passed through the town of Vik, low clouds and fog surrounded us. Based on a hopeful weather report, we pushed on South to the very photogenic waterfall, Seljalandfoss. There was a little red light on the horizon at around midnight as we pulled into the parking lot. Thinking it wouldn't last, I just grabbed my camera and tripod and sprinted up the hill to get a few shots before the light faded. Sure enough, I only got a few before the light was gone. One other member of our group got there in time.

Seljalandfoss at sunset

Seljalandfoss from behind

After we waited 45 minutes for the light to return, we headed back to Vik. It was all gray and cloudy on our return trip. On our way to Vik, we stopped at another waterfall, Skogafoss. It was huge, but all we could see were shades of gray. I developed the following in Photoshop to bring out some of the sky.

Skogafoss

As we headed back into Vik with the fog behind us, we drove up a little hill to the church. Despite my fatigue, I got excited again at the beautiful view. 

The church itself is lovely, but with the fog rolling over the point in the pre-dawn light, we could also see a rock formation called the Trident. Better yet, the moon was rising over the Trident.

Vik church and Trident in the pre-dawn light

Full moon, Trident and lupines

Fog rolling over the point

Getting light towards the South

We camped in another soggy field that night in Vik. The next morning after breaking down my tent, I walked in the drizzle to the camp showers and had a cold one. The guy cleaning the showers said, "You had the last shower. Wasn't it cold?"

I replied that, "It was warmer than the rain."

Frankly, any shower was better than no shower. My expectations had changed.  I was getting good at making and breaking camp in the rain, eating at convenience stores and spending 18 hours a day on the road. This was the new normal.

Shortly after getting on the road, we stopped at a black sand beach with basalt columns and caves. Peyton warned us to stay out of the water as a number of tourists get swept out to sea by a rogue wave every year. The beach is called Reynisfjara.

Reynisfjara Beach - For scale, look at the people in the lower right

Columns of basalt

Part of the Trident from the beach

After leaving Reynisfjara beach, we headed a little further down the road and turned in towards Skogafoss. This being around noon, the place was swarming with tours and tour buses. We proceeded to the right, away from the crowds, past a hotel and museum before parking at the North end of the lot. From there we hiked to what Colby described as "Hidden Waterfall" (The official name is Kvernufoss. This involved climbing over a stepladder into a cow pasture and on up a trail to a beautiful little canyon with a waterfall at the end. It was lovely. We shot all different angles of it, including from in the stream.

Kvernufoss

Our group approaching the falls

Pathway to the base

Further downstream

After I had had my fill of the waterfall, I told Colby that I was going to head back past the car to get some shots of turf houses I had seen near the museum. Turns out that the houses are part of the Skogar Museum and after paying an admittance fee, I had the turf houses to myself for an hour and a half. 

I was thrilled. I paid about a dollar to see how people lived in what looked like the late 1800's. To get inside Bodie Ghost town in California would cost about $800.

Skogar Museum turf houses

Deep in the weeds

Home sweet home

Inside the dining room

Kitchen with stove, electrical panel, cheese press, etc.

Other side of kitchen (cream separator, butter churn, mill). Notice the door on the right?

Got milk?

Cows below, bedrooms above

Children's bedroom with tools for processing wool

Parent's bedroom

Inside of church - some parts from the 1500's

After leaving Hidden Waterfall and the Skogar Museum, we drove South and East through miles and miles of lupines. Colby found a spot to pull over and I finally got a chance to capture the amazing scale of the bloom.

Lupines to the horizon

Lupines in the other direction

Red Campion sneaks into the Lupines

As we continued East from Vik across the southern part of Iceland, the weather continued to be overcast and drizzly. I have since read that this was the rainiest June in the last 30 years.

After stopping for lunch at the Volcano and Earthquake museum (officially circumnavigating Iceland), we decided to head inland to avoid the worst of the weather. This would take us through Geysir on our way West.

Though it was way out on the other side of Iceland, several of our  group really had their hearts set on photographing Kirkjufell (we had been rained out on our first night). Colby decided that we would forego another interesting waterfall to try to get there, even though the weather didn't look good. I really have to hand it to Colby and Peyton for all the driving they did on this trip. It was exhausting enough being a passenger.

Along the way Northwest, we stopped and photographed some Icelandic horses (don't call them ponies unless you want to start a fight with a local).

Icelandic horses

Sure enough, they are friendly

These horses look like a 1980's boy band

Geysir is a geothermal area that gives all geysers their name. It has a number of steam vents and mud pots and one sizable geyser. Though not as large as Old Faithful in Yellowstone, it erupts about every 5 minutes. We arrived around midnight. There were very few tourists, but the sky remained overcast and drizzling.

Geysir geothermal area

The original Geysir

I found the flowers with steam vents more interesting

Geothermal capture house on right

More flowers and vents

It was probably after 3:00 AM when we settled on a campsite in Borganes. Our difficulty in finding a spot was that there was wind and or rain where we wanted to be, so we checked a few spots before settling on another soggy meadow that was somewhat out of the wind for the night.In the morning, we took a poll and decided to check into a hotel for our last night. That would give us a chance to dry out our things and pack them properly for our flight out the next morning. That sounded good to me. 

Last campsite

After arranging for our rooms, we went to lunch in Akranes at a delightful restaurant called Gamla Kaupfélagið. I had a lovely salad made from fresh greens tossed in a vinaigrette topped with lobster and salmon pan-fried in butter and garlic, with pomegranate and blueberries - delicious.

I spoke with our hostess when she asked if we were photographers. She was eager to share the beauty of her country. She pulled up photos of her hometown in the North on the internet and showed me the large, public hot pools. She said in the Winter, you can put on your bathing suit, a wool hat and bring a cold beer, then soak in the hot water all night watching the Aurora Borealis. Sounded great to me.

After lunch and settling in our rooms, we headed out to the West Fjords and Kirkjufell. 

Along the way, we stopped at a black church

Buttercups for color

We finally made it to Kirkjufell around sunset, though you wouldn't know it because the sky was so clouded. We shot a lot of angles in the drizzle, hoping for the skies to clear. Once after I had packed up and hiked most of the way back to the car, the sky appeared to get lighter. I ran back up the hill to try again only to find it closed once more. This would be a beautiful spot in the right light. Oh, well. Once more rea

Kirkjufell from upper falls

Looking downstream

Kirkjufell from the lower falls

The next morning, we arrived at the airport on time. I had one more sandwich at Joe and the Juice before getting on my nine and a half hour flight back home. I was tired but happy at the adventures, new friends and some great shots. I hope to come b

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