I think my biggest regret from the trip was not planning a day to spend just at Lake Þhingvallavatn in Þhingvellir National Park. Þhingvallavatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland, located at the spreading zone of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates–as a geology nerd, it’s pretty amazing to be essentially standing on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, one of the few places in the world you can do that. It’s also a spectacularly beautiful place, even on a day that was at that point rapidly becoming more and more overcast.
Iceland is mostly composed of basalt, which is common for islands situated above oceanic hotspots. Basaltic lava can erupt either violently or more gently, and the slower types of basaltic flows can produce some fantastic structures–basalt is probably my favorite igneous rock. Here’s a pretty ropey-looking flow, which is probably pāhoehoe:
The area around the lake exhibits a great deal of faulting, due to the spreading zone of the plates, creating fantastic weathered ridges:
This is one of my favorite pictures from that day, again creating a staggeringly misleading impression of how nice the weather actually was, but nicely capturing the feeling of being there. Iceland has truly magical scenery, but the tourist brochures showing clear, sunny weather are probably the product of a handful of Icelandic photographers chasing sun during a two-month period in summer.
There was the usual tundra vegetation; we also saw a few flocks of Greylag Geese (Anser anser) out on the lake, and I am sure it would be a great area for birding if you get down around the shores away from the heavily touristed areas.
And of course it wouldn’t be Iceland without some dramatic waterfalls:
This is me. Did I mention I’m STANDING IN THE FAULTING ZONE OF THE MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE? Yeah, that was an awesome feeling. (I think this may even have been in or at least near Almannagjá, the largest rift fissure, but I’m not completely sure.)
Aside from the geology and scenery, Þhingvellir is historically important as the site where the Icelandic Parliament (AlÞhingi) was established in 930, and where it met until 1789. During these centuries, Þhingvellir was a key center of Icelandic culture, hosting a huge annual gathering during the meeting of the AlÞhingi.
So if I ever make it back a third time (unlikely as that is), I will definitely plan on renting a car and exploring Þhingvellir for a day or so.