Monday, February 22, 2010

Iceland - Lake Myvatn

Lake Myvatn is where we've come to attempt to see the Northern Lights. Last night was a no-go though it was clear. We checked an aurora website with a hotel staffer and the aurora's center last night basically pulled it away from Iceland. Tonight is supposed to be better, so we're keeping fingers and toes crossed that the sky to the north stays clear.

We flew up here from Reykjavik yesterday, into the town of Akureyri. Akureyri has a population of about 17,000 people. To put that in perspective, Iceland is roughly the size of the state of Kentucky, and has a population of 320,000. Sixty percent of those people live in Reykjavik or the area immediately surrounding Reykjavik. Akureyri used to be the largest town outside of Reykjavik. It's dropped to fourth largest, but the first three don't really count since they're in the area immediately surrounding Reykjavik. Lake Myvatn, about an hour's drive from Aukreyri, has a year-round population of some 425. To help put that in perspective, there is one ATM here ... from June to September. That's because Lake Myvatn is one of the most popular summer vacation destinations. There are four hotels here, two on the north side of the lake and two on the south side. We're in one on the south. It has 35 rooms and although maybe two or three are booked now, all are booked already for the entire summer, which is also the case at the other three hotels.

Flying here from Reykjavik was fascinating. The landscape went from no snow to some snow to total snow cover. In fact, we circled Aukreyri for ten minutes or so before landing in order to let a snow squall pass.

I must admit to getting a cheap thrill out of getting off a plane and seeing a driver holding a sign with our name or the name of our hotel on it. Our driver/guide had an impossible Icelandic name but offered that he also answered to "Jimmy." While the pilot had told us our circling was due to "rain," Jimmy said it had actually been snow falling sideways. Jimmy also pointed out the father of Bjork, the Icelandic singer, who was either arriving with us or meeting someone who had. Jimmy and Bjork were neighbors once, and he says she's just like anyone else when she comes home to visit.

The drive from Aukreyri to Lake Myvatn can be done in an hour, but we took longer. Besides stops for photos, like this one of Aukreyri and the scenery just to its right. I think I mentioned at the end of my last post that part of the drive was in white-out or near white-out conditions. There were times when I could see things out the side window, while the front window yielded only white. Here's a representative side view. Fortunately, the lake itself has almost its own little weather system, and by the time we got there, it had actually stopped snowing and cleared. Right before the lake itself, we drove along the Laxa River, which drains from the lake to the Atlantic Ocean to the north. This stretch of the river is known for its trout and has been leased by a fishing club in Reykjavik for the next several years for an incredible sum of money. If you want to fish here, the first available "appointments" are in 2011. The river follows the path of an ancient lava flow, so instead of the river cutting out a channel in the landscape, it instead follows an existing channel.

One part of the south end of the lake does not freeze in winter. The crater here is Mt. Hverfjall; it's one of the largest craters of its type on earth. It's 140 meters deep and a kilometer in diameter. It was formed about 2500 years ago. It very much dominates the landscape as one drives around (or on, in the winter) the lake. Lake Myvatn (the name translates as "Midge Lake," though there are only a couple of varieties of midges out in the winter) has an average depth of only 2.5 meters, meaning that the bottom is covered with algae. Despite the relatively shallow depth, people do drown here because the water comes from underground springs and is pretty darn cold year-round. We made a quick stop at the visitor's center. It's not normally open in the winter, but the manager was there and is a friend of Jimmy, so it offered a good place for us to chill while Jimmy went home and let his dog out. Here's a fun "fact" we learned. And now, early Monday afternoon, Jimmy is about to pick us up to continue our tour of the area around the lake. We went walking this morning through the small village of Skutustaoir, an old church, and a field of pseudocraters. We took lots of photographs including some of the icicles outside our window, some of which are at least four feet long. Since Blaine is up from his nap, this seems like a good time to hit "publish post."

1 comment:

Debi said...

What stunning photos! And I'm sure they don't even capture the beauty as seen by the eye.

My fingers and toes will remain crossed for you, too!!!