Iceland Day 3 ľ Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Skˇgafoss, U.S. Navy Plane Wreck, Dyrhˇlaey/Reynisfjara, and Fja­rßrglj˙fur Canyon



After the last two days of deluge, I was delighted to wake up this morning to hardly any rain. In the daylight we found that our guesthouse is situated in a very scenic spot. We ate some quick PB&Js, left our room key in a drop box, and began the day's adventures.

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Our little guesthouse

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View from Welcome Edinborg

Just a few minutes east of the guesthouse, we reached the spectacular Skogafoss. At 62 meters high and 25 meters wide, it's one of the biggest, best known, and most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. After admiring the falls from the bottom, you can climb to the top via a very long staircase, probably around 400 steps.

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Skˇgafoss

Once you reach the top of Skogafoss, you can cross a fence to access a fantastic hike past many more world-class waterfalls. The trail continued on, but eventually we turned back, satisfied with the waterfall saturation we'd achieved. We passed so many waterfalls I lost count! There's supposed to be at least 20 falls if you see them all. We spent about 2 Ż hours round trip on the hike. The entire waterfall hike takes about eight hours, and a longer hike continues past the waterfalls all the way to Thorsmork (١rsm÷rk) and beyond, if you're prepared to hike for days. This hike was one of the highest highlights of a trip of highlights!

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Tom accesses the waterfall trail

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Tom and Jana - The rain has stopped!

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Wow

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Jana at yet another falls

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And another

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Last one before turning around

Back on the Ring Road, soon we came to Solheimajokull glacier, the first glacier of our trip. Since it was the first, we drove down the access road and walked over close enough for a good view. Well over 10 percent of Iceland is covered in ice, so we'd have plenty more chances for glacial viewing later on.

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Sˇlheimaj÷kull

Iceland is completely cluttered with outstanding natural wonders and a few interesting man-made ones as well, including a wrecked U.S. Navy DC-3 that crashed on a black gravel beach on the south coast in November 1973 after running out of fuel. At least the pilot thought he was out of fuel. As it turns out, the second tank was found to still be full after the crash, and a resourceful nearby farmer had free fuel for years. Thankfully, all the crew survived. The plane is still sitting there today, no one ever having bothered to haul it away.

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U.S. Navy aircraft

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Inside the DC-3

The plane is accessed off Highway 1 down a terrible farm track of compact sand/pebbles/rock that was completely inappropriate for our tiny rental car, but I'm happy to report that we made it there and back with nary a busted oil pan. Distances are very deceiving out here. We drove and drove and drove and didn't seem to be getting any closer to our destination, then suddenly we topped a little rise, and there it was. Very surreal.

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Bleak beach where the plane crashed

The next fantastic wonders were found down Rt. 218 at Dyrholaey and Rt. 215 at Reynisfjara Beach, two sides of an estuary off the Ring Road just west of Vik. Dyrholaey, "the hill island with the door hole," is a small peninsula on the west side of the estuary. After turning onto 218, the road splits into two parts: You can turn right and go up a hill or stay straight for the low road. First we went right, which led to a fantastic panoramic view and an interesting lighthouse. From here you can walk to the end of the huge stone arch reaching out into the sea from which the peninsula take its name.

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A view from the high road at Dyrhˇlaey

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Dyrhˇlaey lighthouse

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Dyrhˇlaey arch

At the end of the "low road" part of 218 at Dyrholaey, you reach a very picturesque area with a small stone arch and crashing surf, with great views of a gorgeous black beach and the Reynisdrangar sea stacks.

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Tom at the small stone arch

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Crashing waves

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Reynisdrangar sea stacks

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Reynisfjara beach

Rt. 218, on the east side of the estuary, leads to the Reynisfjara Beach, where we found incredible formations of basalt columns and the aforementioned magnificent sea stacks. Naturally, there are fantastic views to the west back toward Dyrholaey. This whole area is a nature reserve and puffin nesting area, but the puffins were out of season at this time and out to sea. Just as well, as they close much of the area to visitors during that time to protect the baby puffsters.

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Dyrhˇlaey from Reynisfjara

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Reynisdrangar sea stacks

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Basalt cave at Reynisfjara beach

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Studlaberg basalt columns

Past Vik, we had an uneventful few dozen kilometers with only one stop. We'd noticed some weird spiky formations in the fields alongside the road and finally pulled over at a roadside turnout at Laufskalavarda lava ridge to investigate. The weird formations were actually man-made cairns. A plaque explained that all travelers crossing the desert of Myrdalssandur for the first time are supposed to pile up stones to make a cairn, to bring them good fortune on their journey. It's silly, of course, but we each located a pebble and added it to one of the cairns. It couldn't hurt...

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Laufskßlavar­a good-luck cairns

Fjadrargljufur Canyon, just west of Kirkjubaejarklaustur, (aren't Icelandic place names delightful?) is reached from the Ring Road by driving just a few kilometers down Rt. 206. You reach the canyon before Rt. 206 becomes an ôFö road, so supposedly this road is suitable for a 2WD. NOT SO. That we made it without damage does not change that fact. I parked at the canyon next to one of the biggest 4WD trucks I'd ever seen, and it had a flat tire. You have been warned.

Anyway, Fjadrargljufur is a gorgeous, twisting canyon with beautiful vegetation, unlike any other canyon we've ever seen. We followed a walking track along the southern edge for a mile or so before the trail left the canyon rim and we turned back. Again, the scale is deceiving. The canyon is over 100 meters deep in places.

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Fja­rßrglj˙fur Canyon

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Jana on the edge

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Gorgeous gorge

After a full day of sightseeing, we reached Klausturhof Guesthouse, in the only little village for many miles in either direction, Kirkjubaejarklaustur.   Our room was the size of a broom closet, and the walls were so paper thin that we could hear the person next door showering like they were in the room with us. About what I expected. This town has a population of 120, so we were happy to have a room at all! Actually, there's a couple of other, somewhat pricy, hotels in town, but we got this place for $80, so it was a decent value (for Iceland), even if we did have to supply our own sleeping bags and towels. There wasn't even enough space in the room for our limited amount of luggage, but we could park right outside the door, so we managed. At least the room had a private bath, which is rather uncommon in Iceland for budget accommodations.

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So small

The guesthouse had a shared kitchen and also had a cafe on site, but we decided to go out after our big day, not that there were tons of choices in this tiny burg. Dinner was at a busy little cafe called Systrakaffi. We split a chiliburger with fries and a 12-inch pizza with three or four typical toppings and had one boring beer each (Gull and Tuborg) for $48. The beers were $8 apiece, which for Iceland is cheap. Most of the time, a draft beer at a restaurant or bar is closer to $12. Ouch! There was a much more diverse menu, with lots of lamb and seafood, but after all the hiking, this is what we wanted. It was very good.


Continue to September 10, 2014

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