ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 4 – OLFUSA VALLEY
ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 4 – OLFUSA VALLEY
Day 4 map
After another rainy and windy night (fortunately we were in a hotel and not camping), we awoke to another cloudy day, complete with gloomy clouds and the prospect of periods of rain. Is this getting repetitive or what?
Foss Hotel Hekla
We left the Foss Hotel Hekla and off we went in search of more sites to see heading north up the Olfusa valley.
Our first stop was at the somewhat unusual Skalholt (Skalholtskirkja) Church in the town of Laugaras, This church can be seen from miles around and is not constructed like we’re used to seeing. It is more angular with the steeple in the middle rather than at the front. Sort of like a it was designed with an Ikea sensibility. It was designed by the architect of the state and consecrated in 1963 by the bishop of the country, dr. Sigurbjörn Einarsson. Inside, behind the alter is a mosaic by Nina Tryggvadóttir of Jesus using the dominant colors of nature in a quite bold, modern, and interesting style not usually found in churches.
Skalholt (Skalholtskirkja) Church in the town of Laugaras
Mosaic of Jesus
Pipe Organ in church
Next to this church is a reproduction of a sod covered home typical of the early days in Iceland. I don’t have the whole story and can’t find much on the internet about it but according to Erik (our guide) there is quite a bit of controversy about this structure. First and foremost is that it us un-official. It seems that some folks just thought it would be nice and built it without any approval. Once built there was hell to pay, so to speak. The local historical society and church leaders declared it an eyesore as it diminished the architectural beauty of the main church (being within 20 feet of it), did not belong on church grounds as it was not a religious oriented structure and they demanded that it be removed. Others said, ‘well, now that it’s here, it does provide an historical representation of life here at an earlier time’ and should remain. The upshot is not known yet, but for now the building remains and has found a use for the storage of things there’s no room for in the church itself.
Sod House Replica
From there we kept heading north through rolling lush farmland of verdant green recently mowed hay fields complete with bagged rounds of hay. The hay is predominantly used to feed the sheep and horses through the winter. They put it in these plastic bags to keep rodents from eating it and to keep the moisture out. Most of these bags are bright white and were still randomly strewn throughout the fields where they landed during the mowing/bagging operation. A few farms had collected them and piled them in tidy stacks nearby where they will be needed in the winter.
Hay, rolled and bagged
Keeping up our non stop pace, we next found ourselves at what turned out to be our most northerly location of the day, which was Gulfoss Falls. This is quite an impressive affair in two tiers. The upper falls is a single wide flow where the Hvítá river roars off to the side of it’s prior direction billowing mist cleverly designed to soak everyone near by. Then directly below that is the lower falls, which is a split stream falls where the river bends back to it’s original direction and after raging over that cliff makes a 90 degree turn to flow down a narrow canyon with steep walls like a ribbon extending off into the distance. Although Gulfoss falls generates quite a bit of mist, it was also raining so one hardly noticed – however in the heavy wind it was tricky (well, nearly impossible) keeping my camera lens dry.
In the early part of the 20th century and then again in the later part of century there were plans to dam the river below the falls and put in a hydroelectric plant. These plans were going along quite nicely until a spunky young girl (Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson) got wind of it and mounted a campaign to stop the dam. The story goes that she threatened to throw herself over the falls if they continued with the plan for the dam. It seems that she made several trips to Reykjvik to lobby for a stop to the idea and to enlist the aid of the press and local nature groups. In the end, she was successful and the idea was abandoned. However, several sources say that this is all bunk and the real reason the dam wasn’t built was due to lack of investors. Maybe true but not nearly as interesting a story. In 1979 the area became a nature preserve.
Upper and Lower Gulfoss Falls
Lower Gulfoss Falls
Strokkur (Great) Geyser
From here we backtracked the way we came to some places we skipped on our way up the valley. First was the Strokkur (Great) Geyser Area. Well, “great” is somewhat of an overstatement – especially to anyone who has seen Yellowstone. This thermal area is quite modest. There are a couple of thermal pools with a very subdued and cloudy blue color, a couple of small hot springs whose color was a tan/brown like the desert in Death Valley, and a single geyser. None of the thermal pools or hot springs have the deep blue and green colors nor as bright brown, yellow or orange bacteria as seen in Yellowstone. But it’s the only thermal area we saw on our trip so in that regard it was the best one.
Stream from Thermal Pool
The geyser itself is similar in shape to Old Faithful with a single stream that shoots straight up with a pedestrian viewing path all around it. But unlike Old Faithful which erupts every hour or so, this one blows every 5 to 10 minutes. This is quite nice as if you don’t get a good photo the first time you don’t have to wait too long for another try – but it’s hard to photograph white water against a light gray cloud cover in any case, multiple tries or not. The geyser itself is no where near as tall as Old Faithful but it does put on a decent show. Strokkur Geyser was first mentioned in 1789, after an earthquake unblocked the conduit of the geyser. However, around the turn of the 20th century another earthquake blocked the conduit again turning off the geyser. But free enterprise came to the rescue and in 1963 they cleaned out the blocked conduit through the bottom of the basin, and the geyser has been regularly erupting ever since right next to the big new cafeteria and gift shop that was constructed nearby to mark the occasion.
Great Geyser (or not)
Now, let me ask you, what more could one ask for at his point but another waterfall? This one is Faxi Falls in the river Tungufljot. Compared to Gulfoss Falls, this one is quite modest. It is much wider than high, but is nice nonetheless. The story goes that in 1917 the western Icelandic poet, Stephan G Stephansso toured this area and found this waterfall called Vatnsleysufoss. He felt that the waterfall deserved a more appropriate name. Since the shape of the falls reminded him of the mane of a horse (Fax is the Icelandic word for horse), he called it Faxi Falls and that name has stuck since then – and is a lot easier to pronounce. I guess it takes quite a bit of imagination to see the horses mane.
Faxi Falls was our last stop before arriving back at our hotel (the Fosshotel Hekla again). But, good news! There were breaks in the clouds and we were treated to some marvelous late sunlight on a nearby farm with the bottom part of Mt. Hekla in the background (the top part was in clouds). I’ll talk more about Mt. Hekla in a future post but suffice it to say at this time that Mt. Hekla is the odds on favorite to blow it’s top next.
Some Sun! Mt. Hekla behind farm from Fosshotel Hekla
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Thanks for reading -- Dan
Keywords: DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogIceland, Faxi Falls, Great Geyser, Gulfoss Falls, Iceland, Mt. Hekla, Olfusa Valley, Skalholt Church, Skalholtskirkja Church, Strokkur Geyser, Travel Blog, Travel Log, Waterfall
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