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Lake Mývatn Geothermal Area, Iceland

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 6:15pm by Lolo
130 miles and 2.5 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


View from our campgroundView from our campgroundWe had had a pretty long-driving day yesterday, and today it looked like we would have another. Our plan for the next two nights was to stay at the family-run Vogafjos Farm on the eastern shore of Lake Mývatn.

As we head west along the northern section of the Ring Road, I was so surprised how desolate and devoid of services it was. Good thing we had a full tank of gas, because there was really nothing along this section of road.

This would be the first time since leaving Reykjavik that we would stay two nights in one place, but there was an awful lot to do here - it sort of a mini Yellowstone, with lots of geothermal activity. Plus, we could use the rest.

Dinner in the van tonightDinner in the van tonightThere are several campgrounds in the Lake Mývatn area, but I chose Vogafjos Farm because of their farm-to-table restaurant. It was Paul’s birthday tomorrow, so I thought it would be a nice treat.

When we were checking in, I was a little concerned with the swarm of midges that were surrounding us. Lake Mývatn means mý ("midge") and vatn ("lake"); in other words, the lake of midges") due to the large numbers of midges present in the summer.

I really, really hoped they wouldn’t be a problem as I was very much looking forward to this stop.

Hverir Geothermal AreaHverir Geothermal AreaWe got in too late to really do anything tonight, so we just walked from our campsite over to the farm, and visited the lambs in the field and the cows in the cowshed.

Oh, and we also peeked into the restaurant. It looked really nice and quite crowded, so we made reservations for the following night.
So, tonight it was dinner in the camper van - ground beef and veggie tortillas, a nice break from Herb’s pylsurs.

Hverir geothermal areaHverir geothermal areaThen off to bed because tomorrow was going to be a busy one - exploring and hiking through many of Lake Mývatn's geothermal areas, soaking in the Lake Mývatn Geothermal Spa , and concluding with Paul’s Birthday bash at the Vogafjós Farm Resort.

The Hverir geothermal area is an extremely popular destination, so in order to avoid the crowds, we got there by 8:00 am and were the first ones in a very large parking lot.

Hverir geothermal areaHverir geothermal areaHverir, which means “hot springs” in Icelandic, is a high-temperature geothermal area with boiling, hissing, and bubbling fumaroles (steam vents) and solfataras (mud pots).

There is a loop trail along a boardwalk that brings you close to the geothermal features. Unlike Yellowstone, there were no fences or barriers of any sort.

Herb near an old boreholeHerb near an old boreholeAlthough there are no geysers here, there were lots of steaming fumaroles. Fumaroles are vents in the Earth’s surface that emit hot volcanic steam and gases, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen fluoride.

The gas and heat here are generated approximately 1,000 meters below the surface, where the temperature is above 200°C (392°F). Cold groundwater seeps down to magma intrusions, where it is superheated and returns to the surface with the gas.

Climbing up Mt. NámafjallClimbing up Mt. NámafjallHerb found a rock pile which was placed over an old borehole. The steam coming from it was so massive that he kept disappearing in and out of the steam. Boreholes are drilled to use geothermal water for electricity production and the construction of heating plants. Sometime I like to call Herb an old "borehole."

The whole area is very colorful with yellow, orange, pink, white, and gray. Yellow, which comes from the sulfur dioxide deposits, is the dominant color.

Along the Mt. Námafjall hikeAlong the Mt. Námafjall hikeAs with all geothermal areas, there was an overwhelming smell of rotten eggs, which comes from the hydrogen sulfide

This area has been nicknamed “eldhús djöfulsins” or Hell’s Kitchen. With the rising steam, bubbling pots, and rotten egg smell, it’s easy to see why.

Climbing Mt. NámafjallClimbing Mt. NámafjallFrom the boardwalk, we followed a trail up to the summit of an orange-colored rhyolite mountain called Námafjall, where the views from the top were supposed to be worth the climb.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but the trail begins either in the northwest (right) or the southwest (left) corner of the base of Namafjall.

Unknowingly we went up the left side, which was much steeper, and went clockwise around the mountain. At least, going back down was much easier.

Herb at the topHerb at the topAt one point the trail was so steep and slippery with scree (loose stones) that many people turned back. Undaunted (well, maybe a little daunted), we forged on to the top - and we were probably the oldest people on the trail.

From the summit there was a terrific view of the Hverir geothermal area below in one direction and Lake Myvatn and more steaming fumaroles in the other.

View of Hverir from the top of Mt. NámafjallView of Hverir from the top of Mt. NámafjallThe trail down would have been a whole lot easier going up than the one went up, but I’m glad we did it the challenging way.

The parking lot was now quite full and the Hverir geothermal area, which we had pretty much had to ourselves an hour ago, was now teeming with tourists. So glad we got here first.

From Hverir, we took a short drive to the Krafla volcanic area, situated atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian plates meet. The Krafla volcano last erupted in 1984 and is considered an active volcano. Hopefully, today wouldn’t be the day.

Viti CraterViti CraterThe Viti Crater was formed in 1724 by a massive eruption that lasted 5 years. Its brilliant aqua blue water is due to elements brought up from the geothermal activity in the area.

From the trail around the Viti Crater we could see the Krafla Geothermal Station (the largest power plant in Iceland).

I don’t totally understand it, but generating geothermal electricity works something like this:

Geothermal Plant behind Viti CraterGeothermal Plant behind Viti CraterThermal energy emitted from the Earth’s core heats up water seeping down from the surface into magma chambers. Formed steam, flowing up, is then withdrawn to the turbines which converts the steam into electricity. Steam is then condensed into water and reinjected back to the Earth, closing the water cycle. This particular power plant produces 500 GWh of electricity.

Along the Leirhnjukur lava field trailAlong the Leirhnjukur lava field trailIceland generates over 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, namely hydroelectricity and geothermal.

Today, 90% of homes and buildings are connected to district heating powered by geothermal, and the other 10% are heated with electricity generated from hydro and geothermal power.

Despite its natural beauty, the bright blue lake you see near the geothermal station is actually wastewater from the power plant. The source of its absolutely stunning color is a mineral in the wastewater called silica.

Crater along the Leirhnjukur trailCrater along the Leirhnjukur trailI hate to give away any secrets, but the amazingly beautiful water in the famous Blue Lagoon Spa is also wastewater from a nearby geothermal plant. But more on that in a much later stop.

After the Viti Crater, we decided to hike the 2.5-mile trail through the lava fields of nearby Leirhnjukur, part of the Krafla volcano that erupted in 1984, creating lots and lots of lava. It is still a very active volcano.

Path through the Leirhnjukur lava fieldPath through the Leirhnjukur lava fieldBefore getting to the lava fields, we came upon a beautiful aqua-colored hot spring. In the distance you can see the smoke coming from the Krafla Geothermal station.

From there we continued on the marked paths around the lava fields. You’re not supposed to stray from the marked trails, because the lava field is still producing heat.

Mývatn Nature BathsMývatn Nature BathsThis lava was jet black, meaning it was from a recent lava flow and still hot.

Enough with all this hiking through volcanic terrain. Time to celebrate Paul’s birthday at the Myvatn Geothermal Spa, with water as blue as the Blue Lagoon, and magnificent views of the surrounding steaming fumaroles. And it’s ¼ the price (after our senior discount).

Birthday boyBirthday boyI was very much looking forward to these thermal baths, even more so than the Blue Lagoon, which we planned to do at the end of our trip. These seemed much less commercialized, much less crowded, and surrounded by a more natural setting of steaming fumaroles from the nearby Hverir Geothermal Area.

However, that beautiful milky blue water does not occur naturally, but rather is the result of minerals such as silica, in the wastewater of Geothermal Plants. In the case of the Myvatn Nature Baths, the water supplies for the lagoon run straight from the National Power Company's borehole in Bjarnarflag just a mile north.

Hilda and I under an artificial "foss"Hilda and I under an artificial "foss"When the water from the borehole arrives at the Nature Baths, it is about 130°C (266°F), so it has to be stored in a huge basin beside the lagoon to cool off for a while. I actually wandered over there at one point, thinking it was another pool to go in, but it was gated off.
The water in the various pools in the lagoon are between 97 and 104°F, which is very comfortable and relaxing.

After paying our very reasonable $25 admission (senior discount!!), Hilda and I headed towards the women’s showers and Herb and Paul appropriately went to the men’s.

Dinner at the Vogafjós Farm ResortDinner at the Vogafjós Farm ResortAfter going through the process of showering, putting our stuff in lockers, removing any silver or brass jewelry (because the sulfur in the water can turn them black), we reunited with the guys in one of the pools.

Then Paul’s birthday celebration began, which included a glass of wine from the lagoon-side bar. Not bad. My birthday was tomorrow, but Paul’s was going to be hard to beat.

We spent about two very relaxing hours in the thermal baths before heading back to camp to get ready for dinner.

Window to cowshed on the other side of the restaurantWindow to cowshed on the other side of the restaurantNo powdered potatoes in the van for us tonight. Instead, we had dinner at the nearby Vogafjós Farm Resort, where local farm-to-table food is served.

I thought it was a little bad form that Herb and Paul ordered the lamb shank while watching the cute little sheep wander past our window.

Glad we had the farm view. The other side of the restaurant had a glass window separating it from the cowshed.

Hverfjall Crater HikeHverfjall Crater HikeThat's a little too farm-to-table for me. Hilda and I had the delicious “sea”-to-table Artic Char

There is really so much to do in the Lake Myvatn area that we could easily have spent a few more days here. In fact, the next morning we decided to squeeze in just one more volcanic hike before continuing along the Ring Road.

Hverfjall Crater HikeHverfjall Crater HikeThis time we decided to hike to the top of the 1,300-foot high Hverfjall Crater, a massive black ash tephra cone, or tuff ring volcano.

It last erupted 4,500 years ago. It is considered a high tephra explosion crater because of the massive amounts of ash and volcanic rock that it blasted all over the area.

Hverfjall Crater HikeHverfjall Crater HikeThe crater is a full kilometer wide and about 140 meters (460 feet) deep. It is dark and has a beautiful almost perfectly circular shape, like a stadium or an amphitheater.

It was a fairly steep trail, with an elevation gain of about 700 feet, to get up to the rim from the parking lot. From there, we started walking counter-clockwise around the rim.

Hverfjall Crater HikeHverfjall Crater HikeFrom the rim, we could look out towards lovely Lake Myvatn on one side, and the ubiquitous steam rising from the earth on the other.

I’ve never thought of a crater as pretty or elegant before, but this one was both.

Looking down into the crater, we saw a large mound in the middle. Not all craters have these, only those in which the impact was powerful enough to form what is known as a central peak, made from debris that flowed like a fluid and then solidified into a mound in the middle of the crater.

Yellow wildflowers near an 1880s sheepfoldYellow wildflowers near an 1880s sheepfoldFrom there, we continued along the rim and then down the steep trail to the parking lot, which now had a few cars and a small tour bus. Once again, being the first one on a hike, as we were this morning, is always more special.

As we were leaving the Lake Myvatn area we pulled over to admire a field of beautiful yellow wildflowers surrounded by fences built from piled up black lava rock.

It turned out to be what’s called a sheepfold and it was built in 1880.I’ve become pretty obsessed about sheep this trip. They are almost as cute as puffins, in their own wooly way. I’m even reading a book about the life of a rural of

An 1880s SheepfoldAn 1880s SheepfoldIn early summer, the farmers let their sheep graze in the highland pastures north and east of Myvatn. In autumn they would gather the sheep again and drive them into the main compartment (double row of lava stone) of this sheepfold. Every sheep is marked by its owner’s earmark enabling him to identify it and move it into his individual compartment of the sheepfold.

I was so excited because I was currently reading Independent People, which is about sheep farmers in Iceland in the early 1900s, and I was coincidentally up to the part where they all went out sheep gathering to collect and separate their sheep for the winter. I really am a nerd.

Ok, so now it was really time to move on. Next stop, Godafoss, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.

Lake Mývatn Geothermal Area location map in "high definition"

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