The Hverir geothermal area, near Lake Myvatn in Iceland, is an amazing landscape. It is fascinating and noisy and smelly and there is a beautiful stark look to the place. This is not a static beauty, though. There is movement here, above and below the surface.
Mud pools pump out not-hugely-offensive sulphurous smells and quite friendly bubbles and gurgles and, sometimes, a sudden belch or spit or squirt. The mud makes interesting and complicated shapes as it bubbles, and some of it is positively gloopy. In the right light, the mud has a blue-grey colour, which makes it look almost industrial even though it's not.
Fumeroles Fumeroles hiss as white steam vents in great streams from the ground and, if the wind is strong, you might hear roars of white noise coming from the fumeroles too. Get too close and you'll feel the heat!
The fumeroles don't look entirely natural. They could easily be lumps in the ground over which someone has lazily arranged piles of rocks - cairns made by a novice cairn-maker, perhaps, who'd had too much grog the night before and didn't have enough rocks or patience to do a very good job. In fact, over time the rocks have been forced up from under the ground by steam and other gases, and they are entirely natural.
Hills From Mars
When (if!) the sun shines, the ground pops with yellows and whites, a contrast to the dirt brown hills behind the geothermal area. The hills appear devoid of life and movement and they really do look like some of the photos sent back from Mars - little shadowy lumps of rock lie scattered across a dry, barren, gravelly surface.
Climbing the hill gets you a great view of a small stretch of Route 1, the 1332 kilometre long ring road that runs all around Iceland. From the top you can also look down on the little people as they walk around the mud pools and mingle with venting steam and noxious gases. You can easily imagine that the whole place is a giant set for a giant Sci Fi movie.
But there is another landscape here too, a landscape on a much smaller scale. Back down around the mud pools the surface of the ground is textured with little pimples and dimples, coloured by the chemicals that have escaped from underground. In some places the mud is dry and cracked in attractive fractal patterns.
In its own way this microscopic landscape is quite as beautiful as the rest of the geothermal area. It's all too easy to miss this small scale landscape as your attention is snatched away by bigger, louder, smellier things. But it's worth stooping down sometimes to see what you can see.
Half An Hour You can walk around the Hverir geothermal area in half an hour if you want, but I would linger longer. Smell the gas, feel the heat, listen to the mud, walk up the hill, look down at the level of your feet. Hverir is not a large area but there's a lot here to stir the senses.
Have you been to Hverir? What did you think of it? Are there reasons to visit other than those I've included here?
Here are a couple of interesting links about Hverir. The Youtube video has some especially good footage of the fumeroles at Hverir.