Getting Older in Joshua Tree

We recently spent a long week in the desert southwest exploring and also celebrating my birthday/yearly mid-life crisis. Here are a few pics of and a few paragraphs about my new favorite piece of America.

Ah Vegas. We have been to Vegas a number of times and we rarely get more than a few pictures. That is by design.

Ah Vegas. We have been to Vegas a number of times and we rarely get more than a few pictures. That is by design.

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Driving Iceland: Fin

We are finally to the last installment of Driving Iceland, which is quite alright by me. It has been a blast rehashing the best trip I have ever been on and I need to take this moment to thank my wife and ultimate travelling partner, Blondie, for making it all happen. Without her logistical magic and loving support I would probably never get out of the city let alone the country. Like many partnerships we go through a lot of bulls__t, both personally and professionally, in order to create a comfortable life mixed with a generous helping of fun, love, and adventure, but any hardships that we have encountered along the way are far outweighed by the times of joy that we’ve shared. It gives me a supreme sense of security knowing that someone I love dearly always has my back (as I do hers); with that join me in raising your glasses/coffee cups/water bottles to Blondie and those who we travel through live with and offer them our sincerest gratitude for always being there.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Ok, now to the business at hand. Our last morning on the shores of Myvatn, 30 August 2013, was grey with rain and snow moving in from the west. At breakfast we discussed our route for the day and decided that even though the coastal route was longer we would benefit from being closer to sea level where rain was expected rather than take the overland route and risk getting caught in the snow. Our discussion was interrupted by the sudden appearance of about a two hundred sheep being herded through the parking lot, which is a common thing in Iceland but to those of us at breakfast it was quite thing to see and hear (sheep like to hear themselves talk).

This group was bringing up the rear - most of the herd had scooted by before I could get my phone out.

This group was bringing up the rear – most of the herd had scooted by before I could get my phone out.

This route would be as far north as we would go in Iceland.

This route would take us as far north as we would go in Iceland. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Once the sheep-related excitement died down we loaded up and bid farewell to Myvatn. As soon as we got out of town it started to rain and it didn’t stop for about twenty-four hours. Even though the sky was low and grey it was beautiful in a melancholy way. It reflected the feelings we had about being near the end of our trip. Our first of only a few stops was at Goðafoss, so named because once Iceland converted to Christianity a local leader threw all of his Norse God statues into the river at the falls – that is a man who took his conversion very seriously.

It's like a mini Niagra but not surrounded by Cheesecake Factories or Casinos.

It’s like a mini Niagara but not surrounded by Cheesecake Factories or Casinos.

A better view.

A better view.

The route along the coast took us through a number of tunnels, a few of which were long dark one-lane affairs with turn outs every 200 meters or so to allow passing traffic through. As soon as we entered the first one I assumed my stress-driving position of bent back, strong wheel grip, and ban on any loud music or sudden noises. We had seen a number of huge trucks on the route and the last thing I wanted was to meet one of those big bastards coming around the curve (did I mention that the tunnels were not straight because they weren’t and it was too early in the morning for that crap). There are no photos because I was obviously engaged in the driving tasks and Blondie was reaffirming her relationship with the Oh-Shit handle.

Once through the longest tunnel of the day we made another stop at Siglufjordur, a small fishing village at the northernmost portion of our route. It seemed as if the entire town took the day off to avoid the rain and I did not blame them. It was pouring sideways and the wind off of the water blew us back into the truck after only a short look around.

The harbor at Siglufjordur in all its rainy splendor.

The harbor at Siglufjordur in all its rainy splendor.

The mountains literally meet the sea here so you build where you can.

The mountains literally meet the sea here so you build where you can.

I like their use of color along the coast.

I like their use of color along the coast.

Lonely looking, isn't it?

Lonely looking, isn’t it?

Our only other stop before our arrival in Blonduos was at Sauðárkrókur for a quick bite to eat. As I mentioned in previous posts we lunched mostly on crisps and nibbles but the low morale created by two weary travelers stuck in a vehicle for an entire day made it necessary for us to stop and have a hot meal of burgers and fries at a gas station. Gas station hamburgers are usually a prelude to a future gastrointestinal emergency but not so in Iceland. There are no McDonald’s and I don’t remember seeing any Burger Kings because anyone can drive up to their local N1 station and order a fresh burger with crispy fries and sit down at a clean table. We did so on a few occasions and the quality was always top-notch. I could go for one right now.

Served on a real plate with something they call cocktail sauce, which is just a spicy mayo. I am not the type of hipster to take photos of food and it shows.

Served on a real plate with something they call cocktail sauce, which is just a spicy mayo. I am not the type of hipster to take photos of food and it shows.

Blonduos is sort of a one-horse town with not much going on as far as tourism goes. It was a good halfway point between Myvatn and Olafsvik, which was our last destination before returning to Reykjavik. Technically there is only one hotel, the aptly named Hotel Blonduos, in town even though we saw signs for some sort of lodging attached to a gas station. I will eat a gas station burger in Iceland but I am glad I didn’t need to stay at a gas station hotel. The Hotel Blonduos is run by two gentleman and a black dog named Luka. Between the three of them they cook, clean, greet, wait tables, check people in, and protect the grounds. I am not sure of their financial situation or of even that of the town but from what I could tell they were working on a shoestring budget – that being said I do not want to impress upon you, dear reader, that the hotel is run down – it just hasn’t been updated in a few years and that is not surprising seeing as how the economic troubles of 2007-8 hit Iceland very hard. Upon entering the front door we were greeted with a woof from the stoic black lab that is Luka and this wonderful piece of taxidermy:

Jesus Christ! Kill it with fire!

Jesus Christ! Kill it with fire!

That there is a four-horned Icelandic sheep, which is rare but not unheard of.  Within the ranks of the hearty breed that dots the hillsides of Iceland there are small number of what are called leader-sheep that are a bit taller, braver, and exponentially smarter than the rest of the population. Their roles in the herds are as protectors and trail blazers so when I saw what to me was an obvious sign that we were going to be killed by Satanists was instead a memorial to a revered animal that once protected a local herd. Remember folks, context is key when travelling and we must reign in the prejudgment.

The view from our room a  la Instagram.

The view from our room a la Instagram. It looks better on a four inch screen, trust me.

Once we were checked in and given our key, which had a small license plate attached to it to prevent accidental theft, we hunkered down while the storm raged just outside the window. The hotel had a large dining and bar area and the remnants of what must’ve been a pretty hip disco complete with DJ booth, disco ball, and dance floor. From what i saw of the locals I could barely imagine any of them smiling let alone shaking their rumps to the Pointer Sisters. The man who checked us in and who is now acting as waiter and bartender did his best to cobble together some cocktails for Blondie and I while we waited for the dinner hour. We were one of three tables in the dining room and it seemed that everyone else was equally fascinated by the interesting decor and bygone groovy scenes that those four walls must’ve witnessed. The menu offered was hearty and locally sourced with your usual lamb stew and meat dishes. One thing on the menu, however, stood out from the rest – they were serving foal steak. At first I just thought it was a type of beef steak, but it was indeed a steak of baby horse. Most of the dining room looked at the waiter like he had just farted instead of explaining that horse is served quite a bit in Iceland – needless to say nobody ordered it…except for me and another American who looked like he was an old-time military man who had probably eaten a lot worse in his day. Ethics and American sensibilities aside I must report that it was excellent and the owner, who was the acting chef, cooked it perfectly.

The next day, 31 August 2013, was so much brighter and everyone’s mood at breakfast reflected it. There was snow on the mountains and a chilly yet dry breeze blew over the hillsides. Our next stop was to be Olafsvik and Snaefellsnes, a western peninsula north of Reykjavik and home to the Snaefellsjokull Volcano, an important Saga site and the fictional entrance to the underworld in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Our last big day of driving.

Our last big day of driving.

The goal for the day was to see as much as we could on the peninsula then jet to Reykjavik the next day for some sedentary R&R. Thankfully many of the biggest sites are close together so we were able to achieve our goal rather handily with only one hiccup that I will explain later – first, here are some tasty pics from our day.

The high road by Blondie.

The high road by Blondie.

Little churches like this are everywhere and look like they can seat about five people.

Little churches like this are everywhere and look like they can seat about five people.

She's seen better days cap'n. On the road to Stykkisholmur.

She’s seen better days cap’n. On the road to Stykkisholmur.

This church in Stykkishólmur commands an impressive view of the harbor and the West Fjords to the north. I dig their style.

This church in Stykkishólmur commands an impressive view of the harbor and the West Fjords to the north. I dig their style.

the bluff upon which a cute little orange lighthouse sits. (lighthouse not shown)

The bluff upon which a cute little orange lighthouse sits. (lighthouse not shown)

An impressive island west of town.

An impressive island west of town.

Once we rounded the tip of the peninsula we noticed some ruins sitting across the lava field near the shore so we decided to stop and give it a once over. The two kilometer walk along the beach was rocky but interesting because of all of the weird nautical detritus that has been washed up over the years – huge chunks of metal and foam floats and twisted nets were everywhere. As we got closer to the house I noticed a small brown animal running away from us with great haste. At once I realized that it was the elusive Icelandic fox, iceland’s only native predator mammal, but I was a bit slow on the go getting the camera on him/her so it just looks like a little brown spot in a sea of grass.

The little smudge of brown next to the arrow is a fox.

The little smudge of brown next to the arrow is a fox. Click the pic, the smudge looks much more fox-like when zoomed in.

The picture above doesn’t do much to prove that it is indeed a fox but the scene in the next photo settled it for me. Danger, the next photo is quite gory so proceed with caution or scroll past it quick if you’re easily grossed out. You’ve been warned.

We interrupted a fox at the lunch table. I doubt a wee little fox can bring down a big ol' sheep like this so i am assuming it died naturally with happy thoughts in its mind.

We interrupted a fox at the lunch table. I doubt a wee little fox can bring down a big ol’ sheep like this so i am assuming it died naturally with happy thoughts in its mind.

The ruins we came to investigate. Whoever lived here had one of the top five views of all time.

The ruins we came to investigate. Whoever lived here had one of the top five views of all time.

Lava stone wall.

Lava stone wall.

Snaefellsjokull in all it's clouded glory.

Snaefellsjokull in all it’s clouded glory.

Another old house with a good view.

Another old house with a good view.

The view on the other direction.

The view in the other direction.

A lighthouse near Hellnar. Very phallic, this one.

A lighthouse near Hellnar. Very phallic, this one.

We were starting to run out of light so we decided to take the high road from the Hellnar area over to Olafsvik and take a few shots of Snaefelljokull on the way by. The road wasn’t technically an F-Road but it sure as hell was rough. By the time we got to the top the sun was in our eyes so we don’t have much to share with you picture-wise. We did, however, come across an American couple at the top who were hitch-hiking so we did the right thing and loaded them up and took them down to Olafsvik – they were spending seventeen days thumbing around the island and were on their way to the West Fjords. We aren’t all that comfortable picking people up so the conversation was a little strained but we told them what they had in store since they were going to do a clockwise trip. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that they might have to climb down from the mountain at night or try to camp out so it was worth it to help some folks out.

The view from Route 570 with added camera flare for drama - can you feel it?

The view from Route 570 with added camera flare for drama – can you feel it?

Once we made it through all of the snow drifts on the way down we discharged our passengers on the main drag running through Olafsvik. Our hotel was right across the street from where we dropped them off but it looked a bit dark, here’s why:

Huh, that ain't good at all.

Huh, that ain’t good at all.

There aren’t many hotels on the peninsula so this little snafu worried us a bit. I even suggested driving to Reykjavik and sleeping in the car, which elicited quite a reaction of wonder and disgust from Blondie. Thankfully we were able to get a hold of someone at the tour company and found out that the Hotel Olafsvik was closed due to lack of business (no shit), but that we had been checked into a much nicer place in Hellnar, which is where we were at before climbing over the mountain. Perhaps it was all for a reason and we were destined to pick those people up on the mountain and bring them down to safety. Whatever the reason we made haste to get to the hotel before dark, this time taking a paved road. If you are ever in the area I would suggest strongly that you stay at the Hotel Hellnar – it is a former yoga retreat turned into a swanky little hideaway with zero cell reception and epic views from every window. The food they serve is damn good and the atmosphere is one of pure relaxation – so glad that the Hotel Olafsvik was closed. After finishing a bottle of wine and watching Full Metal Jacket we turned in for our second to last night on the island.

I will not bother you with anything from the following day because we took the quickest way to Reykjavik in order to relax and not drive for most of the day. It was sad that it was almost over but our clean clothes were running out and sleeping in all of those strange beds was doing our joints no favors. I hope that my readers can someday make the trip to Iceland and experience it for themselves – I know for a fact that everyone who visits has an entirely new and personal adventure, which is amazing for such a small country. Thank you so much for reading and come back soon for a quick run down of our (non)visit to Joshua Tree National Park.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: Part 5

I never thought that I would still be writing about this trip over a month after it ended, but here I am with my nose in my notes vomiting forth yet another episode of Driving Iceland. Luckily for you, dear readers, I have only one more Iceland post following this one, and then we can talk (I will write – you will read) about our upcoming trip to Joshua Tree National Park that will probably be ruined by the ineptitude of the governing class – thanks for the birthday present you assholes.

The clouds pouring in from the west do not bring good tidings.

The clouds pouring in from the west do not bring good tidings. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Let’s get back to better times, like August the 29th, when the US was only threatening to bomb the beards off of Syria and Blondie and I were hitting the road after breakfast to see everything we could in the Myvatn area before an early fall blizzard turned the highlands into a mess of blowing snow and trolls and probably elves, but they usually tend to stay in when the weather is iffy. We started out west of Reykjahlid at a small geothermal area called Hverir that may be the stinkiest place in Iceland. The fumaroles and mud pots spurt forth all sorts of nasty gasses and super hot mud. Blondie only made it a few minutes before she was overcome by the stench but I am a mountain man and a little earth fart doesn’t bother me.

Overview of the Hverir area. That is some seriously scorched earth.

Overview of the Hverir area. That is some seriously scorched earth.

So so smelly.

So so smelly.

Mud, very hot mud.

Mud, very hot mud.

A parting shot.

A parting shot.

From Hverir we basically crossed the street and drove up to Krafla, a rather active volcano area that now serves as a geothermal power station. Where else in the world would a power plant be a tourist attraction – hell, where else would the government allow people such close access to a major piece of infrastructure? Iceland is not like your country or mine and thank goodness for that.

Pipes leading to and from hot spots around the Krafla crater.

Pipes leading to and from hot spots around the Krafla crater.

The edge of the crater and some very nice clouds.

The edge of the crater and some very nice clouds.

Flowers in the crater - the ground here was very warm so I am not sure how these plants thrive here.

Flowers in the crater – the ground was very warm so I am not sure how these plants thrive here.

that steaming thing there is making an ungodly loud noise - like a fighter jet taking off.

That steaming thing there is making an ungodly loud noise – like a fighter jet taking off.

And since it's in Iceland you can walk right up to it - they even built a berm so you can take pictures without the fence interfering. Shot by Blondie

And since it’s in Iceland you can walk right up to it – they even built a berm so you can take pictures without the fence interfering. Shot by Blondie

Crater lakes scare me.

Crater lakes scare me – How deep is it and why is it so damned blue?

The next leg of our trip will be talked about for years in our little family. We decided that we would do one more F-road run but this time to Askja, a large volcano that at one point exploded so hard that chunks of rock fell on Mainland Europe. The distance to the crater is 108km (70miles) long so it was going to take a big chunk out of our day, but we felt that we owed it to ourselves to get way out there and see something that most people who visit the area don’t get to see . We took F-88, which is the more direct route following the western shores of the river Jokulsa A Fjollum, and only saw six vehicles on the road – one of which was a gigantic garbage truck.

A map of our trek into the dark interior.

A map of our trek into the dark interior.

Rather ominous road signs at the entrance to F-88. The mountain way off in the distance was approximately halfway to our destination.

Rather ominous road signs at the entrance to F-88. The mountain way off in the distance was approximately halfway to our destination.

The speed limits on most F-roads are around 60kmh so we figured that we could get out there and back in five, possibly six, hours with some time to spare to get a sunset view of Dettifoss before hitting the bar at the Gamli. Anyone who knows me personally and has had me cook for them knows that if I say that dinner will be done at 19:00 it will probably be 20:30 before any forks go to work – the estimation we made on our travel time to Askja fell right in line with my usual underestimation of everything. By the time we hit Route-1 again a full nine hours had passed and the two of us had gone through every stage of every emotion related to frustration and fear by the time the tires were back on pavement. The trip down F-88 wasn’t scary or dangerous but the man, who must be a sociopath or possibly just a dick, who graded the roads did such a terrible job that if he did the same thing on gravel roads in Iowa he would be taken out back and beaten with a log chain til he learned his lesson. Just beyond the yellow sign in the pic above the road turns into a very regular corduroy pattern and that only ceased at river crossings and at places where silt had drifted into the road. We only crossed the 30kmh point a few times during the drive down because if we went any faster the truck would get squirrelly and we didn’t dare get out of control while so far away from help. At this point you must be asking yourself why we didn’t just turn back and find something else to do – well the simple answer to that is that we are stubborn and had faith that at some point the road must be smoother up ahead. It was not smoother up ahead, in fact it got worse and at one point I pulled over because the vibrations had completely loosened the gas cap and at some point we lost a lug nut but by the looks of it we may never have had one on that stud to begin with – who thinks about checking these things when some strange man is giving you the keys to a piece of junk at dawn in a foreign country?

Typical lousy road conditions - just entering a large lava field where we met a garbage truck at a blind corner.

Typical lousy road conditions – just entering a large lava field where we met a garbage truck at a blind corner.

NASA astronauts studied here before the Apollo moon missions - can you guess why?

NASA astronauts trained here before the Apollo moon missions – can you guess why?

Lava lava everywhere. Shot by Blondie

Lava lava everywhere. Shot by Blondie

Herðubreið, the queen of Iceland's mountain. Halfway to Askja.

Herðubreið, the queen of Iceland’s mountains. Halfway to Askja.

One of the few vehicle we met along the way - we had just crossed the river and noticed a little water coming in the doors.

One of the few vehicle we met along the way – we had just crossed the river and noticed a little water coming in the doors.

As we got closer to Askja the clouds were increasing and the sky was taking on an ominous brown color, which turned out to be a weird dusty fog as we climbed in elevation. Looking back on it all now I think that this would have been the time to turn back because obviously we were going to have a hard time seeing the volcano and all its goodness.

Dirty air. I had so much sand in my beard at the end of the day.

Dirty air. I had so much sand in my beard at the end of the day.

We did finally make it to the volcano after all of the troubles we had getting there, but couldn’t spend as much time as we wanted because we needed to get out of the desert before dark. The walk into the crater is 2km and we didn’t say much to each other on the walk out, but the exercise did us a lot of good and by the time we got back into the car we were friends again. The crater lake in Askja is super deep, about 210m, and was formed after a lava chamber collapsed and filled up with water – there is a smaller viti-crater lake next to it that is filled with an opaque pale green water that apparently is nice to swim in as long as you don’t inhale the CO2 that settles on the surface and pass out – we chose to stay dry and take a few snaps.

I wish we could have gotten closer to the lake.

I wish we could have gotten closer to the lake.

The floor of the Askja caldera.

The floor of the Askja caldera.

The trail leading back to the parking area. Pic by Blondie

The trail leading back to the parking area. Pic by Blondie

There she is in all her foggy glory - again, I wish we had more time to explore.

There she is in all her foggy glory. Again, I wish we had more time to explore.

On our way back we decided to take our chances on route F-910, which would get us to pavement in a shorter distance and couldn’t possibly be any worse than F-88. Actually it was just as bad and at some points worse because fine silt had drifted into the road in many places and unless you had a good head of steam you would get bogged down and stuck. Luckily I kept the car moving forward through these dusty traps. Since I was bent over the wheel in absolute concentration and Blondie was doing her best to keep me from running over boulders we have only a few pics from this portion of the trip – it’s a shame really because even though the road was terrible the views all around were out of this world.

We went right here.

We went right here.

The river is so much angrier in this stretch - thankfully there was a bridge.

The river is so much angrier in this stretch – thankfully there was a bridge.

It was about 20:30 by the time we made it back to pavement. Our hopes of getting to Dettifoss or up to Asbyrgi were dashed, but I think that the pure lonely adventure of the trip out to Askja and back was more than enough excitement for anyone. We didn’t want to miss the dinner hour at the Gamli so we went straight there rather than cleaning up first – we wore the filth of the day as a badge of honour and even though no one knew what we had been up to during the day I am sure they could sense the vibes of satisfaction we were sending into the cosmos. It really was an adventure.

We are off on another expedition this afternoon so check back in about ten days for the final installment of Driving Iceland. Hopefully by then I will also have stories to tell about all the good times we had in Vegas and at Joshua Tree (fingers crossed for ending the gov’t shutdown).

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com