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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Iceland

Photo: Videy, Iceland
The volcanic island of Videy is just a short ferry ride from Iceland's capital, Reykjavik.
Photograph by Sisse Brimberg
This is a land that defies imagining. • The recent financial setbacks haven't altered the stunning array of natural wonders, which captivate visitors at nearly every turn. • Steaming volcanoes, cobalt mountains, and snow-cone-like ice formations vie with unsullied, rushing streams, staggering ocean views, and a people eager to make new friends. • ReykjavÌk, the capital, is ordinarily a bit warmer than New York in winter. • Think long, bright summer nights and geothermal geysers, but also think symphony orchestra and lots of unforgettable meals. 

photo: iceland leirhnjukur
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Visitors create their own heat at a thermal zone at the Krafla caldera in northern Iceland. Lava flow from the 1980s (upper left) still mars the landscape.

photo: south coast farmhouse in Iceland
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Quaint farmhouses line the Skálavegur Road as it passes through Ysti-Skáli, along Iceland’s south coast. Despite sitting at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, the community was relatively unaffected by last year’s eruption.

photo: a sheep roundup in Iceland
Photograph by Brooks Walker
About 2,000 sheep, left to graze in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve during the summer months, are rounded up each September. The reserve, established in 1979, offers hikers 181 square miles of wild tranquility about 1,600 above sea level.

photo: Iceland Caldera to swim in
Photograph by Brooks Walker
A hiker heads down the Víti explosion crater in Iceland’s central highlands, an area accessible only in summer. Víti’s water is warm and mineral-rich, inviting some folks to take a dip despite warnings to the contrary. In the background to the left sits Iceland’s deepest lake, Öskjuvatn.

 

photo: Iceland Hljoaklettar Park
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Formations of basalt columns amaze visitors at Jökulsárgljúfur gorge, a “Louvre of lava” in Iceland’s Vatnajökull National Park.

 photo: Iceland mid Atlantic ridge

Photograph by Brooks Walker
The north coast port town of Húsavík, reputedly Europe’s whale-watching capital, attracts visitors interested in whale-watching, birding, and sailing adventures in Skjálfandi Bay.

photo: crowberries grow in iceland
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Crowberries, the edible fruit of a dwarf evergreen shrub, grow throughout Iceland and are plucked and eaten, made into a juice, or served as a natural food dye.

photo: cyclists volcanic rift road trip iceland
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Cyclists tackle the Sprengisandur track across the island’s highland interior. The jeep road, open in summer, follows the main volcanic rift zone.

photo: iceland seljavellir
Photograph by Brooks Walker
A child bundles up against the summer’s cold after a swim at Seljavellir pool near Eyjafjallajökull on Iceland’s southern coast. The first pool at Seljavellir was built in two days in 1922 of rock and turf.

photo: iceland fjallabak nature reserve
Photograph by Brooks Walker
The multi-colored highlands in Landmannalaugar near the Hekla volcano beckon hikers June through September. Despite the area’s growing season of just two months, some 150 species of flowering plants and ferns inhabit the area.

photo: iceland myvatn nature baths
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Cousin to the famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík in the southwest corner of Iceland, the Mývatn Nature Baths spa opened in 2004. It has the same soothing temperatures and cobalt color, an effect of suspended minerals in the water.

photo: waterfall and rainbows in Iceland
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Iceland is home to close to two-dozen waterfalls including Skógafoss, which flows from the watershed between the Eyjafjalla and Mýrdals glaciers. Its spray is so voluminous that on sunny days single or double rainbows appear near the falls.

photo: westman islands Iceland
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Signs stuck in the cinders indicate family homes engulfed by the January 1973 fissure eruption at the fishing port town of Vestmannaeyjar, known fittingly as the “Pompeii of the North,” on the Westman island of Heimaey. Though the eruption destroyed some 300 homes, all island residents were evacuated to the mainland and the harbor was saved.

 photo: glacier lagoon and steam from the volcano Iceland

Photograph by Brooks Walker
The glacial lagoon of Gígjökull, an outlet glacier just north of Eyjafjallajökull, was filled with ash by last spring’s eruption.

Fast Facts

Population:
295,000
Capital:
Reykjavík; 184,000
Area:
103,000 square kilometers (39,769 square miles)
Language:
Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German
Religion:
Evangelical Lutheran
Currency:
Icelandic krona
Life Expectancy:
80
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $30,200
Literacy Percent:
100
Flag: Iceland
Map: Iceland
A volcanic island, Iceland is Europe's westernmost country and home to the world's northernmost capital city, Reykjavík. Although glaciers cover more than a tenth of the island, the Gulf Stream and warm southwesterly winds moderate the climate—most residents occupy the country's southwest. Established in 930, the national assembly, or Althingi, is the world's oldest continuous parliament. Under the Danish crown for more than 500 years, the country became a republic in 1944. Almost all of Iceland's electricity and heating come from hydroelectric power and geothermal water reserves. Explosive geysers, relaxing geothermal spas, glacier-fed waterfalls like Gullfoss (Golden Falls), and whale watching attract more than 270,000 visitors a year.
ECONOMY
  • Industry: Fish processing, aluminum, smelting, ferrosilicon production, geothermal power
  • Agriculture: Potatoes, green vegetables, chicken, pork; fish
  • Exports: Fish and fish products, animal products, aluminum, diatomite, ferrosilicon
—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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