Could be the tectonic plate rift at Thingvellier!


One of my favorite multigenerational authors  is Theodor Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.  His surrealistic but moralistic stories are always surrounded by the most fantastical illustrations and perhaps his writings about “Oh the Places you’ll Go” (actual story published in 1990) best epitomize my passion for travel. And, as I think about it – Dr Seuss is a great subject for a future post for not only are his stories marvelous, but his writing skills and use of poetic meters feed my long-time fascination with language.  But on to today’s subject, the National Park in Iceland, called Thingvellier.

Now Thingvellier may very well sound like a place Dr Seuss wrote about – after all he did have a fanciful way of naming places (these from “If I Ran the Zoo,” published in 1950):

Boola Boo Ball
Island of Gwark
Jungles of Hippo-no Hungus
African Island of Yerka
Desert of Zind

The derivation of the name Thingvellier (Þingvellir in Icelandic) however is based on  factual  history going back centuries to around 930 A.D. and its importance is historical, cultural, and geological.  Iceland’s settlement began in the late 870’s when a Norwegian  chieftain set up his household.  In succeeding centuries the Norse settlements were joined by Celts and in time, some sort of governing body, or general assembly was needed so that all factions could meet together and have a say. Serendipitously around this time, the owner of some land (the land is now called Bláskógar) was pronounced guilty of murder, thus making his property public and available for public meetings.  Conveniently,  this region was also very accessible for the most populated regions of Iceland’s North, South and West (travel from the East was problematic  due to mountains and glacial rivers). Thus the nation of Iceland was formed at Thingvellier (which means “Parliament Plains”) and meetings continued to be held there until almost the 19th Century.  In 1928 a preservation law was passed so that Thingvellier would remain a protected national shrine.

Thingvellier is not only of cultural significance as its geography also provides a closeup view of the very evolution, not only of Iceland, but of the earth itself.  If you recall, in my post “ROUS (RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE) DO EXIST – THEM BONES – PALEONTOLOGY” I wrote about how the earth’s continents were originally all bunched together as one land mass called Pangaea (and incidentally in that post there is another Dr. Seuss mention so I indeed must honor the man with a post of his own in the future).  Here’s a reminder of how the drift of the continents progressed:


During the last glacial period, also  known as the Ice Age which started approximately 110,000 years ago  during the last years of the Pleistocene Era, a 1000 meter thick layer of ice covered Thingvellier. Under this glacier, however was a hotbed of volcanic activity – and the eruptions and subsequent lava flows formed mountains and ridges.  When the Ice Age dissipated and the earth warmed up – the glacier retreated about 12,000 years ago –  Lake Þingvallavatn appeared. Subsequent volcanic activity, some of which lasted a century, continued to carve out Thingvellier (although this activity has now been dormant for about 2000 it will at some point start again). And, while all this volcanic activity took place, the continental plates continued their drift apart about two centimeters per year.  In fact, this drift caused two massive earthquakes in the summer of 2000 as the stress built between the North American and EuroAsian plates finally needed an explosive release.  Here’s a diagram showing these tectonic plates and the proximity of Thingvellier (and Reykjavik) to their rift.



It was a humbling and simply astounding experience to view this rift first hand during our   visit. Thingvellier is the ONLY place on earth where tectonic plates can be seen above ground.

Even a bit snow-covered, the fearsome power of these land masses is palpable:



Some of us chose to walk through the rift – and my photo of this event is eerily similar to another group’s walk – see if you can identify it:




In the summer you can even dive into the crystalline waters and see more of the rift  which goes to a depth of  more than 63 meters.  The water remains a constant temperature all year round (about -3 degrees C or about 27 degrees F) so even in summer its pretty frigid.

Thingvellier has many other breathtaking  examples of the earth’s constant activity.  One such beauty is Gullfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall. This expanse is called the “Golden Falls” as the waters reflect the sun’s rays as it plunges down 105-foot double-cascade steps  into a deep crevice.  Glacial water, since it often carries a lot of sediment is often brownish.  Or, if you prefer as I do the more fanciful explanation,  the waters are so colored because they reflect the stash of gold hidden behind the falls put there by a local farmer.  As it was fairly cloudy the day we visited, I only caught a smidge of the golden color but even so  my videos and still  photos only can hint at the majesty and power of these falls:


IMG_1084 IMG_1083



Also at Thingvellier is an eldritch area that is  constantly bubbling and boiling and exploding gases and water into the sky.  All along the paths are these steaming and venting mudpots:

The biggest attraction here is the Strokkur Geyser which, like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, continually erupts at specific intervals (about every 7 minutes).  It is the most active geyser in this area, although there are many sprinkled about.  Factoid:  the word geyser  is actually derived from the Icelandic verb gjósa, which means “to erupt.”   I was lucky enough to catch Strokkur spouting once, my friend Lenore even luckier to get a double helping. Also with the help of Photoshop I was able to capture the geyser just as it was about to gush:

IMG_1214 IMG_1215 IMG_1216IMG_1218

There’s more of my Iceland adventures, but with holidays upon us, going to end this post with a little poem:

Enjoy family and friends, food and drink!

But while you are celebrating take time to just think.

Life is a gift, be grateful and true.

You never know what fun is in store just for you!

Or as  Dr. Seuss says so much more eloquently in   “Oh, the Places You’ll Go:”

“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!”

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”



Leave a Reply