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. His writings about “Oh the Places you’ll Go” (actual story published in 1990) epitomize my passion for travel. I don’t think it is too far fetched to see the possibilities of the connection between Dr. Seuss’ writings and illustrations and 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. The earth’s continents were originally all bunched together as one land mass called Pangaea. Here’s 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 .62 mile-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 – it is the largest national lake in Iceland. 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 undoubtedly start again t some point). 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. I will tell you it was quite difficult to get clear, sharp pictures as even with a polarizing filter and a lens hoos, the mounds of snow and ice “blinded” my camera:
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:
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.
With the help of Photoshop I was able to capture the geyser just as it was about to gush:
There’s more to come of my Iceland adventures. For now I will now conclude with a bit of Dr. Seuss eloquence from “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!”