For a gal who listens in wide-eyed terror to the guide on every raft ride she’s taken when they describe what to do if the raft flips … if you find yourself trapped beneath it, find yourself heading into a sweeper, find yourself pulled down into a swirling hole, etc. … you may wonder why I decided to book myself into a river canoe trip. Well, maybe you first wonder why I continue taking white-water raft rides. I can’t appease your inquiring mind because I really don’t know why. In light of numerous things I’ve willingly done over the years, I can only surmise that I have a subconscious suspicion that it’s good for you to feel terrified now and then.
By and large, Erik is game for the things I decide I want to do. Not so much for the Big Canyon Swing in Glenwood (see previous post), but he was all for trying our hand at canoeing. So we signed up with an outfitter called Centennial Canoe. We ended up choosing a trip that the reservation guy said was the best for beginners, and so found ourselves launching a 2-man canoe onto the Yampa River outside of Craig, CO. I made no secret of it to Erik how nervous I was, but I tried to be cool around the rest of the crew. I never would have guessed how many people/canoes could be successfully guided down a river, but, including the guides, we had a total of 13 canoes and 24 people. Only one other couple was newbies like us.
Erik had some experience playing around in canoes on lakes/ponds and has been on more rafting trips than I have, but this was the second time in my life I’d ever stepped foot onto a canoe. I imagined it would be extremely tippy and unstable; I also imagined paddling would be tiring on my wussy little hands. Neither of these turned out to be true. I also would never have guessed how much stuff you could fit into a 2-person canoe! Us, our tent, our dry sacks with clothes and sleeping bags + pads, and toiletries, daypacks, our fold-up camping chairs, a small personal cooler, and then our share of group items … food, water, kitchenware, the toilets, etc.
Yeah, we carried toilets, which cracked me up. A five-gallon bucket with a toilet seat glued on for pee, and a latching metal box with seat for toilet paper and poo which were carted back out under the “leave no trace” policy. Growing up backpacking, I’m plenty used to BIFFing it (bathroom in forest floor) with a squat behind a bush. These thrones … which they also erected a tall tent around for full privacy … were serious bathroom luxury. I think perhaps my proudest achievement of the trip is not throwing the toilet paper into the pee bucket. It was kindly requested that if you accidentally did this, you find a stick and fish it out to place in the poo box. Every time I sat on the pee bucket, I said to myself over and over the whole time, “Don’t throw the toilet paper in, don’t throw the toilet paper in.”
Indeed this stretch of the Yampa was great for beginners, almost glassy in its calmness. The biggest rapid we encountered was maybe a Class 0.4. Perfect. The river was running fast, about the fastest the guides had ever seen it. So we had to practice eddying-out several times right away, as it was a bit more difficult in the swift current. This is the maneuver of turning the canoe upstream and drifting into shore at about a 45-degree angle to beach it. Fortunately Erik grasped the procedure, as I would have been doomed by myself. I simply called out, a bit frantically at times, “What do I do?” Comes the reply, “Paddle!” Well yes, but – after I roll my eyes – which side, and forward or back?
I can’t claim to have been enthralled with the landscape scenery, though it was certainly pleasant. But an extremely appealing aspect of this trip was the solitude. There was one other raft on the river, we passed each other a couple times. And one day we encountered a research crew counting fish. Otherwise we had the whole wide river all to ourselves, which was so peaceful and delightful. In truth, I didn’t consciously appreciate this until one of our guides mentioned that he did, and then explained that the other stretches of river in CO and UT the company canoes are chock full of other canoers, rafters, kayakers, etc. This intimidates me a little thinking about a future trip, as it was nice that here we only ever rammed into our own crew mates (not super adept at maintaining a straight line yet)! Knowing that a future trip may be much more crowded and noisy with a bunch of strangers, I made special note to appreciate the peace of this trip. Also for the first two days, we never saw a cloud in the sky. Perfect blue.
A very exciting aspect of our first day out was that we saw five bald eagles! Several in their impressive nests, and one that swooped down to the river and grabbed a fish and flew away. Super cool. The next day we encountered an amazing cloud of swallows flying out of a compound of nests in a cliffside. They were so numerous, and they kept coming like their nests were clown cars, holding an improbable number of birds in them. It was like bats flying out of a cave en masse at dusk. Never experienced anything quite like that.
Otherwise the only animal life was cows. We paddled through a lot of ranch land. And actually they could be very amusing with their range of mooing. (which of course always provokes an irresistible urge in humans to mimic) There were plenty of little calves to trigger the “awww” response.
Mostly I was too nervous to dig my little camera out of the layers of plastic baggies in my daypack, so a number of photos here were provided to me by other group members. But I finally took out the camera and decided to get some shots of us in action. The photos below are the last ones before we ran aground on a rocky island in the river. I got ourselves distracted with the camera, and by the time we realized our trajectory, we couldn’t paddle away from the island fast enough. Felt pretty silly. Had to get out and push the canoe off the rocks.
The outfitter touted the fineness of their meals, and they’re not kidding. I was singularly impressed. The guides (3) fashioned a kitchen by turning two canoes upside down on the water cans and cooked up some premium dining in the evenings. So there we were, sitting comfortably in our camp chairs, sipping the copious wine provided, munching on appetizers of fresh shrimp and fruit, subsequent dinner of fish, ribs, pesto pasta … one group member playing his guitar, a gentle evening breeze as the stars poke out of the descending blackness. Very classy. Breakfast included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, even blueberry pancakes.
The nights were quite warm ... again, as a high-altitude backpacker throughout childhood, I usually think of camping as a cold affair, and had packed fleece pants to wear in the evening. This was so not necessary. But my favorite thing about being out in nature far from civilization held up perfectly ... the midnight sky. As I always have to get up in the night to pee, I always have the privilege of witnessing the Milky Way and the mass of stars that put me in my place as a punificent creature in a profoundly enormous universe. Some people seem to find this feeling disconcerting; I find it a splendid thing to hunker down and view the immensity.
The second night was deemed (unbeknownst to me and Erik) luau night. Several of the group had come prepared with decorations for the camp and accessories for the peeps, Hawaiian get-ups and all. Even music through an iPod with speakers. Some of us played games after dinner. Please note Erik’s glee at being handed this crazy wig … in truth, he has always wanted to have crazy-scientist hair like this. I’m not kidding about that.
I am never friends with the wind. (even though I live in a town notorious for the winter variety of this sinister force) But on our last morning, I had a particular dislike of this foe. By now our canoe was much lighter, having used up the group supplies of water we had been carrying. It was far more tippy and nerve-wracking. Battling against the wind to go downstream in a light, tippy canoe with our nascent paddling skills wasn’t nearly as fun as the previous two days’ languid pace of paddle and drift. So when our guide suddenly expressed dismay after being on the river only an hour or less at the sight of a parking lot and launch, I have to confess to being rather pleased. If it had been a day as pleasant as the preceding two, I might have been a little disappointed at having to get off the river so soon, but as it was, the news of his miscalculation of our position on the river the day before was well-received. We had made more progress the previous day than he realized.
One last “eddy-out” and we were soon on our way home after unpacking all the canoes and having lunch in the parking lot. I think normally a 3-day “trip” (in quotes b/c I can hardly bring myself to call such a period of time an actual trip) would seem absurdly short. But in this case, our hikes and amusements in the days preceding our canoeing days seemed ages away. Glenwood Springs seemed practically like last summer, not last week. I guess that’s what a new experience can do for you … stretch time in a magical way. As my life races inexorably faster with each passing year, it was pretty special to have it slow down so effortlessly even if for just a couple days.
First I took a trip inside the USA earlier this year, and now in June I narrowed my radius even further to within my own lovely state of Colorado. Erik and I took a little vacation to the northwest part of the state. Our ultimate destination was the city of Craig to begin a canoe trip, but we decided to make a few pit-stops along the way to some areas we have not spent much time in. Driving west along I-70 I was excited to spot some bighorn sheep along the roadside.
Our first stop was Glenwood Springs. A town I normally associate with the Colorado River and the beautiful canyon it carves coming into the town down I-70 from the east. Besides the hot springs, Hanging Lake is probably its most popular sight – a splendid hike to a truly sublime lake, which I’ve done in the past. This somehow affected my perception that our time there would be more nature-oriented. But in the end, the activities we chose had pretty much nothing to do with that sphere.
After we arrived, we walked the main street, had a ridiculous amount of ice cream, and indulged in happy hour (indeed happy-priced and happy tasting) at a local brewery at the Hotel Denver. Then we spent the evening at a completely random venue … the Glenwood Vaudeville Review. Yep, Vaudeville in Colorado. Who knew, right? It was just too random to pass up. A small town production at its best … and these guys are definitely all over that genre – classic Vaudeville comedy but completely original material. It’s silly and goofy, and some acts go over better than others, but quite professional, all things considered. Begins with an old-timey sing-along while you eat dinner. Probably my favorite act was the plunger dance. Yes, five guys dancing with exceptionally tall plungers, making rhythms with the suction sounds by plunging everything from the floor to the ceiling … about as slapstick as a good fart scene but far more classy to create sound by sucking air in than by blowing it out.
The review is held inside an old Masonic lodge. The toilet was located at the end of a hallway upstairs, and I got a kick out of some of the old photographs hanging on the walls.
Walking back to our hotel, we passed by the well-known hot springs. We could have taken a dip, but the price was a little steep for us to swim in what really amounts to a warm swimming pool. The waters may be nice and healthful, but the atmosphere was nothing particularly appealing to us. Especially after having just been soaking in the very interesting Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
What did lure us in, though, was the adjacent mini-golf course. My father-in-law would be proud. It was a great excuse to stay outdoors in the pleasant summer evening air. Erik got a hole-in-one on the last shot and won a free game. So we came back the following night to try to improve our scores (with success).
We spent the next day at another pretty random place … you would never even know it exists, for it lies completely on top of the plateau above the town. The gondola which transports you up to it is the only evidence of the delightful little Glenwood Caverns amusement park high above the canyon. Nice views to be had.
We’re suckers for amusement park rides. This is a super small affair but the rides are quality. And being a small town gig, the crowds (at least on a weekday) are minimal. So we could get off the roller coaster and literally walk right back on it as many times as we wanted. Finally we were too dizzy to do it again. There’s a really nice alpine coaster. But by far the best ride of all is the rather spectacular Big Canyon Swing. This thing swings you up at high speed until you are horizontal, looking straight down at the canyon and river below. Then of course you swing the other way until you’re looking straight up at the sky. Back and forth. I did the ride three times, and each time could not stop giggling the whole time, even when I had a stranger next to me. Erik wasn’t keen to do it again after one ride, so the second photo below is courtesy of him (I’m the little person on the left).
The other delightful attraction of the park is two caves open for tours of about 45 minutes each. I love caves! For being right next to each other (I believe ultimately connecting), they are surprisingly different … one has more interesting passageways, and one has more interesting formations.
And of course any amusement park worth its salt has funny mirrors! Here are headless versions of ourselves.
And so we headed on down the road to Steamboat Springs. The roadsides were full of springtime yellow, white and purple. My favorite time of year is spring when the meadows are green, flowers in bloom, and snow still lingers on the mountaintops.
Our plan here was simply to hike each day for three days. This area, in Routt National Forest, connects to the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness area, which is where I spent much of my childhood backpacking in summer. Our first day’s plan was successfully executed as we walked to the Fish Creek Falls just outside town and hiked further to Upper Fish Creek Falls for some commanding views of the valley and a restful afternoon sitting at the falls, with some darling chipmunks for company.
The next two days, our hiking plans were stymied by the spring run-off being at its peak. The trails all crossed creeks, and it would have taken significantly more desire and nerve to cross them than we had. Log bridges and stepping stones lay beneath a turbulent and terrifying rush of snowmelt. So we were turned back on three trails. (Later I read this is to be expected here in spring.) However, this didn’t detract from the overall effect of time spent pleasantly hiking in nature among copious spring wildflowers. We were hemmed in by blossoms on every trail we walked. And yet patches of snow remained ... which Erik felt compelled to drill into the middle of for a fresh bite. We'll see what sort of Rocky Mountain disease he ends up with. ha ha.
These trails also were refreshingly void of other hikers … encountered only a handful. Solitude is one of the things I most treasure in the Great Outdoors, if it can be achieved.
Headed then to the ultimate reason for our little Colorado getaway – to the Yampa River just outside of Craig to begin a canoe trip. I’ll save that for its own post, coming up soon. :-) I'll end here with a little sampler of the springtime wildflowers we encountered hiking.
Ogunquit, Maine, USA
Welcome to my first travel post from the good ol’ USA, my home country, which is beautiful and grand but often neglected in my travel tales. Recounted for you here are a handful of the sights we saw in southwest Maine, where Erik and I visited our friends for a week. Kelly was our most excellent guide who planned 7 days of fun activities for us.
As I’m writing this, I’m dipping pretzels into dark chocolate orange sauce I brought home from the Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine, an evil little establishment that gives out loads of free samples all over the store so that before you know it, you are standing in the check-out line with an armload of jellies, sauces, dips, etc., licking your lips in anticipation of eating them in your own kitchen (or office, as the case may be).
Though it would be pretty to see Maine in the summer when it is full of leaves and blooms, we also learned the Ogunquit area will be similarly full of tourists. We saw the huge beach parking lots and heard the tales of hours of waiting for popular restaurants. But we had the pleasure of walking the beaches in near solitude, spending quiet time with the seagulls and waves … always a refreshing activity.
Also took the time to watch the snails make tracks in the sand. I found this very entertaining. In Mexico I like watching the crabs skitter around on the beach; I don’t think I’ve ever taken time to watch snails lumber along. They made an extensive network of paths, and watching one individual for awhile, I found they moved a little more quickly than I might have imagined. It’s interesting watching their little antennae things move around, their strange squishy foot glide through the wet sand. Ocean critters are really so fascinating.
A small tide pool in the rocks containing what I thought was a rather artistic array of plant life …
As well, we were mostly by ourselves walking a variety of nature trails. This one around Mackinaw Island has an area designated for fairy houses. Anyone can build one, but it has to be out of only natural materials less than three feet in length. I’m kind of inspired now to go build some in the forest next to my house where I take my kitties for walks. (If you are a Facebook friend of mine, you’ll know this is a regular activity my felines and I engage in.)
Also on this trail is a small pet cemetery where a former governor buried his beloved horse and a large number of dogs.
Another unique stop on the itinerary Kelly planned for us was a Lithuanian monastery, St. Anthony’s. The outside of the building was quite traditional, but the interior was beautifully and tastefully modern, abstract and complex. So much more contemplative than your typical cathedral rose window. I didn’t take any photos inside … there was a man praying in the pews and I felt it would be intrusive, especially since I had the DSLR which makes such a resounding shutter click. (My beloved little G9 bit the dust and I have to get a new one.) There is also a lovely nature trail on the grounds which includes several grottoes and statues, ponds, benches, and contemplative spots. In the midst of a bustling tourist mecca along the southeast coast, it really seemed a quiet spot of refuge.
If you read my blog posts with any regularity, you’re surely aware that beer and I are very good friends. Trying new beers and enjoying my favorites are two of my most beloved activities. Maine is an excellent location for a person with such an interest in beer. Many local breweries serving up a nice spread of different types, provided ample tasting opportunities. Of the ones I tried, I settled, as did Erik, on Gritty’s out of Portland as our favorite, both in the grocery store bottle and the draft in the pub.
My favorite activity in Portland was the Portland Museum of Art. For a relatively small city, it’s an impressive collection of top-notch art from the most famous masters to Maine locals. My favorite was a featured exhibition of black and white photography documenting the lives of migrant workers on blueberry farms, harvesting by the traditional method of “raking.” Though the photos were taken in the last several years, they are spookily reminiscent of Dust Bowl era photos. The Blueberries of Wrath, instead of The Grapes of Wrath. The blueberry rakers lead a life of back-breaking labor for the privilege of existing in near poverty. I’m not entirely sure I can enjoy blueberries the same way I used to.
Naturally, we visited a variety of lighthouses.
We also took a day trip by train to Boston, a city I had never visited. My friend, Cindy, was our most excellent and competent guide here, bee-lining us to her favorite features with an efficiency that allowed us to see much more of the city than we would have wandering around on our own.
These are from the Boston library, my favorite of the buildings we visited.
From an exhibit in the library composed of dioramas. A dying art, I think.
Of course, we had to swing by the “Cheers” bar of the television series fame. Cindy and I pose with a huge post of the cast.
My favorite sight overall was this small cemetery in the middle of the city containing the graves of several famous Revolutionary historical figures and many graves from the early and mid-1700s. Interesting to me was some of the spelling … as some words were still spelled in an older English style, for example, “Here lyes So-And-So” rather than “Here lies.” At first I was a bit creeped out by the tombstone iconography, which I had not realized was the traditional graveyard iconography of the day, the skull-and-crossbones and the skull with wings. Now everything is all froofy angels and lambs. Maybe I have a darker soul, but I rather like the simplicity and the acknowledgement of the stark truth of our earthly existence exemplified in the skulls.
The most amusing thing to me was the Old State House which once would have been viewed as a somewhat grand building but now is almost comically dwarfed by the modern buildings surrounding it. Outside the state house is where five people were killed in the “Boston Massacre” of 1770. Honestly, I didn’t know five people constituted a “massacre.” But the funny thing, which I cannot really explain to you, is the hand-painted sign of an 1800s feel inside the state house on the second level above a window which overlooks the area where the colonials were killed. It says, “Boston Massacre Site. View it here!” It’s like an old traveling circus sign pointing to the side show freaks. Maybe the humor is all manifest in the exclamation point, I can’t really say. But, rather tastelessly, I couldn’t stop chuckling (at the sign, not the historical event).
But back to Maine, we took some lovely walks along the beaches, both sandy and rocky, including this one along "The Marginal Way" not far from where we were staying in Ogunquit, ending at Perkins Cove. Lots and lots of seaweed, piled up at low tide in extremely thick, squishy masses. I was fascinated again with the snails, this time making their way up delicate strands of seaweed. Also lots and lots of seashells here. It happened that I'd bought myself a little birthday gift in Perkins Cove and so had a bag with me, into which I dropped a few fistfuls of shells carefully chosen from the piles among the rocks ... collecting seashells is one of my favorite activities. To some degree I don't even care if they make it back to Colorado with me, I just enjoy looking, finding and inspecting, and there is something important about the actual collection into a bag or bucket or what have you. But after that, it doesn't matter so much what happens to them.
Knowing how much I love waterfalls, Kelly was determined to show me at least one. A very short walk through the woods near Westbrook brought us to this sweet tumble of water called Jewel Falls.
Many thanks to Kelly for planning a lovely itinerary for us in coastal Maine.
As a round-up from Iceland, I present you some more shots from the road, most of them taken from a moving vehicle, either through the front windshield or my passenger window, which Erik usually kindly rolled down when he saw me raise my camera.
The only other country I’ve driven through with comparably lonely roads, void of vehicles for miles and miles, is Lesotho. The difference is in Lesotho, there are people everywhere – tending cows or sheep, plowing fields, washing laundry in the streams, kids walking home from school – there are no cars simply because no one can afford them. Iceland, on the other hand, is a fairly well-off country. (We never saw a single beggar or anyone vaguely like one; theft is nearly unheard of … in Reykjavik city we were told we should maybe consider locking the vehicle and put GPS in the glove compartment, but anywhere else, we were told, we could pretty much walk away and leave the car running with no worries.) So vehicle ownership isn’t the issue, it’s simply a sparsely-populated and sometimes desolate country. 330,000 people on the whole island, and most live in and around Reykjavik. For a comparison, the USA state very comparable in size (approx. 40,000 square miles) is Kentucky, with a population of 4.3 million. It may seem a subtle difference between a place like Lesotho and Iceland … the roads lack vehicles either way. But it’s a very different feeling when you understand you’re in a landscape trespassed by few. In Iceland, you’re on an island dominated by inanimate geologic forces, hostile landscapes of volcanoes, lava fields, and glaciers. Many describe it as "alien," but I'm more of mind to call it magical. (that word again!) In any case, you are acutely aware of the monumental geological forces that have shaped our planet.
The few people who live sprinkled around the island outside Reykjavik, either in coastal fishing villages or on farmland, seem a bit heroic in their lonely and harsh existence. This heroism was continually accentuated by how tiny the houses and barns looked against the dramatic landscape looming all around. For example, I’ve point out here, in the first photo below, the house and barn, little specks below the mountains.
In Iceland, like no place I’ve ever been, a farm or a hotel literally makes a village, at least according to road signs and the paper map we carried. The existence of one or two buildings can warrant a placement on the map. We eventually worked out that many road signs must indicate individual homesteads rather than an actual village. The road sign in the first photo below won’t be appreciated by everyone … but for all you Star Trek fans out there, we found it amusing (a cross with Austin Powers).
Many of the farm buildings looked rather abandoned, but being winter, I couldn’t really ascertain if they truly were or not, as there was no activity on the farms, regardless. I have a fondness for architectural abandonment as it is – abandoned buildings draw my attention and my emotions more than the inhabited – and the ones in Iceland which had this look were particularly appealing, set in such a vast and empty land.
We always catch up on our pop music whenever we rent a car in a foreign country. They’re the most ubiquitous stations, and though we never listen to that kind of thing at home, it’s what we listen to in other countries who have radio reception (we also spend some time with dead air, the places we travel). It comes in handy when we visit a club or something, to be a little current. Icelandic radio stations, however, are often completely random, with an incredible variety of every kind of music on one station. For example, songs from musicals such as The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins backing up to some rock n’ roll song which leads to country, morphing into gospel, then some news, then back to rock n’ roll. Never a dull moment on the radio dial. Well, except when there’s no reception on long empty stretches of road. But I had the astute foresight to bring some CDs with me from home to fill what I anticipated would be some reception voids.
Most of the population outside Reykjavik is found closer to the coastline. We passed through this city (“city” by Icelandic standards) several times on our travels to take advantage of the public toilets (few and far between) and fast food restaurants located in the gas stations (the cheapest food options in the generally fabulously expensive country … pretty much any large gas station also has a fast food joint in it).
A couple extra shots from our adventures around the Golden Circle (“adventures in water”). First, a lake and island within the Ϸingvellir (Ϸ = “th”) park. After that, a couple shots of the interesting little water streams we were looking at when the Geyser at Geysir came raining down upon us.
Here’s a full shot of The Church in Reykjavik. It lacks a little pizzazz in the bland gray light, but you get the idea. It towers over the rest of the city. This is the primary landmark in the old part of the city. It’s like the compass for the whole tourist sector. People give you directions in terms of “walk toward the church,” “just north of the church,” etc.
I posted only Erik’s photos of the Northern Lights which we experienced outside Reykjavik on St. Patrick’s Day. Though I was largely disappointed with mine … I came to find out later their dimness/vagueness was largely due to the fact I didn’t think to remove the polarizing lens from my camera … after I got home, I decided some had merit. The first ones I think help give a sense of scale to how much the lights fill the sky (like, completely). You can see a road in the first one, a low range of hills in the second (next to the ski area), our car in the third. After that, a couple with interesting shapes … starting a swirl, and the last one reminds me in some way of a butterfly. The white dots all over are stars.
Lastly, I would like to point out one interesting note of Icelandic history … Over and over, when we read plaques in museums or at churches, ruins and sights along the road we stopped to investigate, the hero of the story was very often in fact a heroine. Not through feats of physical strength, rather, Icelandic ladies seem to be very stalwart and determined, and they stick to their guns. In other words, they get things done. A model I can only hope to emulate.
Thanks for following me on yet another remarkable journey. How often do I get to take photos while wearing crampons? How often do I cross a river on a cable wire? Hang out with seals and the prettiest horses? See the Northern Lights?!! All this and more was mine in Iceland ... a truly wonderful country.
The legs are mine; those are bruises. The caption that accompanies this photo is Erik’s quote of the day, uttered with genuine sadness: “Spider Shark only lived one day.” Spider Shark’s life is so short because she will never again try crossing a wire by the same method that so impressed Erik, looking, apparently, like a spider. (Shark is one of, and the most popular of, my nicknames.)
So how did I acquire these rather painful beauties? I might as well start at the beginning … the guidebook said Glymur Falls was the tallest in Iceland. It wasn’t a far drive from Reykjavik, and though you must hike several kilometers to see it, we had until about 1:00pm before we needed to head for the airport (from the trailhead) to go home. So we decided to spend the morning before our rather important flight undertaking a hike that others had described (online in blogs) as “challenging,” “not for the faint-hearted,” “dangerous,” etc., as well as taking more time than we had. (Because that’s the way we roll …) So we were aware of the cable-wire river crossing, that if you wanted the full view of the falls you had to take the path that crossed the river, and I warned Erik that when we reached it, I might wuss out.
It was a cold (about 32 F/0 C) and very windy morning, and when we arrived at the crossing, it was clear that falling in an icy river and getting wet in this weather would be extraordinarily unpleasant.
We hemmed and hawed, both of us feeling nervous about it. I didn’t know it at the time, but Erik was apparently feeling even more trepidation than I was. I have an unfortunately dainty and flawed build in much of my body (I often tell people I was built to be a couch potato), my hands in particular regularly suffer from tendonitis and are very wimpy. My primary concern was having the strength in my hands to make it across the wire. But I knew I would regret turning back, so I stood patiently at the river’s edge until my courage built up to a sufficient level, then said, “OK,” and clung onto the wire. After I was across, Erik followed.
The bruises come from my rather ungainly method of crossing, hooking and unhooking my legs from the wire, moving them one in front of the other in a way that Erik exuberantly insisted looked like a spider crawling across the wire. “You look just like a spider! That’s so cool!” This way made me feel the most secure because I didn’t have the strength to just lock my legs around the wire and pull my body weight across with my hands. It was a bit of an uphill haul crossing that direction and honestly, I barely made it. It actually took more courage for me to cross going back home because I knew then how difficult it would be for me. But that direction was downhill and it turned out to be easier. The sorest part of Erik’s body ended up being the muscles in his arm because of what he said was his “death grip” on the wire while crossing.
As we predicted, it was worth the unconventional river crossing. Once we climbed uphill to the top of the plateau, we had marvelous views of the valley to the ocean.
The cliffs oozed water everywhere, now frozen. I’m sure it’s lovely in summer, but truly I think it’s more of a uniquely magical place in winter with everything frozen, taking up far more space than running water, creating glassy shapes, and standing out boldly from the rock. Sometimes it looked like frosting on a cake.
So … steeply uphill across snow and skree and frozen rivulets, fighting a wind that sometimes almost knocked me over. (Are we having fun yet? Well, actually yes, we are in our way.)
To be rewarded with a full view of the waterfall from top to bottom. The lighting was (again) miserable, and I can’t claim to have captured much of its essence, the colors are funky, but there is my shot at it. This is the first view we came across of pretty much the whole fall (disappears a bit near the bottom into the narrow box canyon). You can pick out the thin stream of still-running water far to the right in the bottom third. The photos I’ve seen of these falls in summer show a fairly narrow strip of water falling down all silver and shimmering and obviously lovely. But look how wide the fall is in winter, with the spray frozen onto the rocks all around. I'm really quite a champion of these winter waterfalls. In case you wonder about the consistent blue hue, it comes from the glacial water and the color comes from "glacial flour," basically sediment in the water. It always has a kind of cornflower-blue tint, sometimes darker blue, and sometimes almost a sea green. You'll find this in any large body of glacial water ... rivers, lakes, waterfalls. I don't know what causes the change from bluish to purplish at these falls.
You can ultimately hike all the way to the top of the falls, but we didn’t have the time, and had already succeeded in getting perhaps the most rewarding view … the entire length. One particularly fun feature along the trail is a tunnel you have to walk through, with one entrance from the top and two exits, like the eye sockets of a skull, at the bottom.
The other point of amusement this day was while we were driving around trying to remember where the trailhead was, we met the fastest little dogs I’ve ever seen. We had found the trailhead another day when it was too late to start a hike, and thought we remembered the route without consulting the map. Turns out we were wrong, but it was pretty much worth it to have gotten temporarily lost for the pleasure of witnessing these dogs. We clocked them running beside us at about 55 km/hr (34 mph). They chased us on our way in for a long time. After we finally lost them, it wasn’t long before we realized we were on the wrong road and had to turn around. Those dogs knew we would be coming back and they were literally waiting to ambush us as we drove by again, springing from the bushes in the ditch and chasing us maniacally.
We changed clothes back at the hotel, though we had checked out they let us dress in the changing rooms in the spa, as the hotel was right on the way to the airport. Arrived with plenty of time to check in, so we finished off the last of our duty-free beers in the truck with the radio on. Turned the car off and politely popped the hood and reconnected the battery wire so the rental people could start the car to move it back to their lot (we were to park in the public parking and they’d retrieve it).
Making our way through the Reykjavik airport, both on arrival and departure, was the quickest, smoothest international airport/flying experience I’ve ever had. I would almost say it was a pleasure, but I can’t bring myself to go quite that far; it was still an airport.
One more post to come with miscellaneous photos from the road.