Significant geothermal zones and volcanic landscapes throughout Iceland may give the impression of a primordial, preternatural planet. Yet, Icelanders have prevailed, despite the harsh and ever-challenging environment of their homeland.
Such is the case of Möðrudalur, a remote farm settlement in Eastern Iceland protected by Mount Herðubreið, the “Queen of Icelandic Mountains.”
Möðrudalur ranks as the highest inhabited farm in the country–at 469 m (1739 ft) above sea level, and supports a weather monitoring station, having recorded the lowest temperature in Iceland, -38.0 °C (-36.4 °F) on January 21, 1918.
The farm became inaccessible once Ring Road 1 was relocated northeast in 2001. However, a new F-road was eventually cut to continue servicing the curious folks who felt a connection to the old trails crisscrossing the wilderness, and a thousand-year history that made this a protected area.
A church was built in Möðrudalur in 1949 on once-sacred ground by farmer, Jón A. Stefánsson to honor his wife’s passing in 1944,
and decorated by revered folk artist, Stefán V. Jónsson.
A guesthouse, a small store and highly regarded restaurant serving locally sourced farm-to-table fare have been added over time to boost tourism in the area.
A more dramatic and inhospitable environment lies 90 km to the north. Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon was carved by fire and ice and a rushing river that over time laid bare the cores of spent volcanoes.
Following the Jökulsá á Fjöllum upriver (which flows from the Vatnajökull glacier) is an impressive triplet of waterfalls, of which Dettifoss is considered the most powerful in Europe, plummeting 45m (150 ft) into Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon at 400 cubic meters per second during the summer melt.
Returning to the Ring Road, it’s another 60 km west to the Myvatn Geothermal Area (Hverir), a volcanic swath that rivals the fumaroles, steam vents and mudpots of Yellowstone…
We cleared our lungs of rancid Sulphur fumes before checking into nearby Laxá Hótel, where the Krafla caldera looms over Myvatn Lake in the distance.
But Leah and I weren’t done for the day! After enjoying a meal at the hotel restaurant, we donned our hiking boots and enjoyed a solitary 10 pm stroll through Dimmuborgir,
a field of unusual lava formations caused by an eruption 2300 years ago and the subsequent collapse of a massive lava tube.
After a day of walking through location settings for Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Alien, it’s little wonder that Iceland takes its landscape cues from a very powerful producer.