Summer Solstice Long Days in Iceland

Genie Davis February 14, 2013 No Comments

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Driving the Ring Road in Iceland

Long road, long day light hours, scenery amazing 24/7

Many families planning an international trip stick with the tried and true: the changing of the guard in Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel tower and hot chocolate in Paris. Yes, I have stories of those adventures too, but what about something a little more internationally unusual?

We chose Iceland, landing in Reykjavik in the season of the summer solstice with long days ahead to drive the Ring Road. A classic road trip: in a foreign land with “no bed time.” Well, maybe technically no bed time, but in reality, there’s comfy, child-face-fitting sleep masks, drawn shades, and the establishment of a bed time that didn’t really allow for massive schedule changing jet lag – with close to twenty four hours of daylight, you can determine bedtime is when your child gets sleepy, even if that makes finding a good restaurant at a time when breakfast “should” be served a bit problematic.

After a night in the metropolitan, harbor center of Reykjavik, we set out along Iceland’s well known Highway 1, a road that takes you through scenery that could house a Hobbit or a Martian. The road circles the island of Iceland, and the scenery will keep adults and kids occupied easily with geysers and lava “sculptures,” desert like stretches, glaciers, and rolling hills and grasslands that would not be out of place in the mid-west. Black rock fused to phosphorescent green mosses, grazing sheep, the home of Erik the Red, snow covered mountains and more. The trick with children in tow is to make many stops – and there’s so much to see it’s not hard to do this.

Ferns in Iceland

Ferns in Iceland

Taking it slow is a necessity of the road as well as family traveling companions. The road is narrow and it meanders across one lane bridges, unpaved sections, and splendid vast fiords. Think of California’s Highway 1 in Big Sur as merging with the Highway to Hana in Maui, and you’ll have the idea. But traffic is not intense, and we never felt that the road was hazardous or beyond the capabilities of our rented Toyota.

Favorite stops included the moss fringed, lava ringed volcano near Lake Myvatn at the northeastern edge of the island; and a trail past lava and arches that reminded us of Bryce Canyon’s rock figures and forms. Maybe it’s a uniquely American perspective, but we did find the island an almost intensely psychedelic version of the American west’s scenery at times.

The kids loved the mile long path that led to Grotagia, an enormous chasm of rock with a hot-tub temperature steaming pool at its base, and Hverfell crater offering a view into Dimmuborgir, where lava sculptures are strewn across a broad plane. The kids thought it looked like a fairy land, and it truly did – the stuff of dreams in the arches, caves, and steaming water.

Glacial fields drifting into the sea – classic Iceland

Tossing handfuls of ice into the ocean – glacial ice – a great memory for the whole family

That steaming water is a caveat of course – Iceland is not for parents who don’t carry or hold tightly to the hands of tots en route, but then the same could be said of Yellowstone National Park – a comparison which betrays my nationality yet again. Namafjall has the scent of sulfur in the air and golden and mauve bubbling, steaming cauldrons; more lava steams in the early evening – or endless afternoon – air at Leirhnjukur.

From surreal fairy tale land to bucolic valleys we drove. We agonized over our car rental agreement just a bit as Highway 1 went unpaved, but it was smooth and well maintained as it led us up a high pass and back down into a valley with wildflowers everywhere. Now here was a stop that lasted hours – small children running through a field of gold, purple, blue, and maroon blooms. Nearby were waterfalls. Driving in Iceland is like driving through a technicolor movie.

Sunlight on a sparkling Icelandic sea

It’s the colors in Iceland – sea to shore – that make it so magnificent

Along the coast we found stunning cliffs spilling their mossy banks to the ocean, our road winding narrowly around them. We played count-the-sheep, and there were plenty grazing at pristine farm lands. Rock on one side, sea on the other, wild waves on black sand, bright green water.

Get used to that scenery and you’ve reached the glacial ice fields of Vatnajokull. Much broader than the glaciers we’d seen on a trip to Glacier National Park, these vast ice sheets were jaw droppingly pressed right against the ocean. At one point, icebergs spun off from the glaciers floated ethereally into open sea, or beneath a bridge.

We took a walk along one beach front glacier where chunks of glacier floated back and forth in the tide. The kids found ice cubes – yes, glacial ice cubes – washed up along the sand and tossed them gleefully back into the ocean.  Slipping ice instead of stones – not something you can do in the sea at home, particularly ice as old as that formed by Iceland’s glaciers. Another easy trail led us to a cliff top bluff, where clusters of gulls spun and the sea tumbled far below.

With small children in tow, it’s the road, roadside stops, and short trails under a mile that will carry the day. Longer treks and steep windy climbs are not for little feet, but we found plenty of magical sights easily accessible. Less accessible is airfare for a family of four. We found an on line bargain via Icelandair, it helps greatly to have flexible dates. Having all the daylight time we could want also helped us to explore, rest, and explore some more without paying a great deal of attention to the clock. Be sure and have road snacks on hand!

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: Sharing Experiences, Travel Excursions

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