Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I spent my second day in Reykjavik outside Reykjavik.
That's because two scientists who arrived this morning – half of the group with whom I will travel to the interior to chronicle their research into findings by spacecraft orbiting Mars – decided to forego sleeping and go off on a merry, rock-hunting journey in the hills outside the capital.
I had no idea what was in store. But the planetary geologists wanted to find samples of a mineral called zeolite that a remote-sensing instrument had detected on Mars. So, we drove out to the general area where these zeolites are suspected to be hiding in the rocks, parked next to a picnic table alongside the highway, hopped a sheep fence and scrambled up a cut made by a waterfall alongside a long rock face.
We looked at lots of rocks. We hammered some to check out what's inside. We bagged the most promising samples. They discussed the rocks' guts. I listened and tried to follow along.
We returned to the picnic table on the side of the road and they busted out spectroscopic equipment to do some serious analyzing. One of them shone what looked like a glorified flashlight at the exposed areas of the rock samples, and a computer "read" the rock and revealed its mineral breakdown based on signatures given off in the visible and near-infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. It's amazing how instantaneous such readings can be made. Which is good, because it was windy and cold.
How surprising, huh?
We visited two more sites, repeating the same steps as the first excursion (park, hop sheep fence, scramble up ravine, look and collect lots of rocks). This time, though, the spectroscopic analyses could wait. I think they were itching to do some sightseeing. So was I.
So, we ventured into southern Iceland. First stop was Geysir, home to a confab of geysers. The most impressive of these was one called Strokkur, which sent a plume of scalding water soaring into the sky about every eight minutes. You could smell the Earth's insides everywhere, and it smelled a lot like sulphur – pungent but not a turnoff.
You can see a photo gallery here.
Just down the road is Gulfoss, a double decker of a waterfall carved out in the gently undulating valley. Gulfoss cannot rival Niagara Falls in terms of volume of water cascading down its sides, but its setting with a complete lack of commercialism and kitsch just enhanced its beauty. Give the Icelanders lots of credit for letting this natural wonder speak for itself.
On the way back, we drove through a wide bowl of a valley where the sun shone brightly and scrubland that looked like what you'd see in west Texas. As we got closer to Reykjavik, we passed chains of hills, carpeted in such a rich green carpet that it looked like miles of carefully manicured putting greens. Waterfalls spouted from the countless crevices and cuts in these hills. At the foot of many of these hills spouted geysers. Viewing this scene panoramically, you'd see the green hills, laced by the waterfalls and the plumes from geysers that seemed as if the ground itself was smoking cigars. Simply beautiful.
And the sun was shining. I can only hope for more of the same on the next leg.
Posted by Richard Lewis at 8:08 AM