It isn’t every day that you wander across a series of geological oddities that can’t be explained by science, but on a flight down the Washington coast one spring day, to our delight we saw one: acres and acres of peculiarly hump-patterned land, bump-sliding beneath the shadow of our Skyhawk. Continue reading “Over-flying an unexplained phenomenon near Bremerton Airport, WA, USA”
Day One: Keflavik to Skogar Hostel via Reykjanes Peninsula = non-stop drive 2.5 hours (approx. 300 km). With stops to explore sights = 8 hours!
Highlights: The Bridge Between Two Continents, Gunnuhver, Reykjanesviti, Blue Lagoon, Raufarholshellir, Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi Waterfall, Skogar and Skogafoss waterfall .
Day one of our 6 day Do-It-Yourself driving tour of south Iceland was ambitious, requiring us to “hit the ground running” after a nine hour red-eye flight & cover a lot of distance while stopping to explore many sights. Two drivers (me & my teen son), two well-studied maps, & a knapsack filled with snacks & bottled water meant we could start our adventure before shops opened.
6:45a.m. We landed in the early dark at Keflavik airport & picked up our car from Sixt rentals (booked through Expedia, cost C$355.38 for 6 days). We rented a simple automatic. Four-wheel drive wasn’t necessary for our route in mid-March, although we hit a few impressive hailstorms. Tip: we purchased car insurance online through Expedia, which was less than ½ of what Sixt quoted us on-site in Keflavik.
8:00 As dawn tinged the clouded sky pink, we headed down route 44 and 425 along the Reykjanes Peninsula and through 100 Crater Park. We stopped at The Bridge between Two Continents, (a black sandy gulf between the European & North American plates), zipped over to the steaming, multi-hued geothermal area of Gunnuhver, (so named after a witch) and glimpsed Reykjanesviti, Iceland’s oldest lighthouse circa 1878.
10:00a.m. We arrived at Blue Lagoon. It was a breezy, cool morning with intermittent hail and shoals of dark clouds glowering overhead, and once in the warm waters, it was a challenge to get out.
Tip: You must book Blue Lagoon at least 4 weeks in advance. Due to its popularity, you won’t be admitted unless you have in hand a pre-paid ticket for a specific time-slot.
12:30ish-We drove south along route 43 to Grindavik, pulled into a grocery store, bought packaged sandwiches, licorice, & drinks, & headed east along route 427. We’d planned on exploring the 11th century lava tube of Raufarholshellir (1.3 km north of the junction where Rtes 38,39 and 427 meet), but the cave was closed for extensive repairs.
1:30pm—Along Rte 1, we stopped in Selfoss to buy groceries for the week at Kronan (it has a gluten-free section). Tip: Grocery stores are scarce to non-existent for a long distance after Selfoss, and most hostels are located in lovey, isolated areas… so stock up on groceries and gas here.
3:00ish—We stopped at Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi , two impressive waterfalls located approximately 15 km from Hvosvollur. The falls are adjacent to the main Ring Road at the base of the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier. Seljalandsfoss is the famous Icelandic waterfall that you can walk behind, along a treacherously slippery path, and we got drenched doing just that. From Seljalandsfoss, we shiver-walked the short distance to Gljufrabui waterfall, then got even further soaked wading through an icy creek into the dark, narrow canyon cleft to this eerie second waterfall.
4:00pm—We continued east along Route 1 until we reached Skogar and Skogafoss waterfall. (50 kms east of Hvosvollur). We’d hoped to see the Skogar museum, but we didn’t make the 4:00pm closing time. We stayed the night at the Skogar Hostel. Skógar HI Hostel is located below Skógar waterfall, 200 m from Ring Road no. 1, approx. 200 km from Reykjavík. Tip: Iceland is crazy-popular & hostels need to be booked 5 months in advance! For dinner, we self-catered by microwave baking potatoes and frying up yummy cheese& spinach omelettes, and then… we slept!
With the I-5 running like a zipper down its centre and the regional airport a poetic stone’s throw away, Kelso has been our way-station for almost every trip we’ve taken south of the Canadian border in our little plane.
With a clean, pet-friendly hotel (Guesthouse Inn & Suites) conveniently located in the nearby Three Rivers Mall, Kelso makes for a perfect place to fuel up the plane, pick up camping food supplies that we can’t cross the border with, stretch our legs, and overnight if we need to. Right across from the mall going east is the lovely Tam O’Shanter Park along the Coweeman River. Dog-friendly and picturesque, it’s a wonderful ramble and can be accessed from the mall via Monasco Drive, located directly behind the Fiesta Bonita Mexican Grill (which does a decent take-out, btw).
Lake Sacajawea Park is also quite lovely, located in nearby Longview about 3.2 miles from Three Rivers Mall, but this park is much more popular/crowded. Dogs are allowed on leash on the lakeside walking paths, and there are Japanese gardens to explore and kayak rentals available.
The first thing we notice every time we fly into Kelso KKLS (see airport diagram at the end of this post), is how very busy the frequency is — it sounds like the circuit is clogged with air traffic. It never is. The small regional airport is always delightfully quiet. The air-wave clutter is a result of several airports sharing the same frequency.
As soon as we land at KKLS and before we’ve even tied down, we call a taxi–they arrive at a very leisurely pace: Uptown taxi (360) 577-TAXI (8294). It’s about $10 USD from KKLS to Three Rivers Mall. If you have extra time on your hands and want to rent a car, Kelso is a great jumping off point for exploring Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Park . Located right at the end of SR 504 in the national park is the 2+ mile-long Ape Cave, the longest lava tube in the continental United States.
En-route to it, there’s Silver Lake & Mount St. Helens Visitor Center–via I-5 N and WA-504 E, approximately 20 minutes from Kelso. This is the park’s original Visitor Center and the displays are rather dated, plus you have to pay to get in.
Further up route 504 on mile marker 33, there’s the free Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Centre, touted as the best exhibit on the mountain (there’s a helicopter for kids to play in, and an `eruption chamber’ that’s apparently pretty awesome).
If you’re a golfer, the Three Rivers Golf Course runs along the Cowlitz River and is snug against KKLS—but separated from the airport by fencing and railway tracks (you have to get to it via a somewhat wandering series of roads, requiring either a car, or great energy & a yen for walking). You can get your hundred dollar hamburger here, too, at The Scottie Dog Café.
Majestic glacial volcanoes, beautiful lakes and vistas, surf crashing upon black beaches, windswept lava fields covered in elfin blankets of moss, eerie blue ice floes ribboned with black ash… Iceland is a country that grabs your heart and never lets go. Continue reading “Six days of Icelandic Magic in March-Keflavik to Hofn, and back”