Námafjall fumarole
Hikers standing in the steam of a fumarole at Námafjall

Iceland is hot. Turn on the shower and you have instant hot water. You can make tea with water straight from the tap. Your room heats up in a couple of minutes when you turn the radiator on.

Iceland’s heat steams up from fissures in the earth, as hot springs and fumaroles, geysers and volcanoes. Living with the earth’s heat is a part of Icelandic life, enjoying a fine meal with a glowing eruption in the distance, discussing the latest oozing of magma over the morning coffee, soaking in a hot spring to discuss the town’s business.

It was Iceland’s hot stuff that caught my attention at a young age. In January 1973, a fissure spewed out lava, threatening the people of Heimey, an island off the mainland of Iceland. A National Geographic cover, seared in my young mind, showed houses in the fishing village of Vestmannaeyjar outlined by black ash and the fiery red eruption overhead.

Earths Fiery FuryFifteen years ago, I wrote my second book (I’m now on my 30th). Entitled Earth’s Fiery Fury, it is devoted to making the mechanics of plate tectonics, volcanoes, and geothermal feature easy for middle-grade students to understand. In 2001, it was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for students K-12 by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council. It was reprinted in paperback by the New York City Department of Education for their curriculum.

And it is full of descriptions of volcanic and geothermal features in Iceland, places I’d only seen in photographs. So our visit to Iceland last month for the SATW Convention meant a lot to me. Despite having a knee injury literally hobble my plans for the trip – John still did the active outdoor activities we’d hoped to share – I was able to go on day trips to see the incredible landscapes I’d only glimpsed through research. Back when I’d written about Bárðarbunga causing a jökulhlaup, I never imagined I’d see it erupting from the window of a plane, or from the Ring Road, or from the window at Vogafjós during dinner along the shores of Lake Mývatn. Yet there it was.

Watching Bárðarbunga’s glow from Vogafjós. More Bárðarbunga photos

I stood in awe at the edge of a churning mudpot in the Námafjall geothermal area, watching fumaroles hissing off steam, while John hiked with the group across the lunar-like landscape. We peered over the edge into the water-filled caldera of Krafla, a volcano in North Iceland on the Mid-Atlantic Rift, and marveled that it had blown its top only 30 years ago.

Boiling mudpot dwarfs distant hikers at Námafjall. More Námafjall photos
Caldera of Krafla
Peering into the caldera of Krafla

When the staff kindly changed our room at the Icelandair Hotel Natura in Reykjavík – due to my knee injury, I needed a room with a walk-in shower – I was ushered into the Blue Suite. Delighted and grateful for the spacious suite, I was even more amazed to see the photos from the subject of that 1973 National Geographic article which sparked my interest in Iceland as the primary artwork on the wall.

Blue Suite at Hotel Natura
The Blue Suite at Hotel Natura

The room’s theme calls attention to Icelandic Search and Rescue. In a country of volcanoes and glaciers, geothermal formations and frequent wicked weather, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue plays a crucial role. Iceland has no militia, no army, no navy to call upon in times of dire need. The job falls on SAR volunteers. More than 18,000 Icelanders – 5.6% of the population – are a part of this nationwide network, organized into local and regional teams. With a broad range of natural hazards in Iceland, there are many ways to get hurt. Iceland SAR is there to help, both with on-the-spot rescues and with education campaigns such as the Safe Travel Iceland website and the 112 Iceland App.

With my injury requiring every step outdoors to be taken with great care, I was acutely aware of being an SAR risk in Iceland’s great outdoors. Thankfully, our tour to Geysir Geothermal Area provided plenty of time for a very slow walk past the sputtering and spurting formations, and there was a paved path I could follow. John took the side trips to explore the more unusual paint pots and boiling springs. Standing there watching Strokkur explode over and over – it bursts into the air every 8-10 minutes or so – I had a huge grin on my face.

Strokkur exploding at Geysir Geothermal Area. More Geysir photos

We capped off that day with a walk through Þingvellir, into the rift valley between the continental plates. It was a very slow walk for me, but one I savored, discovering so many different variants of solidified lava beneath the towering basalt walls of the rift.

Inside the continental rift at Þingvellir, better known to modern audiences as “The Wall” from the Game of Thrones. More Þingvellir photos

That evening, we sat with some friends and discussed the volcanic wonders of Iceland. They insisted we needed to follow a blog written by an Icelander, Rei, as a day-by-day diary of Bárðarbunga and other volcanic activity throughout the country. Once we had the URL, we caught up on the posts and discovered that all sorts of interesting things were going on around us during our visit, from a new mud clay opening in the Reykjanes to clouds of poisonous gases drifting across various parts of the country.

And as it turned out, when asked if she’d like to be paid for her blogging, Rei raised funds for the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue instead. We discovered a portion of the proceeds from bookings of the Blue Suite at Hotel Natura go to support the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. So it’s good to know that the people of Iceland know how important it is to support their SAR volunteers.

We’ll have more to share about the wonders of Iceland soon. But for now, facing knee surgery, I’m just thrilled that I was finally able to have a close encounter with Iceland’s hot stuff!

Sandra and John in Iceland
Thanks to Anton at Saga Travel for the photo of us with Bárðarbunga reflecting on Lake Mývatn in the background!