Later, at a spot along the path called Storihver, where numerous vents spew hot water, I wander off-trail over a rise and come upon a steaming pool about 20 feet across. It sits against a hillside with a hole like a gaping maw. A spring spills from the hole into the pool’s aqua waters, which overflow the opposite bank, sending a stream of bright blue meandering down a valley of impossibly green moss and black dirt. The startling contrast creates a scene that would make a geology professor swoon. I edge down toward the pool for a better photo angle, but the pumice collapses like slushy snow, and I frantically scrabble back up the slope, afraid I’ll slide in and boil like a giant human pot roast.
As a kid, before I knew that hot springs could stew meat from bone, I might have taken that plunge. I was enthralled by Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, in which a teenager, his uncle, and a guide descend into an Icelandic volcano. They discover a vast cavern illuminated by electrically charged gas, dodge ancient creatures, and generally have the sort of exotic adventure that bewitches 12-year-olds from factory towns like Leominster, Massachusetts.
The dream of descending into Iceland’s recesses never left me, and finally, 30 years later, I’ve engineered my own little journey. Besides hiking the Laugevegur, I’ll squeeze in a 4WD tour of the island’s interior, plus dayhikes on Snaekollur, a snowy peak overlooking four of Iceland’s six major glaciers, and a few obscure places pointed out by local guides.
At every turn, I’m transfixed by the primeval terrain, aware that elemental forces are still shaping this landscape. It’s so raw I imagine a mighty hand peeling back the Earth’s crust to show what’s going on underneath. More than anyplace I’ve been–from Yellowstone to the rim of Mount St. Helen’s smoking crater–this land is defined by its upheaval.