Inspired by Iceland / by Shivang Patel

Of the eight days I spent in Iceland, five were spent driving around the entire island. While driving through the Icelandic wilderness, I thought I had been transported to a new planet. Everything looked slightly out of this world. The plants were different; the animals were different. The ground itself looked Martian. There was constantly a cold Atlantic breeze nearly everywhere you went, and in this wind there was a slight yet unmistakable smell of sulfur.

Rolling hills and valleys are common in much of the world, but throughout much of Iceland one can see an undulating ground on an otherwise flat area. It wasn't until I drove around areas in which there was no grass but only grey moss that I realized that this undulating ground were lava fields that throughout the centuries had become the perfect bed on which small mosses and grasses grew. It literally looked like there were ripples on the ground. Driving around the island is truly the best way to see this awe-inspiring country. Doing it with a friend or two would have been a blast, but since I am traveling on my own exploring Iceland by myself allowed me to really slow down and take in the sights and sounds nature had to offer. While traversing this vast volcanic island, I saw so many diverse vistas and topographies. Each day felt like I was transplanted to another part of the world.

One the first day I saw amazing sceneries as I trekked around the popular Golden Circle visiting sites like Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and Haukadalur, where there were geysers, hotsprings, and fumaroles. On the second day I saw the beautiful black sand beaches on the very southern coast of Iceland. Then while driving to southeast Iceland I stopped by Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake, for a couple of hours and the sight of beautiful blue and white glaciers took my breath away. It is truly a site everyone should visit if in Iceland. Luckily for me I caught the curiosity of seals while walking along the lake, and was able to capture them on my camera.  Day three consisted of traversing through the twisting and turing roads of eastern Iceland trailed with incredible gorgeous fjord after fjord. Hidden in each fjord were a couple of small towns. The fourth day was spent traveling through northeastern Iceland where I saw volcanic fields, trekked to the base of snow-capped mountains, and drove through the clouds before stopping in the Capital of North Iceland—Akureyri. My last day, I drove through west Iceland where in addition to seeing more incredible nature and the billionth (but still impressive) waterfall, I climbed the caldera of an extinct volcano—something I never thought I would do. Goal for next time in Iceland is to get close to an active volcano.

After being in the Icelandic wilderness for what like an eternity I returned to Reykjavík, where I started my time in Iceland. Reykjavík is a vibrant city that is expanding to keep up with it's growing economy and the explosion of tourists one can see flooding the streets. There any many museums, activities, and restaurants throughout the city—enough to accommodate all 120,000 residents and the 1,000,000 tourists that go through Reykjavík every year. Reykjavík also has quite a bit of construction. All the new buildings incorporate glass and have very modern architecture, contrasting most of the other buildings in city that are made out of concrete, have sharp lines and bright colors. All the geometric houses sharply contract the grey and green roundness of the earth one sees in the rest of Iceland. Maybe symbolizing man's will against the constancy of mother nature.

In Iceland, I felt like I had seen and experienced the heart of nature—a feeling "Father of the National Parks" John Muir expressed. Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world," and after seeing the beauty of Iceland I truly believe that. I have never really been an outdoors-y person, and have always loved the hustle and bustle of cities. This small adventure into the Icelandic wilderness, however, has changed my perception on nature and the outdoors. As much as we value our great cosmopolitan cities, there should be equal reverence of our great outdoors. Inspired by Iceland, I want to visit the vast beauty that the U.S. National Park Service has to offer. I think a new life goal of mine is to visit all 59 national parks before I'm 50.