Spectacular colors above and below
In Landmannalaugar, the cold Arctic wind that whips around is almost as arresting as the unusual hues of the landscape. Vivid skies are reflected in icy lakes, and ancient volcanoes slope down in shades of soft pinks, rusty reds and ashen grays. Meanwhile, below, radioactive-looking plains of fluorescent green moss are bordered by jet-black obsidian. Nature has not been stingy with her color palette here.
Cotton grass blooms around a gorgeous lake.
The scenery is so compelling that it has an almost magnetic effect on visitors. “Our hike, which was intended to be a short hike, ended being a 20 km [12.4 mi] 8 hour hike,” says photographer Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson, who took these spectacular images. “We were endlessly drawn by new interesting landscape features around the corner. It was a tiring but rewarding outing.”
A stunning sunrise above lake Bláhylur
The wonderful mix of shades is largely the result of Landmannalaugar’s unusual geology. The region is volcanic and covered with soft rock that’s easily shaped by the elements – water in particular. The lava from these volcanoes is the source of Landmannalaugar’s obsidian and its wealth of colors.
A glacier river near the Jökulgil canyon
In this shot, an icy river runs over pebbles as it emerges from the Jökulgil canyon. Despite its inviting beauty, the canyon was a mysterious place for a long time. Worried that outlaws might be hiding in the area, farmers were often too afraid to search Jökulgil for their lost sheep. Really, though, they were more likely to stumble across one of the canyon’s many hot springs than any signs of human life, hostile or not.
Snow lies in patches under this incredible sunset.
Here, a stunning sunset lights up Landmannalaugar, beautifully accentuating the colors of the slopes. “The subjects and angles are endless and I go there often for the short period of time each year that it is accessible,” says Örvar. “Depending on snow, the area usually opens in late June. This is also the time of year to shoot endless colorful skies.” He certainly picked the right time for this shot.
The rugged terrain of the black lava plains
These interesting formations at Heklusandar are made of lava. In fact, the whole black expanse around them is a lava field – another interesting geological feature of Landmannalaugar. Örvar describes these fields as a “black desert.”
A close-up of Austurbamur
Next, we see a close-up of the amazing colored mountains of Landmannalaugar. The wrinkles and folds of the landscape make up some of the distinctive features of these mountains.
“In late June this summer there was still a lot of snow in the highlands of Landmannalaugar,” recalls Örvar. In fact, there was such an unusually large amount that, according to the photographer, much of the area remained closed until mid-July. The gray streaks on the snow here are the remains of ash from the 2011 Grímsvötn eruption.
An icy landscape
In Iceland, King Winter, as it’s known, is not just another season. And in this photograph we can see some of the magnificent scenery that can be seen when the king returns to the area. The land around Landmannalaugar may not be as colorful as it is in summer, but it’s every bit as breathtaking.
The deep and icy waters of the Ljótipollur crater lake
Sometimes, good things start with a violent beginning; like this stunning crater lake, which is the product of a volcanic eruption that occurred in 1480. Named Ljótipollur, which, believe it or not, means “ugly pond”, the lake is famous for its intense colors. It is also home to some brown trout, which makes it a popular fishing spot.
Clouds simulate an eruption.
This tall green peak is the extinct Hattfell volcano to the south of Landmannalaugar. As you can see, it’s certainly a striking sight, rising from the black volcanic plains that surround it. One of Iceland’s most famous (and most unpronounceable) active volcanoes, Eyjafjallajökull, is nearby. Eyjafjallajökull infamously caused disruption to flights all over Europe in 2010.
A cross section of colors
Örvar took this shot of the Austurbarmur mountains at midday, when the sky was a brilliant deep blue. The mountains stand over 2,953 feet (900 meters) above sea level, and the ridges form part of the caldera of the vast Torfajökull glacier.
“This area of Iceland has also the most colorful vegetation,” says Örvar. “In the lower left corner you can see a very green moss common around creeks near Landmannalaugar. This moss has the most amazing green color I have seen; it is almost like it is radioactive.”
Snow showers cover the landscape.
Next we have another incredible image of Landmannalaugar, once again covered in snow. This shot was taken at the beginning of winter, and the snow is just deep enough to create an ethereal-looking landscape. Interestingly, this region is actually one of the snowiest in Iceland. “The highlands are the most photogenic just after snow starts falling in the beginning of winter,” says Örvar. From this shot, we can see what he means.
Green moss, white snow, and blue skies at Brennisteinsalda volcano
Here’s another look at the fluorescent green vegetation that grows around Landmannalaugar. This patch of moss is kept nice and warm by geothermic vents. When it’s not covered in snow, Brennisteinsalda is known as Iceland’s most colorful mountain, thanks to the rhyolite lava it’s composed of. We think it looks just as pretty in white.
Reflective lakes surrounded by lush vegetation
In direct contrast to the pale landscape of the last photograph, here we see the lush grass of Kýlingavatn. The shallow lakes in the area are actually slow-moving parts of the Tungnaá glacial river. The Tungnaá is one of the biggest obstacles if traveling from the plains in the south to the highlands. What a lovely looking obstacle, though!
A fracture in the snow-covered land
From ‘radioactive’ green moss to transcendental snow-capped peaks and charred black lava fields, Landmannalaugar has it all and looks like nowhere else on Earth. The landscape is unique, beautiful, and somewhat mystical. We thank photographer Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson for sharing his stunning photographs and anecdotes with us.