Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Get a Glimpse of Geysers in Iceland

December 17, 2009, 12:21 pm

Long before the Washburn Expedition “discovered” the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone—Old Faithful, Beehive Geyser, Riverside Geyser—Europeans marveled at the thermal wonders of Iceland. The most impressive of these features was the Great Geysir, from which all the world's geysers now take their names. First witnessed at the end of the 13th century in Haukadalur, in the Valley of Haukadal, it used to erupt every 60 minutes. By the 1800s, tourists traveled from far and wide to witness the Geysir’s 240 foot-high eruption. By 1900s, it became dormant, probably due to a combination geothermal and seismic and human-caused damage. Earthquakes in June 2000 reawakened the giant and it now erupts approximately every 8 to 10 hours.

If you’ve always wanted to see a geyser and have not been able to make it to Yellowstone, now is a great time to see the original as well as a host of other natural wonders. Geysir is located in Thingvellir National Park, which was founded in 1930 as the first national park in Iceland. For many Americans and Canadians living on the Atlantic seaboard, it may actually be easier and quicker to get to Thingvellir National Park than to Yellowstone. And with the recent financial crisis in Iceland, it may actually be less expensive, too. At least during the next couple of months.

Situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, warmed by the Gulf Stream currents, winters are far milder than Iceland’s name might otherwise suggest. The island is home to volcanoes and glaciers, and the power from these opposing forces has left violent scars on the landscape making it a very otherworldly place. The terrain is stark and surreal, awesome and wondrous, and offers the perfect backdrop for “a life driven by nature and conquered but not tamed by man.”

While the winter days in Iceland are by now means shorter, it’s the perfect time to experience the Aurora Borealis, better known as Northern Lights, which light up the sky at nightfall and glow until the midmorning.

The same geothermal and natural forces that power Geysir, also heat for homes, even remote ones that dot the unfenced countryside. As the days get longer in early January, you’ll have more time to explore the country’s many parks, which showcase it rugged mountain rangers and impressive waterfalls that still flow from melting glaciers from the last Ice Age.

Like department stores, when the holiday season is over in Iceland, everything goes on sale. Icelandair is now offering discounts on its already low-priced tours and airfares are also extremely reasonably priced. Roudtrip fares from Boston and New York City to Reykavik were as low as $444 for January departures, including all taxes. If you go and it’s colder than you anticipated, never fear. You can always get warm in the country’s other popular tourist destination, the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located around eight miles from the airport. It’s the perfect place to stop after your short flight to the Island (approximately five hours from New York City) and an ideal preparation for what will seem to be a longer trip home.

If you really want to go to Yellowstone, though, now is a great time. While it takes an adventurous spirit to get there, you’ll be rewarded a hundred-fold for your efforts. Absent of crowds so common in the summer, the park will seem down right empty, of people at least (On our winter visit, we watched Old Faithful erupt twice in complete solitude!). You’ll see plenty of wildlife—wolves, otters, bison and bald eagles are all much easier to see against a while backdrop. For more information, check out the Lodging and Learning deals offered by Xanterra, the park concessioner, and the Yellowstone Association.