Tag Archives: nature

Portland Weekend

I love living in Roseburg. I really do. I love my little house in a way I’ve never loved a collection of building materials combined to create a habitation. My 10 minute commute to work is amazing. The summer weather is everything sunny and perfect. I am surrounded by beautiful places. I love living in Roseburg.

However.

Roseburg does somewhat lack in the amenities department. True, there are some fantastic restaurants, but the options are limited. There is rather a dearth of cultural activities and date night options vary between the movie theatre and the bowling alley. I happily manage what Roseburg is missing with making any excuse to go to Portland for the weekend. In March, having some friends in town for a conference provided more than enough reason to leave my small town in southern Oregon for the big city of Portland.

Things I enjoyed in Portland that I cannot find in my little hometown included the food (of course), a chic hotel, and some iconic Portland sites, including a spot on my “Oregon bucket list.”

Because of a great deal on the HotelTonight app, we booked a room at the Hotel Eastlund in downtown Portland. This hotel had everything – style, comfort, amenities, and a great location with convenient location to the light rail.

There was even a great rooftop bar where we enjoyed sunset cocktails against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.

Afterwards, we took a pleasant walk across the river into the Pearl District for dinner.

As I mentioned, I had friends coming into town for a conference. As the token Oregonian, I had chosen Irving Street Kitchen as the spot to meet for dinner. Pros: Excellent cocktails, an ideal location in the Pearl District, and great style. Plus, it was one of a handful of restaurants that easily took reservations for large groups.

We pretty much closed the place down – believe me, it was packed when we arrived. Even with a reservation there was a bit of a wait.

Cons: The food was solidly good, but not as wonderful as comparably priced restaurants in Portland and the service was slow.

Calamari and clams over squid ink risotto – perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Brandon’s risotto, but the squid ink seemed to add more novelty than flavor
Brandon shared that his steak was excellent and perfectly prepared

Even if Friday’s dinner slightly disappointed, we knew that Saturday morning we would get an unbeatable meal at our favorite restaurant – Le Chon. For the first time, we went there for brunch. It was not disappointing.

I’ve had many good meals in this place and hope there will be many, many more. If you go to Portland and have not eaten here, just do it. And maybe take me with you. And by that I mean definitely take me with you.
Oh my word. These were some type of apple fritter covered in honey with a side of marionberry butter. Oh. my. word.
Of course we had to get the empanadas. These are always a must, no matter the time of day.
Sometimes, just sometimes, he gets tired of waiting to eat until after I’ve taken pictures.
We chose a couple of entrees to share, one of which was the mushroom breakfast tacos.
My favorite was the chicken and biscuits – perfectly fried chicken (says the Southern girl) alongside a cheddar jalapeño biscuit topped with an egg and sausage gravy. This was legit.

Needing to walk off a few calories, we strolled along the river among the blossoming cherry trees before perusing the Portland Saturday Market.

And then!

And then we went to Powell’s.

Somehow, this book loving heart of mine had not managed to make it to this iconic Portland bookstore in the 2 1/2 years I had lived in Oregon. This was literally the biggest bookstore I had ever seen. I spent a blissfully undetermined amount of time (thank you, love) wandering among the maze of books, feeling both overjoyed and overwhelmed, inhaling deep breaths of the book smell, utterly content. It was perfection.

Although at heart, I will never be a city girl, I do love to spend some time there now and then doing all the city things that I miss. And Brandon, wonderful man that he is, tagged along for a weekend of some of my favorites.

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California Dreamin’: Trees of Mystery

Although we may have managed to miss this roadside attraction on the way to California, we planned our trip home so that we could stop at the Trees of Mystery on the way back. Apparently the second time was the charm (perhaps, may I add, because we had a plan…). Of course there are many places and ways to see the redwoods. They are one of the world’s magical places and however one sees them, what is unquestionable is that they should be seen.

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. – John Steinbeck

But if you’re in the mood for a slightly kitschy attraction reminiscent of 1950’s roadside attractions that bring to mind family road trips taken in (now) classic cars, this is the place to go. Despite the clearly tourist centered stop, the trees are no less magnificent. There are three general attractions (other than the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, of course): the walking trails, the Skytrail, and the Wilderness Trail. Adult tickets to access the trails are $16.

The trees along the trail are labeled in various ways, a catchy way to highlight their uniqueness.

The real highlight, though, is the Skytrail. Skytrail is enclosed gondolas that take you high above the redwoods with views that stretch all the way to the ocean.

It is possible to hike back to the bottom using the Wilderness Trail, but on this particular day we lacked the time and the appropriate footwear. Once back on the (non wilderness) trail, there was more to see, including a series of Paul Bunyan themed wood carvings.

We also spent a few minutes in the museum and gift shop at the end. Which gave me my favorite picture of the day:

Trees of Mystery, while an obvious tourist attraction, was a fun stop, worth both the money and time spent.

We made one more quick stop that day, technically before the Trees of Mystery. We wanted to drive through one of the several drive-through trees scattered throughout California. The one that happened to be along our path was the Chandelier Tree. Five dollars and a short drive off Highway 101 was this:

That wraps up our super short, super fun, super packed trip to California. I love that even when we do not have much time, we can fit so much doing into our long weekends and short trips away. I am thankful for our adventures and getaways from the everyday and so glad that we get to make those memories together.

A Year and One Post Aren’t Long Enough

When I last left off, Brandon and I were in the middle of our weekend trip to Bend to celebrate our first year together, the first of what will hopefully be many years together. I had fully intended to share the weekend in a single post, but some things are too big for that. I am so thankful to love and do life with someone who can fit so much living into a single weekend.

And I love that, even when we are away on our adventures, we still find ways to incorporate the routines we love when we are home. For instance, one of our favorite things to do on the weekends is to go out for brunch. Unfortunately, one limitation of Roseburg is that there are approximately two places to go. It is a wonderful change of pace to do one of our favorite things in a place with a few more options.

Saturday we began the morning with breakfast at Riverhouse’s onsite restaurant, Currents. I really cannot think of a better way to start a morning than drinking a blood orange mimosa and eating huevos rancheros while sitting next to a river on a sunny day across from my favorite person. Well, maybe the day would be slightly better if that river were in Europe and not Oregon, but only slightly.

It may seem like a lot of food, but really we needed the fuel. I promise.

As you may remember, at the beginning of the year we had also spent the weekend in the Bend area. One of our favorite things that we did that weekend was take a cave tour. We toured the only cave in the area, Boyd Cave, that is open in the winter. The other caves are hibernation habitats for bats and are closed beginning in the fall. Brandon really wanted to see some of the other caves while they were open over the summer.

And that fact – Brandon wanting to go caving – leads me to this: sometimes, I wonder how we are together. Like when he wants me to watch shows about cars with him (which I do, because love) or when he convinces me to do things that require a hardhat. Sometimes we have very different definitions of fun.

Our first stop was Arnold Ice Cave, which is one in the system of lava caves that are sort of, technically, but kind of not really, open to the public. You see. People are terrible and do things like throw parties and leave graffiti in the caves. Which adversely impacts the cave habitat. Therefore, many of the signs marking directions to the caves have been removed to prevent people from finding them. So yes, in the summer most of them are not barred shut (a few are shut all year, although with Wanderlust Tours there are some tours that give you access to these otherwise completely closed caves – we had a great experience with them in January), but you have to do a bit of sleuthing to actually find them. And then drive down a gravel road or two.

Arnold Ice Cave, thus named because it was once a solid sheet of ice inside (and I imagine still is in the winter months) and at one time was even mined for ice to sell in the nearby city. We could tell that there had been some infrastructure in place. For instance, there was a parking lot of sorts along with the remains of a staircase inside the cave.

But any infrastructure was either no longer maintained or had even been actively destroyed. But that just means it is even more fun, at least according to this guy:

The descent to the mouth of the cave was reasonably steep and required a bit of scrambling. The cave did not go really far back. Although I can only take Brandon’s word for that because I got a bit stuck on the climb in because of short legs. And perhaps some unwillingness to further risk life and limb.

It was a fun spot to explore, though, and it was interesting to see how the cave, despite being in the same cave system, was distinct from the one we crawled through earlier in the year.

We initially planned to return to civilization and explore Lava River Cave, part of the larger Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It was, after all, on my Oregon Bucket List. Unfortunately, we were thwarted by white nose syndrome and honesty. White nose syndrome is a fungal growth that affects bats and is believed to be carried from cave system to cave system by human activity. The syndrome is deadly to bats. Who need to not die because they kill mosquitoes. Save the bats! Because Arnold Ice Cave and Lave River Cave are in different cave systems, we couldn’t bring anything into the cave that had been worn in another cave unless it had been washed. We could have lied when the nice ranger asked us about previous cave activity, but that would have just not been cool.

So on to an as yet unformed Plan B. After a bit of googling, we settled upon the short drive to Smith Rock State Park, which was also on my Oregon to do list.

Oh. My. Goodness. This place was beyond, beyond words. And the pictures come nowhere close to doing justice to the immensity of it all. I can’t even.

May I bring your attention to the seemingly tiny bridge that is actually built for humans to walk on even though this picture makes it look like something made for the scenery of a model train track. Also, please do not miss the switchbacks on that trail.

To get to Smith Rock requires a walk down into the canyon. Which was rather pleasant if one could ignore the pressing thought that what goes down must come up and that getting back to the car would require a painfully steep and not exactly brief hike back up the trail. Once at the bottom, there are many ways to explore the park.

One of the most popular trails, the 3.8 mile Misery Ridge Loop, is one that we would love to return and hike. Like, I must return and hike that trail one day. This day, however, we had nonnegotiable (because there was no way I was missing out) dinner reservations for which we were getting all dressed up, so we contented ourselves with walking along the River Trail.

He is just so handsome

Of course, by the time that we got back to the top, we felt like this:

Although hiking is usually our activity of choice, Smith Rock is a hugely popular climbing spot. It is also a popular spot for crazy people. As we pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car, we noticed someone slack lining across the canyon. I was on my way to pay the $5 fee for parking, so I excitedly asked Brandon to hurry up and take a picture of the crazy person walking across a death defying drop into the space between really tall rocks on nothing but a too thin piece of rope. I was sure this was a unique sight that must be captured on camera immediately to document the insanity before the person either fell or crossed to the other side. After all, there could not possibly be more than one such crazy person in the park.

The thing is, this was not an isolated event. The entire time we were there, we saw people doing this. Smith Rock must be some type of magnet for adrenaline junkies with no proper sense of danger.

As much as we would have loved to explore longer, as I mentioned we had dinner reservations. At Brickhouse. It was so delicious last time, that we knew we had to eat there again.

All cleaned up and ready to eat delicious food
Brandon ordered an old fashioned and I tried something close to a lemon drop with elderberry
We shared baked brie and roasted garlic to start, the kind of dish that is simple perfection
Brandon’s choice was the seafood pasta I had ordered the last time we were there. I may have stolen a bite. Or two or three.
Despite kind of wanting to be boring and order the seafood pasta again, I branched out in the knowledge I could steal some of Brandon’s dinner and instead ordered coconut shrimp.

Of course all of this, the amazing food, the even more amazing company, would pale in comparison to how the dinner ended. To fully appreciate this, you must understand that I am an Arkansas Razorback fan. In my family, watching Razorback football on Saturdays is second only to going to church on Sundays. At any given family gathering, at least 50% of those in attendance will be wearing Razorback red. This is not a thing that is taken lightly. Sadly, since moving to Oregon I have not been able to see much SEC football. That is why I hardly paid attention to the TV in the corner of the bar of the fancy restaurant where we were eating a sophisticated dinner, attention lovingly focused on one another as it should be during a romantic anniversary dinner. As I polished off the last of my coconut shrimp (because I’m not so sophisticated that I leave perfectly good shrimp on the plate) I happened to glance up and then return my attention to Brandon because we were, after all, on a date. And having your date stare at football the entire time is obnoxious.

But then I realized what I had seen. Of all things, THE RAZORBACKS WERE ON TV!!!

With all apologies to Brandon, who handled the situation with much grace, I became rather distracted. I was disappointed that they were losing to TCU, but thrilled to be watching the game. And then, with seconds left in the game Arkansas tied it up!!! I mean just picture this. I am all dressed up, in a nice restaurant, celebrating my one year anniversary and it is all I can do not to stand up and call the Hogs. As one overtime became two became a Razorback victory, I was inhibiting all kinds of noises that would have been entirely inappropriate. I would say that Brandon became acquainted with an entirely new side of me that evening. He even put up with the post-game texts between my brothers and me. Oddly, it was just so perfect. Of all the things and of all the days.

Because I was hyped on adrenaline by then, the only thing we could do was go back to the hotel and order dessert at the lounge. Because I so needed to add sugar to the mix.

It was another perfect day and the trip was not over yet.

Remember the Lave River Cave that we couldn’t see the day before? We returned on Sunday to visit there before heading home.

It has definitely been more developed than other caves in the area, but for good reason. The mile-long lava tube is the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. The bridges and stairs at the beginning get you over the uneven and steep parts rather painlessly and then the cave continues on, the floor flat and alternating between sandy soil and rocky areas. In order to explore, you must have some type of light. We brought our own headlamps, but lanterns are available to rent if you don’t happen to keep headlamps in your trunk like Brandon. But really, who doesn’t keep headlamps in their trunk? It gets completely dark quite quickly and although the walk for much of the cave is relatively flat, there are unexpected rocks and dips in the floor that have probably caused a sprained ankle or two.

I think Lava River Cave is certainly worth a stop. Plus, it’s two miles of walking in what is essentially perfect climate control, even when it is hot outside. With temps in the 40s, you will want to bring a jacket, but it is actually quite pleasant. It was the ideal last stop before the drive home.

Brandon planned the perfect weekend. And then the last minute changes in plans and the unexpected surprises made the weekend even better. I look forward to many, many more adventures together!

A Year Isn’t Long Enough

Fair warning: This could get mushy. Proceed at your own risk.

We had a lovely summer: hot afternoons spent floating the Umpqua River or relaxing half in and half out of the river’s pleasantly cold water, weekends of camping and hiking that were over before they began, my first music festival, and, most of all, falling even more in love with this man whose adventurous and fun-loving nature had pushed me out of my comfort zone and whose kindness and substantial love created a safe place for me to be myself. This had been the most absolutely wonderful summer of my entire life. I even managed to buy a house and move into it almost exactly two years to the day after arriving in Oregon. It was simply perfection.

But the summer, as do all good things, ended. September snuck in with its subtly cooler nights and a hint of frantic energy as the world around us returned to routines and regularity. We could not let the summer end without one last hurrah and our one year dating anniversary  provided the perfect excuse. Our destination a secret until almost the last minute, I anticipated our weekend away and reminisced on what a summer, what a year, it had been.

Brandon planned a weekend full of the things we most loved to do – appreciating beautiful scenery, preferably by foot, having adventures with at least a slight possibility of injury or death, exploring new places, eating an almost embarrassing amount of mouthwatering food, and most of all, spending time together.

We began the weekend with a stop by Crater Lake. A place I have visited and written about multiple times since moving to Oregon, I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing the unbelievably blue water and incredible views to be found in the national park.

We arrived right at lunchtime and decided to eat lunch in the lodge restaurant before setting out to explore. The lunch was delicious, especially considering that Crater Lake is in the middle of nowhere and that bringing in supplies cannot be the most straightforward matter.

Staying here is on my Oregon Bucket List. Maybe next year.
We shared the soup of the day, which was a flavorful, brothy soup with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts.

Brandon’s choice of the frittata was, no surprise, shockingly similar to breakfast food.
And I chose the crab salad in avocados because everything is better in a bowl made out of an avocado. And because calories do not count on vacation.

After lunch, we set out to explore a bit of the park.

At this point we needed to burn off at least part of our lunchtime calories with a hike. Plus, the day was absolute perfection with blue skies and sunshine for days and a temperature in the low 70’s. It was the kind of day that makes you happy simply to be alive to witness it. Such a day should never be wasted indoors. After considering our options, we settled on Watchman Lookout Trail.

See that teeny, tiny building at the top? That’s where we were going.

It was short enough, less than a mile to the top, to easily fit with our other plans for the day. Plus, it was challenging enough to feel like an actual hike, not just a walk, with a steady uphill climb, but the switchbacks were not so steep as to make you regret your life (I’m looking at you Garfield Peak). And then there were the views.

The hike offered open views of the surrounding scenery with glimpses of the lake. Once at the top, which is an old fire lookout (hence the name of the trail), there is an unparalleled view of Crater Lake, the kind of view that makes it hard to breath because it is so beautiful.

It is moments like this, where I am in a place almost too beautiful to be believed, arm in arm with the man I love, that gratitude comes most easily. It presents as a sense of overwhelming joy that tangibly wells up inside of me until I am full of emotion, inexplicably crying because I am so perfectly, so undoubtedly, happy.

What a way to start the weekend!

After Crater Lake, we headed toward our ultimate destination for the weekend, Bend. As you may recall, we had started the year in Bend amid the snow and the cold. Brandon wanted to return in the warm weather and while the caves were still open for the year.

At the last minute, the vacation rental he had reserved for the weekend fell through. The silver lining of that is that we ended up staying at Riverhouse on the Deschutes.

As an (obviously relevant) aside, the Deschutes is the major river in this area of Oregon. Thus, there are many places and things with Deschutes in the title, much as you find with the Umpqua River in Roseburg. Although my southern accent is generally not too noticeable, when I pronounced Deschutes, my accent was not just present, but entirely unmistakable. Which meant Brandon took every opportunity to have me say “Day-shoots.” Apparently my elusive accent is both endearing and quite funny.

But back to the hotel. It was lovely. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, with understated design that fit with the hotel’s overall modern-with-a-hint-of-rustic feel.

Built along both sides of the Deschutes River, river views were plentiful. Although our last minutes plans prevented maximizing the trip with a river view room, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to enjoy it while we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the main part of the hotel or to the pools.

I should probably mention that immediately prior to the trip, Brandon had spent 2 days singlehandedly moving 10 yards of dirt that had been delivered unceremoniously onto my driveway to the backyard so that we could plant grass. Not only did that effort make me feel incredibly loved (I mean, the guy literally moved a mountain of dirt for me), but it also meant Brandon was really in need of a hot tub to sooth aching muscles. Good thing Riverhouse delivered with not just one, but two, hot tubs.

Here is the point when I would normally tell you about the amazing dinner we had after settling into our hotel. You know, the usual unique spot with locally sourced food that we tend to frequent when we travel. However. Upon consulting some of our usual sources for finding the previously mentioned type of restaurant, I happened to notice that there was a Johnny Carino’s nearby. Brandon had never been to Carino’s and I had not been since I moved to Oregon. In that moment, I knew that if I really loved him, I would allow him to have Italian nachos in his life. And by allow, I mean freak out and demand that we go to Carino’s for dinner despite all of the other amazing options available in Bend.

True love on a plate. We both felt good about this decision.

So perhaps our day did not end on a typically “gourmet” note, but it was pretty much a perfect day full of beauty and love and, yes, delicious food. I can’t think of a better kind of day and this was just the beginning.

 

A Wintery Week in Iceland: Land of Fire

Iceland is a land constantly shaped by powerful forces – the land of fire and ice. During my trip, I was able to see this first hand. I relaxed in geothermal springs, I hiked on a glacier, I saw geysers erupt and now dormant volcanoes, I walked through ice and snow. All of it was beautiful and powerful.

The heat in Iceland can be both violent and wonderful. In the wonderful category are the geothermal waters that are used to create thermal baths. One such location that I enjoyed while on my trip was the Fontana Geothermal Baths.

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Located on the banks of Laugarvatn Lake, the multilevel baths offer multiple temperatures, as well as the opportunity to dip in the chilly lake if you’re overheated. Or crazy.

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There was also a sauna available.

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It was a lovely and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. With one exception. There is a certain set of bath etiquette in Iceland that can be somewhat, ummm, uncomfortable for certain (prudish) Americans. That would be the expectation that one showers unclothed in a group shower prior to putting on a swimsuit and entering the baths. I kept reminding myself that I would never see any of these people again. It was certainly worth the temporary discomfort in order to spend a leisurely hour soaking in the warm baths. The spring at the site of the Fontana Baths is one of three in the area. The coolest, Vígðalaug, is where the pagan Parliament of Iceland was reportedly baptized into Christianity in the year 1000. The warmest, Bláskógabyggð, is used for geothermal heating.

The other bath I visited is the not-to-be-missed Blue Lagoon. The water in the lagoon is the result of a byproduct of the nearby geothermal factory. Built into the lava bed, the lagoon waters combine fresh and seawater, as well as beneficial minerals, silica, and algae.

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The lagoon has been moved and expanded over the years to accommodate the factory and growing crowds that flock to the lagoon. There are multiple price options for enjoying the Blue Lagoon. My group got the Premium package. This included a towel and bathrobe, a drink from the swim-up bar, and the ability to use an algae mask in addition to the silica mask available to everyone.

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Upon check-in, you are given a band that corresponds with your package. It gives you access to the spa treatments and can be used to purchase additional services and drinks. Anything charged to the band is paid upon leaving.

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Also, there is wifi. Which allowed me to have the coolest FaceTime conversation ever. Sidetone, it is amazing that technology lets you share cool experiences with someone thousands of miles away.

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There are springs both large and small located throughout the country. I think that for a first time visitor to Iceland, visiting the Blue Lagoon is a must. It is a completely unique place and popular for a reason. Because of this, however, it was quite commercialized and crowded. Although the lagoon was large enough to accommodate the crowd without feeling packed, the number of people were quite evident in the dressing rooms. My preference was the smaller, more intimate Fontana. On a return trip to Iceland, I would probably forego the Blue Lagoon (although again, I think you should go at least once) for one of the many other geothermal springs. Regardless of where you decide to go in Iceland, definitely bring a swimsuit and find some warm water.

Although the water in Iceland can be pleasantly warm, it can also be destructively hot. Approximately 90% of the energy in Iceland comes from geothermal energy, heat harnessed for productivity. The evidence of it is visible in steam and in geysers. In water much too hot to bathe in. In water hot enough to boil water and cook food.

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One such geyser – Strokkur

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The water can even be hot enough to destroy roads when the activity below the surface unexpectedly shifts and makes its presence known above ground.

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One afternoon, I had the opportunity to take a tour with the family-owned Iceland Activities. What I loved about this tour was that it is a family who takes small groups of people to do the things that they love to do in and around their home town of Hveragerdi.

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Located in a volcanic zone, the town of Hveragerdi lives with the constant threat of a changing landscape. They average a major earthquake every 10 years, not to mention the frequent minor earthquakes. Case in point, the hot springs on the hillside that we hiked up with our guide opened up literally overnight due to an earthquake in 2008.

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At the top of the hillside, we had the opportunity to sit on the quite warm ground as we learned more about the springs, ate bread and eggs cooked in the springs, and sipped hot chocolate.

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It's all fun until you get sulphur steam in your face...
It’s all fun until you get sulphur steam in your face…

With a return trip to Iceland, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Iceland Activities to explore more of the area.

Iceland is clearly a country shaped by “fire,” although at times it can look deceptively like ice. Take for instance the now dormant Eyjafjallajökull (don’t ask me how to pronounce it – I’m still working on “godan daginn” – good morning).

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The volcano erupted violently a mere six years ago, the eruption bringing attention to Iceland as flights throughout the world were disrupted by the ash from the eruption.

Then there is the line between tectonic plates that runs the entirety of Iceland. Now visibly cooled, the space between the plates as they move apart continues to be filled with magma far below the surface.

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This evidence of how the world has been shaped and built is rarely seen above ground, most plates meeting below sea level. Throughout Iceland, this divide between the North American and Eurasian plates is easy to observe and provides a fascinating glimpse into the forces at work in and on the earth.

This is a land in which the forces of nature are readily apparent, visible, and a part of daily life. As much as heat has shaped the landscape, so has ice. In my next post I will share more about the other forces at work to create the magnificence that is Iceland.