Trips

Hikers on Blahnukur peak, near Landmannalaugar in Iceland's Central Highlands.

Earth, Wind, and Fire: A Journey to the Planet’s Beginnings in Iceland

By Michael Lanza

The land is on fire.

Actually, the land appears to be smoldering, stoked by some persistent furnace just beneath the surface. Which is essentially true.

Steam from hot springs and other geothermal features issues from scores of points from here to the horizon. Mud pots bubble and burp, and the color of volcanic activity is everywhere—paint-can spills of ochre, pink, gold, plum, brown, rust, and honey against a backdrop of purple pumice and electric-lime moss. An old, hardened lava flow pours down one mountainside in a jumbled train wreck of razor-sharp black rhyolite. Barren peaks extend ridges like the arms of starfish. Chattering streams carry the runoff from July snowfields smeared across the highlands. Scudding clouds stampede overhead, constantly rearranging the dappled sunlight splashing over the landscape.

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