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Kerid Crater Lake proves that Southern Iceland isn't all 'fire and ice' as many people believe. Located near the capital city of Reykjavik, Kerid is a regular stop for tourists along the Golden Circle sightseeing route and one of the most-photographed features in an amazing landscape. A product of the volcanic past that continues to form the island of Iceland, the collapsed volcano which created the caldera that holds the little lake has been extinct for at least 3500 years. Kerid is one of several volcanic craters in the area. Known as Iceland's Western Volcanic Zone, the area includes the Reykjanes peninsula and the Langjokull Glacier. Two other volcanic craters lie nearby but are hardly recognizable due to weathering as they are considerably older. And it is the unusual red-hued volcanic rock that forms the caldera reflected in the beautiful blue of the lake that makes Kerid Crater Lake so memorable.
Coming upon Kerid Crater Lake could be most unexpected; only a small sign marks the turn-off from the main road, and the rim is nearly the same elevation as the surrounding landscape. Scientists puzzled over Kerid for years until they decided that eruptions of the original volcano had, over a long period of time, undermined the volcanic dome which finally collapsed, forming a 180-foot caldera below the surface. The crater is less than 900 feet across at its widest point, offering some shelter to the unusual red rock walls of the caldera. Protected from weathering, the jagged rocks and fissures of the walls stand in sharp contrast to the gentle rolling landscape nearby.
Small Kerid Crater Lake is unusual in that it doesn't gain water from rainfall or inflows but is at the same elevation as the ground water in the area. Kerid Crater Lake thus varies in size and depth as ground water in the area changes and is the perfect indicator of the water table. The small size of the caldera makes the majesty of the towering walls much more vivid than would a larger crater. The caldera is a natural amphitheater; several performance artists have performed from a floating platform in the middle of Kerid Crater Lake.
The majority of the caldera walls that surround Kerid Crater Lake are quite steep, but can be navigated on foot in some areas. One small area of the slope is far more gradual and offers an easier way down to the shore of the blue-colored lake. That gradual slope has a thick covering of moss, creating a patch of green against the startling red walls. Few visitors can walk away without taking a large number of pictures, hoping to capture the colors and textures surrounding their vantage point. In winter, the lake freezes, losing much of its unusual color. Nearly all tours in this area of Iceland make a stop at Kerid Crater Lake, but there are no services in the area. A large sign at the rim explains the formation and current condition of the lake in several languages. A few ambitious visitors, usually those with their own transportation, hike all the way around the crater rim. The tour buses seldom stay long enough to allow for an extended walk.
Although the earth at Kerid Crater Lake is quiet and serene, evidence of geothermal activity below the surface is not far away. The Golden Circle loop makes stops at several places where nature's power is on display. Many tours make a stop at a nearby hydrothermal farm, where greenhouses are heated by geothermal activity. And every tour makes a mandatory stop at the Geysir hot springs. First described in the 14th century, the large Geysir water eruption is the largest erupting spring at the site, but sometimes doesn't perform as well as visitors would hope. When Geysir goes thru a 'dry spell', it may only erupt once a day or so. Fortunately, the Strokker geyser is usually more cooperative, sending its spout of water and steam 25 feet into the air every few minutes.
As geysers are only found in active volcanic zones and usually along fault lines, the geology of Iceland's southern region is on full display. It is clearly seen at one of the nearby attractions called Gulfoss Falls. These spectacular falls feature a two-stage waterfall that makes two 250-foot drops with a horseshoe bend between. The wide falls empty into a deep gorge with tremendous force, sending water spray hundreds of feet into the air. The faulting of the earth's crust is on display here. Not far away, another large waterfall called Horse Mane Falls provides yet another impressive and powerful show.
Thingvellir National Park is nearly always a key stop on any tour of Southern Iceland. This massive park is the spot at which the two tectonic plates, North American and Eurasian, come together and one of the few places the massive Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes to the surface. . A huge rift valley has been created here as the two plates move apart. Accompanied by volcanic action, new land is being formed between rift walls that move at about three-quarters of an inch a year. Here lies Iceland's largest natural lake, Lake Thingvallavatn, and the spectacular cliffs marking the rift walls.
From Kerid Crater Lake to Thingvellir National Park, every geological feature that is Iceland is in evidence. Iceland's second-largest glacier can even be glimpsed along the route. Visitors can rent a car and drive the route themselves, but the convenient tour buses usually contain a guide with a wealth of knowledge involving Icelandic history, geology, plate tectonics and local lore. Most organized tours start from Reykjavik, a modern city with a large number of hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, inns, restaurants and evening entertainment. Guest cottages are dotted along the roads in the tour area, often with pastoral scenic views featuring the beautiful Icelandic horses bred in the area. Small hotels and inns can be found in the larger villages. Tours into the mountains can be arranged, and fishing on many of the lakes is available. Jeep tours can be arranged that cover not only the features listed but visits to glaciers and many areas inaccessible by passenger car. There is plenty to see and do in Iceland. If you're longing for a different type of vacation, schedule your flight to Iceland soon and book your tour to Kerid Crater Lake.
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