Icelandic Saga: Wonder Falls


Greenland is famously buried beneath an enormous glacier, so largely white, while Iceland is largely green. That said, there’s still plenty of ice on Iceland—for the moment, at least. Vatnajökull, the world’s third-largest glacier, covers much of Iceland’s southeast quarter. Smaller (but plenty impressive) glaciers dot the rest of the island.

Glaciers typically melt at their margins, and these days Iceland’s glaciers are thinning, too, melting away on top. Result: Water, lots of it. And it needs to go somewhere. So hundreds of spectacular waterfalls spill from the highlands across Iceland.

Gullfoss is one of the largest. It pours across a plateau before tumbling into a rift.


Joseph Lambert, leading the photography students on our Nat Geo Student Expeditions trip, gets low above a cliff for a good angle, and to avoid the spray.


If Gullfoss were anywhere in North America or mainland Europe, it would be flooded with visitors as well as water, but here in Iceland, we have it practically to ourselves.


A trail beneath the rock ledge it falls from runs behind the popular Seljalandsfoss, visible from the ring road that circumnavigates Iceland a few hours’ drive from Reykjavik.


While one student climbs a wildflower-covered hillside for another view…


…Joseph dries his tent, soaked by rain the night before.


Meanwhile, Ulyana “Uly” Horodyskyj leads science students to the water to measure its temperature and acidity.


We round out the day at spectacular Skógafoss.


According to legend, a Viking hid a treasure chest behind the waterfall. We didn’t find it, but a climb up a steep path yielded a fantastic view …


… plus a glimpse of a moss-covered rock that resembles George Washington’s profile.


Go figure!

Next up from Iceland: Black Ice.


Photographs by Ford Cochran