We were awake early and snuck by throngs of tourists to steal breakfast from the hotel we didn’t stay at. With at least a bit of Skyr and some pickled herring in our stomachs we got in the car to find the fabled hot spring swimming pool, Iceland’s oldest, Seljavallalaug.
The dirt road we decided would bring us to the trailhead, ended up being the right one on our too small map and when we got out of the car there was still a bite to the air as the sun hadn’t made it around to where we were yet. The scenery was a construction site, rocky with a bit of water flowing through and a seemingly uncaring man wearing an Icelandic wool sweater operating a front end loader, still this had to be the spot. There were two guys on enduro bikes, who had come from the same place we wanted to head to and they assured us we were in the right spot but that the pool was having some maintenance done by a few local volunteers that pressure wash it once a year.
We made our decision to walk in and check it out regardless of construction, or not; after all those guys could be lying, trying to keep tourists like us away from their local swim spot, hope is a curious thing. As we turned to find the path in, an old Black Lab comes up to say hi, she is greying around the mouth and friendly as can be with quite a bit of slobber to go around. Immediately after introducing herself, she is on the trail beckoning us to follow and so we we’re off following our doggy guide to the oldest pool in Iceland.
Rocky black construction, gave way to rich vibrant green hillsides and cliffs surrounding the valley we were walking through and the trickle of water we had seen in the flat before the trail turned into a river. The morning was still and the air still cold, but this place was almost spiritual; calm and borderline solemn, justifying Icelandic folklore of fairies and trolls. Our four legged tour guide took us up and down hillsides, knowing every which way to get around obstacles and as we approached a medium sized creek crossing, noticed our struggle and brought us lower to an easier place to get across.
Growing closer, the ground emitting the scent of sulfur and steam that only comes from the geothermal, we rounded a corner to see the old pool; built into the hillside, some of the concrete crumbling but still there, and three men in oil gear pressure washing as we’d been told. The pool was empty and we both felt the pang of disappointment despite knowing this prior to our walk in. We took a photo or two, gave the guys a wave and with that followed our friend back to the car, over obstacles, creek crossings, and appreciating every bit of the sun now warming our cold faces and the glowing green hillside behind us.
This post was featured in Volume 1: Issue 2 of Lay Off The Iodine’s Analog Companion.
All photos in this post taken on Canon AE-1 on 35mm film.
As the wind blows free through the desert, meandering through groves of Joshua trees, cacti, and clumps of various Lichen, one can hear its sound; almost an echo. We can’t help but think that the desert is solitary, an encapsulation of a sort of insulated loneliness.
Coming from the thriving Sierra where vibrant greens top the tallest trees, rivers flow with deafening aggression, and monoliths of granite jut up through the sky, our wilderness is sheltered and comforting. Here, in Joshua Tree there is an awesome sense of nothingness and we are left with a clean slate to ponder the landscape, along with the sharp emotion of the nature of desolation.
Isn’t it ironic then to have inhabited places within a wilderness like this. As one looks at the crumbling buildings along the Salton Sea, there is the realization that it can understandably hold hands with a place like Joshua Tree despite the footprints of our predecessors. That the same feeling of quieted loneliness exists here as it does in the barren desert. That we as an invasive species built this and claimed it as our own with buildings, boats, and hotels… and yet, a short time later the desert reclaimed it and forced us out.