ATLAS OBSCURA

A Guide to the Ice Caves of Iceland

From the middle of November through March, Iceland’s glaciers creak open, exposing surreal caverns.

These ice caves can be luminous or dark, depending on the pressure of the water in the glacier and their depth. The most otherworldly are the “Crystal Caves” of the Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park, the largest of Europe’s glaciers, where the light filters blue into the wide chasms in the ice.

Visiting ice caves is extremely hazardous and only recommended with a guide, such as Local Guide of VatnajökullIcelandic Mountain GuidesGoecco Eco Adventures Iceland, and Glacier Guides. Each year these guides discover the season’s caves, as each winter’s offerings are different from the last. Once summer comes, the ice becomes unsafe for humans to enter due to the threat of collapse in the warmer temperatures.

For the complete guide to Iceland’s ice caves, keep reading on Atlas Obscura! 

Atlas Obscura’s Iceland Week is in partnership with Icelandair, who will fly you to this unreal wonderland for surprisingly cheap

Watching the World Go By: A Timelapse Tour of Iceland

Atlas Obscura’s Iceland Week is in partnership with Icelandair, who will fly you to this unreal wonderland for surprisingly cheap

Iceland is a country of otherworldly beauty, and to see this alien landscape in person can stir the imagination like almost no other place. However, if you haven’t yet had the chance to visit, there is one medium up to the challenge of breathing life into Iceland from your computer screen.

To create a time-lapse video, a still camera is set up on a tripod, and is programmed to take photos in evenly spaced intervals, say one photo every 10 seconds. The final product is a vision of many hours compressed into just a moment, resulting in a familiar world seen in an impossible way — clouds fly by, tides ebb and flow in a matter of seconds, the sun sets in a flash before your eyes. 

Iceland makes a perfect subject for this medium — its incredible scale, varied landscapes, and fantastical geological features have inspired many a time-lapse. From the mysterious light show of the Northern Lights threading across the sky, to ethereal gliding blue icebergs, to the eruption of a volcano, to the pink glow of the Midnight Sun, we’ve gathered some of the very best here, so hit play and journey to magical Iceland through a lens that, without the help of a camera, no mere mortal could see.

Ancient Kjolur Trail - Kjolur, Iceland

Located on a desert plateau in the highlands of Iceland, the Ancient Kjolur Trail is a long winding road that leads travelers across a historic glacial shortcut written about in the Sagas, used by famous sheep thieves, and forgotten for a century after claiming the lives of some trekkers. 

Since before the time of the vikings, the Kjolur Trail, which runs from North to South between two mountainous glaciers has been a popular way to travel across the barren highland deserts of Iceland. Early reports from the time of the Sagas tell of small armies that would use the road to hurry to and fro from conflict to conflict. However it was during the 18th century when the road began to gain true notoriety. It is rumored that during this period the famous Icelandic outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife took up residence along a portion of the road that is now known as the “Valley of Thieves.” In addition to its connection to those criminals, there is also a tale of two travelers who were guiding their flock of 100 sheep along the road and got caught in a snowstorm. Both the shepherds and their flock perished along the way which also created a site known as “Bone Hill.” After this era, the road fell off the map so to speak for almost 100 years before being rediscovered in the 19th century and has since been a popular road for hikers and other visitors.

The geography of the area is also of note for the fields of hot springs and geothermal pools that occur along the way. There are also a number of huts and rock formations that can be visited while traveling on the road. So whether trekkers are looking to walk in the footsteps of history or just to find some nice photo opportunities, the Ancient Kjolur Trail has hundreds of years of answers.

For more on the Ancient Kjolur Trail, visit Atlas Obscura!

Atlas Obscura’s Iceland Week is in partnership with Icelandair, the airline that can fly you to this unreal wonder and many others for surprisingly cheap!

americanguide:

THE DESCENT OF CIVILIZATION - AMERICAN BISON, SOUTH DAKOTA

These animals have largely forsaken the nomadic tendencies of their ancestors and are generally content to remain the year around on the home range. Only occasionally does one wander away. Such was the case in 1936 when an old buffalo appeared in a farmer’s yard near Witten in the Rosebud country. The children screamed and climbed the windmill; the excited parents called the neighbors on the party telephone line and soon all were there with automobiles. Using cars, the farmers chased the decrepit old buffalo until he fell exhausted and died.

A South Dakota Guide (WPA, 1938)

Before Alexander Hamilton’s visage graced the ten dollar bill, it was Andrew Jackson’s mug leering from the note. But just preceding Old Hickory, for an all-too-brief period of 13 years, the sawbuck sported a far worthier American symbol—the bison. When the Treasury released the “Buffalo Bill” in 1901, there were only a few hundred living animals remaining. 

The American bison was one of the first and best cases for conservation in the United States, largely because their near incalculable numbers were relentlessly exterminated within an incredibly short span of time. White buffalo hunters, government policies targeting American Indians, the Transcontinental Railroad, and even telegraph companies were all drivers behind the bison’s systematic annihilation.  

In 1889, William Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx Zoo, wrote, “Of all the quadrupeds that have lived upon the earth, probably no other species has ever marshaled such innumerable hosts as those of the American bison. It would have been as easy to count or to estimate the number of leaves in a forest as to calculate the number of buffaloes living at any given time during the history of the species previous to 1870.”

Today there are about 500,000 bison in North America (some 10 percent of which belong to Buffalo Bill wanna-be Ted Turner) and the animals continue to be a source of controversy. In Montana, ranchers fear the spread of brucellosis from roaming bison to their cattle herds, and are trying to stop the restoration of wild buffalo to the land. One state legislator remarked, “Why do you want to spread this creeping cancer, these wooly tanks, around the state of Montana? We’ve got zero tolerance left in our bones.”

All wrangling aside, when you round a bend and see for the first time the hulking black masses dividing flat green from flat blue, it is heart-stopping. A shadow play of the Great Plains myth moving slowly across the horizon, never to be forgotten. 

Guide note: During the summer months Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop Road is packed with RVs and minivans, but it’s also a good place to get the merest hint of what bison herds must have been like in the 19th century. And if you’re up for roughing it in the primitive camping area of the park, you may wake up to the snorts, snuffles and bellowing grunts of a herd surrounding your tent.

Further reading: 

Ghost Dances: Proving Up On the Great Plains by Josh Garrett-Davis begins at the Bronx Zoo’s bison enclosure and unspools the deeply layered history of the Great Plains alongside a memoir of growing up in South Dakota.  

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley contains (amongst other fascinating conservation tales) the story of Roosevelt and William Hornaday’s attempts to save the bison from extinction.

Images - Erin Chapman & Tom McNamara; Words - Erin Chapman; Archive - Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Burton Historical Collection - Detroit Public Library

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Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of The American Guide. 

Into the Heart of ThrihnukagigurA Trip Inside a Voclano

There’s only one volcano where visitors can descend into a magma chamber, and it’s just 13 miles outside of Reykjavík, Iceland.

Thrihnukagigur — or “Three Peaks Crater” — opened to the public in 2012 after a campaign from cave explorer Árni B. Stefánsson to make it accessible. The visits have continued into this year, and from May 15 to September 13, tour operators Inside the Volcano will transport you down 394 feet on an open-air cable lift elevator into the heart of the volcano through a 12 foot by 12 foot cinder cone opening.

The volcano, located in Bláfjöll Country Park, has been dormant for 4,000 years, although that doesn’t mean it will never explode again. Iceland is a volatile place, sitting on top of where the Eurasian and North American plates slide apart. However, Inside the Volcano offers this confidence on their site: “We know what you are probably thinking — This is crazy and must be dangerous. But don’t worry, you will be surrounded by expert guides at all times and you can rest assured that extreme safety precautions are taken at every step of the process.”

For the details to plan a trip into the heart of a volcano, keep reading on Atlas Obscura…

Atlas Obscura’s Iceland Week is in partnership with Icelandair, who will fly you to this unreal wonderland for surprisingly cheap

laphamsquarterly:

"I knew she was oversize, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff. I knew she was called an “old maid,” and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation, but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features—for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles—but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty five or forty years."
Abraham Lincoln goes on a blind date; is kind of a jerk about it.
High-res

laphamsquarterly:

"I knew she was oversize, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff. I knew she was called an “old maid,” and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation, but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features—for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles—but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty five or forty years."

Abraham Lincoln goes on a blind date; is kind of a jerk about it.

The Library of WaterStykkishólmur, Iceland

Known as “Vatnasafn” in the native Icelandic, the Library of Water is a long-term project that has set out to capture the spirit of Iceland through its waters, weather, and words.

Located in a former library building built on a coastal promontory, this long term installation is both an art piece and natural history collection. The piece consists of three distinct parts: One area collects audio recordings (accompanied by visual displays) of Icelandic weather as reported by the local people around the town of Stykkishólmur, where the exhibition is located, creating an interactive self-portrait of the area. Accenting this display is the floor of the main room which is made of rubber etched with both English and Icelandic words pertaining to the weather. The centerpiece of the site is the titular “Library of Water” which is kept in floor-to-ceiling clear cylinders. Each pillar standing throughout the main room is filled with water that was melted from one of Iceland’s 24 glaciers. Every tube holds the liquid of a single glacier, allowing visitors to take a sort of tour all across Iceland right in one room.

For more on The Library of Water, keep reading on Atlas Obscura…

Atlas Obscura’s Iceland Week is in partnership with Icelandair, the airline that can fly you to this unreal wonder and many others for surprisingly cheap!  

Hand of Glory: The Macabre Magic of Severed Hands

A traditional form of punishment, under Sharia, Islamic law, and in Medieval Europe, involved publicly amputating a criminal’s body part, often the one used to commit a crime.

The pain of the amputation and the shame of the permanent mark served as punishment for the criminal, while the display of the severed limb functioned as a sinister warning to all onlookers: follow in this guy’s footsteps and you will suffer a similar fate. This macabre tradition likely has its roots in the Code of Hammurabi.

In Europe, the severed hands of criminals were displayed like relics to prevent future grievances (a thief’s arm still dangles in a Prague church). In most cases the owner of the hand was not known, but the provenance was usually irrelevant because the setting of the hand’s exhibition determined the story that was told about its origin.

The Haunch of Venison in Wiltshire, England, is a 684-year-old pub that was famous for its display of a cursed gambler’s hand. The hand was reportedly amputated from a gambler who was caught cheating during a game of whist a few hundred years ago. According to workers at the pub, a butcher chopped the gambler’s hand off and threw it into the fireplace. The grisly relic was discovered during renovation work at the pub in 1911 and was stored in a locked glass case with a pack of 18th century playing cards. In 2010, thieves unscrewed the glass cabinet and stole the criminal’s relic.

For the full, sordid history of severed hands, keep reading on Atlas Obscura!

Hello, I saw that you did a reblog about two man holding cannons while riding camels and I wanted to ask you if you know what kingdom does them represent? I didn't find their banner on the internet so I hope that you will answer the question

Asked by alonjak

Good question… It seems the image of men on cannon-packing camels depicts the 19th-century zamburak cavalries of Persia, according to the incredible article compiled by the Appendix Journal from which the image was excerpted.

Hope that helps, and thanks for writing!

-Sarah (for Atlas Obscura)

Salar de Maras - Peru

While the salt mines are set up for tourism, complete with little shops selling bottled water, felt alligator slippers, and packaged spa sea salt, you may find that you are the only tourist there. The desolation of the place lends to the otherworldly feel that embodies Salar de Maras.

Built on the side of Qaqawiñay mountain, approximately 3,000 small wells fill with salt water from a natural spring above them. When the water evaporates, the salt left behind gradually solidifies, and is ready to be harvested. The salt is collected by hand by barefoot workers, who load the salt into sacks to haul down the hive-like structure.

The salt mines are northwest of the town of Maras, and are open to the public.

Get all the details for visiting Salar de Maras on Atlas Obscura…

Painted Hills - Mitchell, Oregon

An unusual partnering of a brutal high-desert climate mixed with the gentler lowland environment creates a setting for one of the most scenic landscapes in Oregon state.

What was once an ancient floodplain is now a colorful, multi-layered landscape that reveals details of geological eras past and mirrors the drawings of scored hillsides in textbooks. Bands of black, grey and red flow across mounds of land that look even more striking when wet with rains. The 3,132 acres is part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. With an abundance of early rhino, horse and camel fossils it’s a treasure trove to paleontologists, and it attracts artists in search of a natural subject and naturalists looking for an unusual display of beauty.

Pay a visit to Oregon’s little-known Painted Hills, on Atlas Obscura!

Bage in the entrance to the Astronomic Observatory, Antarctica, 1911-1914 / Frank Hurley (by State Library of New South Wales collection)

Robert Bage (1888-1915) was an Australian soldier, explorer, and was the astronomer on Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition. 
Frank Hurley visited the Antarctic six times between 1911 and 1932. For more information and pictures, visit Discover Hurley’s Antarctica on the State Library of NSW’s website.

How do you make astronomy even more laudable? Perform it at the turn-of-the-century in Antarctica, of course! 
(via the State Library of New South Wales’ fantastic Flickr feed) High-res

Bage in the entrance to the Astronomic Observatory, Antarctica, 1911-1914 / Frank Hurley (by State Library of New South Wales collection)

Robert Bage (1888-1915) was an Australian soldier, explorer, and was the astronomer on Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition. 

Frank Hurley visited the Antarctic six times between 1911 and 1932. For more information and pictures, visit Discover Hurley’s Antarctica on the State Library of NSW’s website.

How do you make astronomy even more laudable? Perform it at the turn-of-the-century in Antarctica, of course! 

(via the State Library of New South Wales’ fantastic Flickr feed)

Erta Ale - Afar Zone 2, Ethiopia

Located in the Danakil Depression (or Afar Depression) in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia, Erta Ale is one of the driest, lowest and hottest places on earth. Temperatures during the year range from 77°F to 118°F. The area is beset by drought, bereft of trees, and has little in the way of roads.

Known by the Afar as the “smoking mountain” and “the gateway to hell,” Erta Ale is a 2,011-foot-high constantly active basaltic shield volcano. It is one of only a handful of continuously active volcanos in the world, and a member of an even more exclusive group: volcanos with lava lakes. While there are only five known volcanos with lava lakes globally, Erta Ale often has two active lava lakes — making it a unique site.

Erta Ale was discovered in 1906, making it the longest-known lava lake. For a lava lake to exist, the surface of the lake and the magma chamber below must form a constant convecting system, or the entire thing will cool and solidify. Beneath the ground surrounding Erta Ale is an enormous pool of active magma. The lake goes through cycles and will cool, form a black layer on top, and then suddenly convect back into liquid lava. Occasionally, due to pressure, “fountains” of lava will form, spewing lava in 6- to 13-foot-high plumes.

Dive deeper into Erta Ale’s lava lakes, on Atlas Obscura!