Iceland Day 5 / by Meredith Washburn

This morning we walked for hours on planet Mars.

Just kidding, but that's what it felt like.

We were the only people walking the approximately 4km on the Sólheimasandur black beach to see the famous crashed US Navy DC-3 plane (for the second time, might I add). Even without the mysterious and eerily wrecked DC-3 plane as our goal, the walk out to the ocean along the miles and miles of black sand is an experience to be had; like living in a black and white photograph. Perfectly level black sand stretched along the line of the horizon, solitary. The emptiness, the perfection and rawness of nature, the absence of humanity, and the presence of God in a place so foreign to my eyes is something I'll never forget. For a brief moment, I felt like Ben and I were the only people left on earth and it was both terrifying and magical all at once. Seeing nature in its completely untouched form is especially beautiful. My hope is that visitors to Iceland are careful to preserve and realize the privilege to visit a place so untouched and remarkable.

Once at the plane, we took some photos I have been dreaming about for a long time. Something about this wrecked plane, abandoned and surrounded by miles of unobstructed land, mirrors the way I feel about life; alluring, mysterious, messy, fractured, photogenic, unusual, and magnetic. Seeing the plane in real life has been a dream of mine, and it definitely didn't disappoint.

History

On November 24, 1973, a US Navy DC-3 plane was forced to make an emergency landing on the Sólheimasandur beach in the south of Iceland. While no one is exactly sure of why the plane went down, the suspected cause was due to an empty fuel tank. All of the crew members survived the crash and the plane was left abandoned on the desolate beach.

How do you find the wrecked DC-3 plane?

The wreckage is located on the South coast of Iceland heading East (counterclockwise around the ring road). After driving past Skógafoss, heading East on Rt 1, you'll cross a bridge with blinking yellow lights. Once past the bridge, keep your eyes open for a dirt road turnoff with an open gate at the bottom about 2 km past the bridge (on the right side of the road). There are usually cars parked there (it's a popular destination, so you shouldn't miss it!). If you've passed the second bridge you've gone too far. The walk from the parking area takes about an hour 1/2, but it's quite an easy hike. Make sure you have comfortable hiking boots because the ground is pretty rocky! Everyone keeps asking "is the plane is still open to visitors?". The answer is YES! The plane is located on private property so be respectful of the land and the plane. Visitors were driving off road and leaving the area a mess, so the owners closed the road to the wrecked plane. Justin Bieber also recently filmed a music video where he is seen skateboarding on top of the wrecked plane (a sign is still staked in the ground near the plane mentioning his video is in the process of being made -- it's not, obviously, as it's already been released). The landowners have banned access to vehicles driving on the beach but you can still walk the 4km to the plane from the road (approx 8 km round trip). It's definitely worth the walk to see in real life. If you plan on visiting, please be respectful of the property and the plane.

Following our early morning escapades to the plane wreckage, we headed on to a new adventure, a small peninsula, Dyrhólaey. The drive up the top of the hill to see the lighthouse, Dyrhólaeyjarviti, constructed in 1910 was interesting. Probably best if you have a 4x4 vehicle as the hill to get to the top is pretty rugged with lots of big holes. Once at the top, there is a stunning view of the ocean, black beach, and land surrounding the peninsula.

Our next stop was the cute little town of Vik, the southernmost village in Icleand. We stopped and saw the infamous church on a hill (although, I'm quite positive you see this exact same style church about 50+ more times during your drive around the ring road). haha. It does sit beautifully atop a hill in Vik surrounded by fields of vibrant Alaskan lupine. The purple flowers were introduced to Iceland in 1945 as a way to add nitrogen to the soil and to serve as an anchor for organic matter, but has flourished and become invasive. One of the Icelandic natives told us although quite beautiful, the lupine have taken over a lot of the land where blueberry fields used to be rich in fruit. Spreading like wildfire, these plants have also invaded areas where low-growing mosses have formed over many years and are unfortunately killing other native plants. Species diversity among plants has decreased since the introduction of these plants.

After reaching Vik, we turned back and headed to the famous black sand beach under the Reynisfjall mountain, Reynisfjara. This beach is the only black beach I had ever heard about in Iceland, not realizing that almost all of the beaches in Iceland are black. This beach is famous for the basalt columns, caves along the beach, and cold and dangerously unpredictable waves. When the tide is in you can actually become trapped in the caves. 

Continuing East past Vik, the black sand and windy rivers, there is a stretch along the road, Þjóðvegur 1, where you're completely surrounded by hills of volcanic rock and moss. There are places where you can pull off and hike down paths and it's incredible. The ground is so soft and spongy. If you're visiting, please do not ever walk or run on the moss. There are special paths already made, stay on them!!!! Iceland's fragile nature needs preserving and the moss can be easily damaged and potentially irreparable. Follow the mantra 'leave no trace'!!!!!! Take only pictures and memories and be considerate of other visitors...protect the quality of their experience.