We spent the majority of one day in Iceland driving across the southern half of the country from Reykjavik to Skaftafell. We had planned a few stops along the way, but it was raining heavily as Hurricane Nicole swept across the southern coast. Unfortunately, the wind and rain made visibility low, so we had to reschedule some of our stops for another day, like the US Naval plane wreck at Sólheimasandur and a hike to Svartifoss. We did manage to stop for a few minutes at Dyrholaey to get a few snapshots of the lighthouse, soaring cliffsides, and of course, the black sand beach.
We were about 25 minutes east of Vik on the Ring Road when we approached a strange sight. It was difficult to make out exactly what we were looking at due to the poor weather, but what we could see looked like strange rock formations protruding from the ground. Although Iceland’s natural landscape is full of beautifully haunting lava rock covered in vibrant mossy patches, this area was clearly something different.
We pulled off the road into a small parking area nearby to check it out. When we got out, we finally realized what we were looking at… a lava field covered in thousands of stones, from pebbles to boulders. Some were scattered about, others were in small piles or large mounds, and many were built into Cairns.
We were greeted by a sign that explained the bizarre area that stood before us. The lava mound covered in stones is called Laufskalavarða (or “Laufskalar Cairn”). The sign explained that the mound is named after a farm that was destroyed in the year 894 during the first recorded eruption of the Katla volcano. Every traveler passing by it for the first time is supposed to add a stone or build a cairn to bring them good luck on their journey.
My favorite thing about Iceland, besides the incredible landscape, was that we found compelling history, tradition, and culture everywhere we looked. Although driving across the countryside in pouring rain wasn’t an ideal way to spend the day, we were happy to come across this unplanned stop that allowed us to take part in Icelandic tradition.