I have recently written a travel-blog about my favourite volcanic craters in Iceland. Now I want to show you an interesting phenomenon; the pseudocraters, which can be found in very few places in the world; Iceland, Hawaii, one in the Azore islands - and in the Athabasca Valles region of the planet Mars, as far as I know.
I have often heard that Iceland is a feast for geologists and the pseudocraters are for sure a good addition to that feast. These rootless craters form when piping hot thin-flowing molten lava flows over a wetland or boggy areas. The hot lava boils the water of the wetlands and the steam pressure causes explosions, creating clusters of pseudocraters.
Top photo: Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters
The biggest pseudocraters in Iceland are the Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters in the Mývatn area in North-Iceland. They are amongst the many extraordinary sights of the Mývatn area, and one of the most interesting natural phenomena in Iceland.
These pseudocraters were formed some 2,300 years ago in the eruption of Lúdentaborgir and Þrengslaborgir. The clusters of pseudocraters sit on a scoria mount, which is unique for this type of craters.
Skútustaðagígar are in my opinion the most spectacular pseudocraters in Iceland, at least of the ones I have visited. They are very distinctive and look like big bowls.
Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters are really easily visited as they are right by the road. A path will take you on an interesting walk amongst these beautiful rootless craters with a view of Lake Mývatn, Iceland's 4th largest lake.
The pseudocraters are sometimes called rootless craters or rootless cones, as they have no end to them, as it were, i.e. they are not connected to a direct magma conduit.
If several explosions occur they look a lot like normal volcanic craters as they have crater bowls, and you might think that they are real craters, which have erupted. If only a few explosions take place then these pseudo craters don't form a volcanic bowl and look more like hills.
Photo by Iurie Belegurschi
While visiting these rootless craters you will notice the difference between them. Some are grassy hills, while others have grassy volcanic bowls and other variations are lava cones with lava spatter and scoria which have been shot up during the explosions.
Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters were protected as a natural monument in 1973 and the protected area is some 70 ha in size.
The photo above is the work of Iurie, who is one of the co-founders of Guide to Iceland and an amazing photographer. I got his permission to post a photo of the Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters, which he shot with a drone.
Read more in my travel-blog: the amazing Mývatn Area in North-Iceland - Part I
In southwest Iceland, only a stone throw away from Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland, you will be able to visit another cluster of pseudocraters - the Rauðhólar - Red Hills rootless craters. They are very distinctive due to their dark maroon colour.
Rauðhólar pseudocraters, which are around 5,000 years old, are located in the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve. They are a part of the Leitahraun lava field, which originated in an eruption from the shield volcano Leitir.
The part of Leitahraun lava field where Rauðhólar exploded is called Elliðaárhraun lava field, but the salmon river Elliðaár runs through parts of Reykjavík city. I will be showing you that beautiful part of Reykjavík in another travel-blog.
Rauðhólar pseudocraters are easily accessible and can be seen from ring road 1 in the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. They were preserved back in 1961 and protected as a natural monument in 1974 after truckloads of gravel were removed from them to use in a landfill, f.ex. Reykjavík domestic airport.
It must have been a beautiful sight when around 80 red pseudocraters covered this area.
I shot the photo above of a young couple in love kissing on top of the Rauðhólar pseudocraters - and asked for their permission of course to post their photo. Later on, they found my travel-blog and asked for the photos for their collection. I think this is such a lovely photo :)
Read more in my travel-blog: the mystical Rauðhólar Pseudocraters & Tröllabörn - the Troll Children in SW-Iceland
These pseudocraters, which cover an area of around 50 sq.km, were most likely formed in the gigantic volcanic eruption in Eldgjá during the years 934-938.
Some of these pseudocraters are hollow craters, ideal to keep "stuff" and act as a natural shelter. Some of them have been used to keep sheep and I saw one crater filled with rusting iron and timber (hopefully just kept there temporarily).
My husband loves to look inside caves, so he crawled into one of the pseudocraters at Landbrot and had a look around. Pseudocraters are delicate though and preserved so let's tread very lightly here.
The pseudocraters are hidden from view from ring-road 1, but if you turn on road 204, Meðallandsvegur, they become visible. We found a gravel road which took us into a pseudocrater area. We drove in between them and hopped out when we found an interesting-looking pseudocrater.
My husband inside Landbrotshólar pseudocraters
There are thousands of pseudocraters in this area, some of which look like cones and pyramids and others which are round and look like bosoms.
A tour guide once told me that he got very distracted sometimes driving with all these bosoms around ;) And you can see why if you have a look at my photo below.
The pseudocraters are not marked on Google maps, but we turned on a gravel road close to the Efri-Vík farm and Hotel Laki, where we were staying for the night.
In this area, you will also find an elf-city and an elf-church, an 11th-century wall called Bjarnagarður, and an ash bunker, where you can see ash layers from different volcanic eruptions, even as far back as before year 900.
After driving through the vast lava sand plains of Mýrdalssandur in South-Iceland you will notice a change in the landscape. Here Álftaversgígar, a cluster of pseudocraters, start popping up out of the flat landscape.
I think they make the landscape look very distinctive and they also conveniently act as a barrier for the massive glacial floods during the Katla eruptions.
Here the pseudocraters look like spatter cones, which means that the power of the explosions, which created them, was not massive as was the case in some of the pseudocraters in North Iceland.
Álftaversgígar pseudocraters - útsýnisskífa means a view-dial
These pseudocraters, like Landbrotshólar pseudocraters, were most likely created during the massive Eldgjá eruption in 934.
They were protected as a natural monument in 1975, but many of the pseudocraters in Iceland are now protected.
I am grateful for that as some of these pseudocraters might have been destroyed completely and used for road construction or airport constructions like Rauðhólar pseudocraters.
By the view-dial on top of Álftaversgígar pseudocraters
On top of one of the pseudocraters, you will find steps leading up to a view-dial. My father-in-law has designed many of the view-dials in Iceland, and I search for them on my travels around Iceland.
There are over 90+ view-dials all over Iceland, some of them easily accessible like this one, but others on top of mountains. These view-dials show the names of the mountains in the surrounding area.
I have managed to take photos of almost all of them, apart from the ones on mountain tops, as I am far from being a good hiker.
The view-dial on top of Álftaversgígar (one of them)
I have added photos and information about the veiw-dials in many of my travel-blogs, but one travel-blog I dedicated to the view-dials in the Westfjords of Iceland:
The Álftaversgígar pseudocraters are right by ring-road 1 and my photos are taken by the intersection of ring-road 1 and road 211.
Rauðhólar pseudocraters in Laxárdalur valley in North-Iceland
I found a cluster of maroon pseudocraters in Laxárdalur valley in North-Iceland. They are also called Rauðhólar - Red Hills, like the maroon pseudocraters in South-Iceland, which I mentioned earlier.
You can stop by the pseudocraters and have a look around. I have ties to this valley and have many times walked around surrounded by red pseudocraters.
A little bit further up in Laxárdalur valley the majestic-looking Þverá turf house is to be found. And the famous river Laxá runs through this beautiful valley.
The pseudocraters in my photo below are a cluster of pseudocraters close to the intersection of roads 85 and 845 leading to Húsavík. They are clearly visible on Google maps.
Pseudocraters in Aðalhraun
Some of these pseudocraters look like the more normal hilly pseudocraters while others look like spatter cones and hornitos - and maybe some of them are - I am no geologist, just trying to make sense of this strange phenomenon in my country ;)
You can see more strange lava formations in this area in my travel-blog on the Peculiar Knútsstaðaborg.
Pseudocraters in Þjórsárdalur valley upcountry in South-Iceland
Other places in Iceland where pseudocraters can be found is in Þjórsárdalur valley upcountry in South-Iceland. I have written several travel-blogs about Þjórsárdalur, but have only driven by some of the pseudocraters on my way to Stöng and Gjáin. I looked them up on Google maps and they are clearly visible if you zoom in.
I found the map below of the locations of the pseudocraters in Iceland on the website of Umhverfisstofnun - the Environmental Agency and on the webpage of the Natural Research Station of Mývatn. I hope they don't mind me using it for my travel-blog.
A map of pseudocraters in Iceland
Now, these are the pseudocraters which I have seen on my travels in Iceland, and I hope you find this subject as interesting as I do. This is only one of my 280 travel-blogs, so there is plenty of other interesting sights in Iceland to read up on.
To visit these pseudocraters it is best to rent a car and drive around Iceland on your own.
Have a lovely time in Iceland :)