Normally, desert landscapes are characterized by a distinct lack of activity. Other than the occasional stray tumbleweed, tourists shouldn’t expect to see much more than a few stoic cacti basking in the sun. But in Northeastern Iceland is a site that defies all norms: a steaming, bubbling desert.
Námafjall is a geothermal area located east of Lake Myvatn, looking like a mixture of an alien landscape and the Hell from Dante’s Inferno. Located at the base of a towering volcanic mountain, this site features a large collection of boiling mud pots and steam springs called fumaroles, which are openings in the ground that emit sulfurous gases.
During the drive toward the site, the surrounding area could almost be mistaken for an Arizonan desert, but as visitors draw closer to Námafjall, any sense of familiarity drops away. At this site, the desert splits open and steams like a boiling kettle— but it’s not water that the fumaroles and mud pots are spewing into the atmosphere. In order for visitors to enjoy the unique landscape at Námafjall, they must be willing to endure the stench of the noxious fumes emitted from the cracks in the ground, which smell distinctly like rotten eggs.
These fumes have driven away any plant life from the area (as they do tourists with sensitive noses), leaving the site as barren of vegetation as Mars. But if visitors can manage to suffer through the stench, they can wander through a landscape unlike any other. In addition to the fumaroles and mud pots, bright arrays of colored mineral deposits adorn the ground around the area. So, even though the site is devoid of plants, the dirt appears to be teeming with a vibrancy that even the showiest lichens and mosses would be hard pressed to match.