Although sometimes referred to as one canyon, Hafrahvammagljúfur, this large canyon is actually two canyons, Hafrahvammagljúfur and Dimmugljúfur canyon. And even though the attraction is the spectacular natural wonder, the history of the canyon, both the geological history as well as its place in modern Icelandic history is also fascinating. The impressive canyon stretches about seven to eight kilometers from the northern part of Vatajökull icecap towards the valley Jökuldalur (Glacier Valley). With its 200 meter high walls and only about hundred to hundred and fifty meters width they seem narrow and intimidating as everything is dark and steep. It is believed that the river Jökla dug the canyon over millions of years through the palagonite layer and formed the canyon with some help from other natural forces. The river was the second most powerful river in Iceland for thousands if not millions of years. And you have to be impressed when you stand in front of a natural wonder of this magnitude and scale that is was made with flowing water.
Just recently man stepped in with his engineering know-how
Icelanders have been quite smart in building hydroelectric power plants and utilizing their many rivers to produce electricity for almost a century. For a long time, many viewed the rivers as a key to progress through the power plants rather than a natural wonder to view and enjoy. Unavoidably many Icelanders looked to the mighty river Jöklu as a logical and natural selection for a power plant. It wasn't until the eighties and nineties that this option became real and the power plant Kárahnúkavirkjun took a step from the drawing board into reality. The decision was hand in hand with the huge aluminum smelter you see right outside of the small fishing village Reyðarfjörður. The aluminum smelter was the customer who purchased the electricity. It was a massive project that changed the path of the river as well as the view of the canyons not to mention the size of the mighty glacial river that became a rather small spring fed river. A dam was built across the canyon to collect water in a humongous reservoir and simultaneously sinking beautiful waterfalls, part of the canyon and other unrecoverable natural wonders. It goes without saying that the project initiated a landslide of disputes between those who wanted to switch the natural wonders for the dam, the aluminum smelter and sacrifice the natural wonders on the one hand and conservationists on the other hand.
There are pros and cons, but most people might stop and wonder
Although Hafrahvammagljúfur and Dimmugljúfur are two canyons and part of the spectacular nature in Iceland, the whole project provokes serious questions. Approaching the canyon on an asphalt road deep in the highland is a bit odd for anyone who loves Icelandic nature. Only a few years ago this was a profoundly remote place, and you could not travel from the east site of the mighty river Jökla to the west side, both because of the canyon and the river. Today you drive over both on a dam on a concrete road. For many residents in the declining small fishing villages in the eastern region, on the other hand, it was a welcomed boost for the economy of the area, and a worthy sacrifice for people to have the option of continuing to live where they most preferred.
Access is quite simple today
Access to Hafrahvammagljúfur is quite simple. From the town of Egilsstaðir in the East Region, you drive south on Road 1, the Ring Road. About seven kilometers south you take a turn to the east to Road 931 all the way over the bridge and take a turn to the south again on Road 933. You drive a short distance on 933 and turn to Raod 910 and drive all the way to Hálslón, the new reservoir by Kárahnúkar.