We will take a detour on our route to look at this beautiful lake. On our way, and by the lake, we can see clear marks of glacier erosion, and the fine harmony between the construction of nature and the harsh weather conditions here in Iceland.
From Gullfoss we head to the highlands. The area is considered a desert. In many areas rofabörð reveal the history of the erosion since the glaciers retreated.
Researches estimate about 65% vegetation of land and 25-40% coverage of forest before the first settlement. In addition, small bushes and shrubbery were widely spread.
Trees and bushes, mostly consisting of birch and some willow scrub, created ideal conditions for a variety of high yielding crops and gave the sensitive soil the necessary protection. This vegetation had formed and evolved until settlement without intervention by humans and livestock, fully capable of surviving volcanic eruptions and the harsh weather conditions, but not yet ready for the strain of overgrazing, harvesting and chopping, which followed the inhabitancy of humans and their livestock.
Clear signs have been found in various places of our ancestors chopping down the woods for charcoals, needed to smelt iron to make tools. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century when such tools were imported. Yet, wood was used for fuel for heating and cooking until around 1950.
Before we started protecting land parts from grazing, the birch had spread somewhat to the enclosed areas. The extent of the Icelandic birch woods is thought to have reached a post-glacial minimum of under 1% of total land by the mid 20th century; perhaps less. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, pioneers had also started afforestation by planting about the same time.
We will not stop here for a long time since we still have quite a long drive ahead of us, and as you have noticed, the roads are quite bumpy. We can walk up to see the lake and the waterfall from it, to enjoy the amazing scenery.
The waterfall runs to the river Farið. Debates have been whether or not to harness the river for a hydroelectric plant.
The SCSI have pointed out that by damming the river, the surface of Hagavatn would increase and prevent soil erosion in the area. However, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History believes that if the lake is used as a reservoir, soil erosion from its base would increase early summer and late winter.
The Icelandic Tourist Association is against the plans, as they don’t think a dam and a power plant will draw tourists to the area, which is growing in popularity as a hiking destination.