In Iceland there is a black sand beach that is littered with diamonds – or so it appears. It is near Jökulsárlón which was thirty-seven miles down the road from where my travel mate and I had just set up camp in Skaftafell National Park. At 6:00 pm, after securely anchoring our tents, we sat in the car and contemplated how to spend the remaining four hours of daylight. The sky was a solid mass of heavy black clouds. It was windy, raining, and 45 degrees. Of course we decided to go to the beach.
Since it rained all day in Skaftafell we were lucky to find a tent site that wasn’t under two inches of standing water. In spite of the weather our car camping experience in Iceland fit the definition of “glamping”. Bathrooms were heated, showers were hot, and the internet signal was surprisingly strong. At one campground we had full access to an adjacent rec center, complete with spa and pool. It felt like we were cheating. Especially since we referred to this excursion as our “dirt-bag camping and running trip”.
As we headed toward Jökulsárlón the clouds became so dark we needed headlights. Rain came down in sheets causing us to slow down and set our wipers to hyper-mode. Thankfully our little rental car gripped the road through standing water and we arrived at the parking lot next to Jökulsárlón – translated as “glacial river lagoon”. Inland by less than a mile Jökulsárlón consists of a mix of salt water from the Atlantic Ocean and glacial water fed by Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, a tongue of the largest ice cap in Iceland, Vatnajökull. Due to glacial melt, this lagoon has grown four-fold since the 1970’s.
Teal blue and milky white icebergs, shaded and lined with volcanic ash, were either floating or anchored in Jökulsárlón. They had calved from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. The sight was mesmerizing. Lucky for us the evening sunlight briefly broke through the clouds to allow us a view of the glacier across the lagoon.
The icebergs of Jökulsárlón break into smaller pieces from the influence of weather and tides. These pieces float down a channel to the ocean where they roll around in the currents and get tossed by the surf up onto the shore. The result is a display of naturally formed ice sculptures, no two alike, scattered along the shoreline. It looks like diamonds on the beach.
Diamond Beach describes this unique setting perfectly, but I was curious to learn why it didn’t have an interminably long weirdly accented Icelandic name like the rest of the places we encountered in Iceland. Moreover, the beach was not labeled on our map. Perhaps its recent appearance, some time after Jökulsárlón showed up in 1935, gave tourists a chance to name it first.
Jökulsárlón is constantly growing from glacial melt and is predicted to eventually submerge Diamond Beach. How ironic that the climate conditions that caused the appearance of this unique and beautiful phenomenon are the same ones that will ultimately cause it to vanish.