Highlands of Iceland
The Highlands of Iceland (Icelandic: hálendið [ˈhauːˌlɛntɪθ]) are a sparsely inhabited plateau that covers most of the interior of Iceland. They are situated above 400–500 metres (1300–1600 feet) and are mostly an uninhabitable volcanic desert, because the water precipitating as rain or snow infiltrates so quickly into the ground that it is unavailable for plant growth. This results largely in a surface of grey, black or brown earth, lava and volcanic ashes. A few oasis-like areas, such as Herðubreiðarlindir near Askja, are found only in proximity to rivers.
Icelanders categorise the Highlands as:
- "Háls", meaning a broad mountain ridge between valleys, such as the one near Langavatn north of Borgarnes; or
- "Heiði", meaning the real highlands, such as those alongside the Sprengisandur road.
Most of the numerous glaciers, such as Vatnajökull, Langjökull and Hofsjökull, are also part of the Icelandic Highlands. Vegetation is only found on the shores of the glacier rivers. There is also the danger of glacial outburst floods, or "glacier runs".
The Highlands can be crossed only during the Icelandic summer. For the rest of the year the highland roads are closed. The best known highland roads are Kaldidalur, Kjölur and Sprengisandur. Most highland roads require four-wheel drive vehicles, because it is necessary to cross rivers. However, the Kjölur route can easily be traversed in an ordinary car and is therefore one of the more popular highland roads. Off-road driving is forbidden entirely in Iceland where there is no snow, including the Highlands, to protect the environment.
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