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The Landscape

The Westfjords region of Iceland is located in the extreme northwest portion of the country. With its high country, meandering fjords, proximity to the Arctic Circle, and abundant gravel roads, the region is (with the exception of the interior) the most remote and relatively inaccessible location in Iceland. That is not to say that nothing goes on there; in fact, quite a bit does and the purpose of this project it to present as wide a variety of that life as is reasonably possible. The population of Iceland (about the size of Kentucky) is approximately 320,000 people most of whom live in the greater Reykavik area; the population of the West Fjords (9500 sq km) is about 7300. As you can see from the map below, the geography of the region is characterized by numerous fjords all around the coast, and most of the population lives in villages situated about the fjords. There are small farms which raise sheep and some cattle (in the south particularly) scattered about the coastal areas of the region. Its interior is largely uninhabited.

Geologically speaking, the Westfjords are formed of volcanic rock, considerably older than the rest of Iceland, which itself is formed largely (perhaps exclusively) of volcanic rock. The older age of the geology in the area accounts for the relative absence of geothermal activity, which is abundant around much of the rest of the country. There are "hot spots" around the region in which volcanic activity has caused some uplift and formation of more peak-like mountains (as opposed to the flat tops of the fjords obvious in the video). This is especially the case in the area between þingeyri and Flateyri, the Westfjord Alps. Otherwise, the topography of the fjords was formed by glacial activity.

Unlike most other places in Iceland, residents of the Westfjords do not heat their houses with geothermal power, but with electricity that is generated at a small hydroelectric plant south of Hrafnseyri. Consequently, power is somewhat more expensive in the region than elsewhere in the country. A single set of power lines is strung over the mountains into the towns and farms around the region, and in winter it isn't uncommon for the power to go down for short periods during bad weather.

Up until 1994, travel between villages in the region was made exclusively via mountain passes on gravel roads, and consequently many of the towns were cut off from each other for long stretches during the winter, due to avalanches and heavy snow. Some people walked the passes, when possible. In 1996, construction of the tunnel that links Isafjörður with Suðeyri (to the southwest) and Flateyri and Þingeyri (to the south) was completed, thus making travel between these communities and the fjords in which they lie possible throughout the year. The tunnel is a single lane affair, with pullouts every 0.5 kilometers or so to allow traffic to pass. It is sort of arch-shaped and has the appearance of being bored through the hillsides. Its walls, for instance, are not formed of concrete slabs as one sees in tunnels in the US, but of a sort masonry spray coat which seals the rock. About 3 km south of Isafjörður, the tunnel forks with the leg to the right heading to Suðeyri in an additional 3 km. Some people now commute between the three villages (typically to Isafjörður), and two buses run a couple of times a day between the towns.

More than a thousand words...