A sunset seen in the sublime wildness of Icelandic scenery has a peculiarly beautiful effect. Over these vast plains, divested of trees or shrubs, covered with dark lava, and shut in by mountains almost of a sable hue, the parting sun sheds an almost magical radiance. The peaks of the mountains shine in the bright parting rays, the jokuls are shrouded in the most delicate roseate hue, while the lower parts of the mountains lie in deep shadow, and frown darkly on the valleys, which resemble a sheet of dark blue water, with an atmosphere of a bluish-red colour floating above it. The most impressive feature of all is the profound silence and solitude; not a sound can be heard, not a living creature is to be seen; every thing appears dead. Throughout the broad valleys not a town nor a village, no, not even a solitary house or a tree or shrub, varies the prospect. The eye wanders over the vast desert, and finds not one familiar object on which it can rest.
To-night, as at past eleven o’clock we reached the elevated plain, I saw a sunset which I shall never forget. The sun disappeared behind the mountains, and in its stead a gorgeous ruddy gleam lighted up hill and valley and glacier. It was long ere I could turn away my eyes from the glittering heights, and yet the valley also offered much that was striking and beautiful.
Throughout almost its entire length this valley formed a meadow, from the extremities of which columns of smoke and boiling springs burst forth. The mists had almost evaporated, and the atmosphere was bright and clear, more transparent even than I had seen it in any other country. I now for the first time noticed, that in the valley itself the radiance was almost as clear as the light of day, so that the most minute objects could be plainly distinguished. This was, however, extremely necessary, for steep and dangerous paths lead over masses of lava into the valley. On one side ran a little river, forming many picturesque waterfalls, some of them above thirty feet in height.
Ida Pfeiffer, Anon, trans., Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North, London, Ingram, Cooke, & Co., 1853
Thingvalla, Iceland, 1845