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Photos: Iceland is the Arctic's 'Wild West of Fire and Ice'

Renting a car in Iceland is not cheap. My car, from Sixt, worked out to about $80 per day. Gas is about $7.60 per gallon. But driving in Iceland is relatively simple--not the daunting task it can be in Rome or Paris, for example.
Scott McMurren photo
The Blue Lagoon, located between downtown Reykjavik and the international airport, is nearly an acre in size and offers travelers mineral-rich heated waters, a great place to destress after a long flight.
Scott McMurren photo
Designed in 1937, The Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík named after the 17th century Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson.
Scott McMurren photo
The drive north from Geirshlid to Isafjordur is 245 miles and took me more than six hours. That's because I kept stopping to take photos.
Scott McMurren photo
Gudmunder "Gummi" Eyjolfsson is one of many knowledgable locals who offer guided tours of Iceland. Eyjolfsson is pictured here with his "Super Jeep."
Scott McMurren photo
I headed north from Reyjkavik about 60 miles to a small guesthouse in farm country. Hulda Hrönn Sigurðardóttir and her family have the Geirshlid Guesthouse, which is essentially rooms in their farmhouse.
Scott McMurren photo
The Hvítá -- translated into "white river" in English -- flows 25 miles from Langjökull glacier in Iceland's highlands before dropping down into a narrow gorge at the Gullfoss waterfall, pictured.
Scott McMurren photo
Flights from Anchorage to Iceland are surprisingly affordable and offer easy access to many European destinations, including London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo.
Scott McMurren photo
Situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, Iceland is a nation of mariners. Fishing has helped propel Iceland from poverty into one of the world's wealthiest developed nations. The Jupiter is one of many vessels docked in Reykjavík.
Scott McMurren photo
I made a point of getting out to see an amazing Icelandic waterfall called Dynjandi. So that meant driving south from Isafjordur on Highway 60 to the ferry dock at Brjánslækur for the cruise to Stykkishomur.
Scott McMurren photo
Scott McMurren

On the surface, Iceland offers some of the same Far North attractions for which Alaska is well known, including a robust northern lights-viewing trade in the winter. But it's the differences that make Iceland an interesting stop.

Most travelers, when visiting Iceland for the first time, stick close to the capital city of Reykjavik. That's not a bad strategy -- it's a friendly town. Your airport bus (they sell the tickets on board the Icelandair flights) will take you to your hotel or guesthouse. From there, you can catch any number of excursions, including the famous "Golden Circle" tour, which includes a visit to Iceland's own "rift valley" where you can see the tectonic plates pulling apart the earth. The site is a national park "Thingvellir"---where Iceland's general assembly first convened in the 10th century. The Golden Circle tour also includes stops to see the incredible waterfall at Gullfoss and the oh-so-active Geysir, whcih shoots steaming water in the air every five to eight minutes. 

Icelandair offers a free stop in either direction when traveling from Anchorage to Europe. Tip: take the stop. The flight from Anchorage to Reykjavik is a little more than seven hours. From Keflavik International Airport (about 40 kilometers from Reykjavik), you can connect to 13 European countries. 

More: Iceland: Wild West of the Arctic'Over the top' flights will connect Alaska and Europe