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Iceland's president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson wrote, "The Old Testament teaches us that God created the world in 6 days and then rested. This is not altogether true. Iceland was forgotten when He went to rest." The Mývatn-Krafla region -- a volcanic smorgasbord of surreal lava fields, boiling and burping mud pools, sulfurous steam vents, explosion craters, and pseudocraters -- is Iceland's most varied place to see the earth in mid-formation. Mývatn lake is also a unique ecosystem and the largest migratory bird sanctuary in Europe, with thousands of waterfowl feeding on bugs and algae in the warm shallow waters.

Mývatn is part of the greater Krafla volcanic system, a swath of faults and fissures 4 to 10km (2.5-6 miles) wide and 80km (50 miles) north to south, with Krafla caldera at its center. Krafla's last two eruption periods were 1724-1729 and 1975-1984. Both times, multiple fissures shifted and dilated, with sporadic eruptions and lava fountains, but much of the magma never surfaced, petering out laterally underground. Today the most active geothermal areas are Krafla and Bjarnarflag, each with a geothermal power plant. Two new plants have been proposed for close by, pitting power companies and some locals against conservationists and the increasingly influential tourist industry. The Krafla region is ideal for plants harnessing geothermal energy, because eruptions are infrequent and foreshadowed by a year of tectonic grumbling.

Mývatn-Krafla is well-touristed, and accommodations fill up quickly in summer, so the May or September shoulder season is advantageous. In high season, it may be a good idea to visit here early in your itinerary, before you've been spoiled by solitude elsewhere. On June weekends there may be choral concerts in the church or at Dimmuborgir; contact tourist information for details. Mývatn-Krafla is also a compelling winter destination. Despite the multitude of sights, 2 days here are enough for the vast majority of visitors.

Mývatn sounds much less inviting in translation: "Midge Lake." Most of these pests don't bite, but they're attracted to carbon dioxide and may fly right into your nose and mouth. Head nets and insect repellent are available in the market at the N1 gas station. A head net may look ridiculous, but on warm, calm days you'll be glad to have one.