The Lure of Abandoned Places

It sometimes seems that photos of abandoned places litter the internet, or at least FB. Abandoned hotels, factories, homes. Ghost towns, theaters, mining camps. If humans lived there, then left, we want to photograph it. We are more interested in these momento mori than we were in their time as an actively in-use building. I am not immune. I love the interesting emptied spaces of Pyramiden with the echoes of history, and there is a satisfaction in looking back at the height of Soviet glory. Perhaps a part of this interest is a love of history. Or curiosity about how they, whoever they may be, lived back then. Or maybe it’s because we know that eventually, all places end up like this. If they’re lucky, they become repurposed. If not, abandoned. “Look on my works and despair” as Ozymandias allegedly cried.

I have been coming to this tiny town in Iceland for at least three years, starting in 2018. Next door to the residency was a camp ground and (for a while) Iceland’s only mobile home park. It was a trim place with a variety of mobile homes of various sizes. Many of them had built on extensions in wood, created tool sheds and other secondary buildings. Every section had its wash house and showers. There were children’s playgrounds and grilling places. Open spaces for picnics and ball games. Every holiday home convenience.

Since I am always in Iceland in the winter there was rarely a soul to be seen. I would wander the roads snapping happily away at things that caught my interest. The only Free Little Library I have seen in Iceland. Tiny elf houses nestled under velkommin signs. Structures built around more expensive mobile homes that turned them in real little cottages. There were paths to a river gorge that was pleasant (if sometimes sketchy) to walk.

When we arrived on this visit Alda, our host, told us that the mobile home park had been completely cleared out and the campground closed. The rumor around town is that Icelandair wants to build a hotel there. It’s a vast tract of land for a hotel, and there isn’t really any attraction in Laugarvatn. Oh sure, there’s a spa for the hot spring, but the most notable thing about Laugarvatn is that it isn’t very notable. it is, however, close to Thingvellir and Geysir. By the Golden Circle though not on the Golden Circle. So location maybe.

After days of clouds and wind and snow we had a clear day at -10C which I consider pretty ideal walking weather so I thought I would make my way to see what, if anything, there was to see. Drifting took the walk from easy ankle deep snow to knee-high drifts. I finally hit a long patch of crunchy snow — frozen on top but not enough to take my weight, and deep enough it was over my knees. So the very worst to break a trail through, at least if you’re short as I am. So I threw my dignity to the wind, hoisted my camera onto my back, and crawled the remaining 20 meters to where I could see the snow was softer and not as deep. That distributed my weight and kept me on top of the snow.

Almost everything was gone. A few mobile homes were abandoned, but most were removed. Massive trash bins waited for better weather when I suspect bulldozers will go through to turn the last buildings standing into sticks, and then trash. Whether or not it will be an Icelandair hotel, or some other thing is uncertain. But what is sure is that things change. You can’t stop change, but you can work to channel it to be the change you want.

At one time this was the main entrance from the road. There’s a site map on the front, and in season this is where the host would be.
Most of the park is now like this. Empty spaces that were once mobile home lots.
Many of the larger lots had built outbuildings. Tool sheds or garden sheds or bicycle sheds. Most, but not all, are gone.
Just a few mobile homes were abandoned. Probably not considered worth the cost of moving. Some of them, like this one, were in need of serious repair. I am sure they will all be gone by next winter.
I’m not sure what this little pink house was. Maybe an outhouse? I thought it was adorable, whatever it’s use ha been.
Every little “neighborhood” had its own set of wash houses. Painted red, they all had outside sinks, and I suspect washing machines, showers, and whatever else might be needed by those who owned more basic or less luxurious mobiles.
I was sorry to see the little pink library abandoned. It seems so cheerful and civilized, with such care for the fencing around this lot. I don’t know if the wood will be repurposed, but I hope so.

1 thought on “The Lure of Abandoned Places”

  1. Little libraries are so hopeful … usually. This one says something different. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

    Beautifully written, and it speaks to me of places I love

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