The locals call it Hell’s Door.
Environmentalists call it an unmitigated ecological disaster zone.
You may call it a destination on your next adventure vacation.
The “it” in question is a giant firey gas pit near the village of Darwaza (also spelled Derweze) in the middle of Turkmenistan’s Kara-Kum Desert.
The story behind this unusual attraction goes like this:
In 1971, when Turkmenistan was a republic of the Soviet Union, the state energy company was drilling in the desert near Darwaza. That’s when they accidentally bored into an underground cavern filled with natural gas! The drilling, combined with the sudden release of the pressure that the gas was exerting on the walls, caused the cavern ceiling to crumble.
Those working at the drill site were surprised (to say the least) to have suddenly collapsed the ground beneath them. Spot Cool Stuff, having no geologists on staff, is not in a position to judge whether the geologists at Darwaza in 1971 should have known the cavern was there. But what they did after the collapse seems to us to be . . . what’s the phrase? . . . incredibly stupid. The geologists decided to clear the cavern of the natural gas by setting it on fire.
It has been burning since.
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The spectacle of this large burning gap in the ground is rather amazing to witness. Obviously, it’s most amazing at night when the red glow of the flames from Hell’s Gate are visible from up to 40 km (25 miles) away. The cater itself is about 75 meters (250 feet) at its widest point.
The intense heat of the fire makes it difficult to stand near the carter’s edge for more than two or three minutes at a time. This is probably for the best: The fumes coming from the crater are toxic.
Visiting Hell’s Door
Independent travel in Turkmenistan, while certainly possible, is a tough slog. (Yours truly co-authored one of the first travel guidebooks that covered Turkmenistan following its independence). From the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat, Darwaza is a bumpy four hour car ride. There’s no hotel there, though locals have been known to rent yurts to the smattering of independent visitors that come to see Hell’s Door.
The easier way to visit is with a tour company. A handful of them — Keystone Journeys, for example — include Hell’s Door on their itineraries. The coolest tour company that runs genuinely fun small group trips to Turkmenistan, Intrepid Travel, sadly bypasses Darwaza.