Over 50 years ago, a Soviet gas-drilling expedition in Turkmenistan resulted in an incredible geological phenomenon: The Darvaza Gas Crater, also known as the “Door to Hell.”
This crater, located in the Karakum Desert, was formed after the ground below the Soviet drilling rig collapsed — creating a hole approximately 226 feet across and 98 feet deep (nearly the size of an American football field).
Scientists then set the area on fire to burn off toxic gases. However, they likely underestimated the amount of natural gas available underground.
The fire started in the 1970s, but it has been burning for decades. Whenever natural gas emerges from the crater, it collides with the atmosphere’s oxygen and bursts into flames.
Today, people come from all over to witness this fascinating and frightening spectacle. Visitors can hear the flames, feel their heat, and breathe in the smell of combustion from quite a ways away.
Explorers in the Darvaza region may start their trip with a visit to the gas crater, but while they’re there, they can also see two other intriguing sinkholes: the “Water Crater” and the “Mud Crater.”
As the names suggest, the Water Crater is filled with water, and the Mud Crater is filled with viscous mud. The mud is stirred by natural gases and sometimes features natural gas-fed flames as well.
The three Darvaza craters all feature vertical walls near the top and talus slopes (outward-sloping piles of rocks and other debris) at the bottom. Experts believe they formed from the same geological processes.
Those interested in seeing the Darvaza craters in person can get to the Door to Hell using a few different travel options (an hours-long bus ride followed by a short taxi ride or a private car trip). They can also arrange a day tour for a guided visit with an English-speaking driver.