In 1971, Soviet geologists, drilling for oil deep in the Karakum desert, were greeted with a surprise. They tapped into an underground cavern that was soon to become part of world history. Instead of oil, the geologists drill tapped into a massive natural gas pocket, which almost immediately collapsed, taking the drilling rig and surrounding land down with it. Because they expected poisonous gasses to soon be released from the open crater, the scientists decided to burn off the gas. They expected it to burn itself out within a few weeks, however it’s still alight, delighting the world and becoming legendary. It’s now known as the Door to Hell.
The Door to Hell is Open for Business
The Door to Hell did not burn out in a few short weeks, as expected. Over the years, the crater has grown in size to almost 100 feet deep and 225 feet across. And although it’s located in the middle of a desert in Derweze, Turkmenistan, the flaming crater has become a tourist attraction. More than 10,000 people make the trek across the barren landscape to see the Door to Hell. The searing heat combined with boiling mud and a constant barrage of flames shooting skyward are mesmerizing. Visitors remark that seeing the Door to Hell at night is quite spectacular. Some observations are the lack of smoke coming from the fiery pit. This occurs because natural gas burns so clean. And despite attempts by the Turkmenistan government to close the pit, it’s still available for viewing.
The Door to Hell was not well known until a Canadian explorer took the chance of a lifetime. Adventurer George Kourounis became the first living human to descend into the pit and come out still breathing. Mr. Kourounis had a history of challenging nature and coming out a winner. And once again he didn’t disappoint. But this expedition was different than just harmonizing with nature, it could have been deadly. Donning an amazing set of gear which included fire proof ropes, a Kevlar harness, and a custom fire-retardant and heat-resistant suit, he repelled into the pit. As part of the mission, he took special tools to take soil samples from the very bottom of the hole. He was specifically trying to find evidence of bacteria to determine if they could exist in extreme conditions. It surprised everyone when they were found in the soil and were actually thriving because of the high heat. The complete details can be found on National Geographic.
For now, the Doorway to Hell remains open for business. A three hour ride on a dusty and pothole filled road is the price of admission. You can camp near the crater to experience the site at night. Just keep an eye out for the desert spiders. The locals say they frequently jump into the pit to their deaths, lured by the glow of the fire.
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Updated in March, 2022, from the original publishing date of August 11th, 2016, by the author