Darvaza Gas Crater: Soviet “Burning Ring of Fire”

Darvaza Gas Crater:
Soviet “Burning Ring of Fire”

Visitors are known to belt out Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” love song when they see the Darvaza Gas Crater for the first time:

“Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring – a ring of fire.

And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. The ring of fire.”

– Johnny Cash

The decades-old-and-still-burning Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan truly inspires singing such a tune.


“Door to Hell”The Darvaza Gas Crater – a Soviet disaster dubbed the “Door to Hell” – happened in 1971, an unforeseen error tearing a massive hole in the heart of the Kara Kum Desert, some 230 feet wide and almost 70 feet deep. The crater became a burning ring of fire, and more than 40 years later it still burns, burns, burns.

How did that happen?

It's a desert drive to the Darvaza Gas Crater, some 160 miles north of Ashkabad, Turkmenistan's capital <br>Photo credit: Inga Belova

It’s a desert drive to the Darvaza Gas Crater, some 160 miles north of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital
Photo credit: Inga Belova

Daylight reveals the depth of Darvaza: a burning crater almost 70 feet to the bottom <br>Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Daylight reveals the depth of Darvaza: a burning crater almost 70 feet to the bottom
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Creating a CraterIn search of gas and oil during Soviet times, an exploration team thought they found a promising deposit near the tiny town of Darvaza, and in 1971 started drilling. They were right: they hit a jackpot of gas. Working full steam ahead, they began drilling and storing the gas.

The story goes that one day the Soviet workers drilled into an underground gas cavern, but the ground gave way and created a sinkhole, swallowing their drilling equipment and releasing methane gas – dangerous when burned. The Soviet engineers decided to burn off the methane gas, thinking it would take a couple days and certainly be cheaper and faster than any other method.

No.

Moonlight over "Door to Hell" at the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan <br>Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Moonlight over the “Door to Hell” at the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes


Burning Ring of Fire – For 40 YearsMore than 40 years after Soviet scientists lit that match to burn the gas, this crater of fire is still burning strong. If it weren’t in the middle of Turkmenistan, you might think the sulfur smells and bubbling mud had landed you in the middle of Wyoming’s Yellowstone Park. What no one really knew then but knows now is that Turkmenistan boasts one of the largest natural gas reserves on the planet. That crater might burn forever – and thus is aptly named the “Door to Hell.”

No fence, no signs: Brave souls stand at the crater's edge of Darvaza's "Door to Hell" <br>Photo credit: Russ Cmolik

No fence, no signs: Brave souls stand at the crater’s edge of Darvaza’s “Door to Hell”
Photo credit: Russ Cmolik

Visiting the “Door to Hell’Nighttime is the best time for visiting Darvaza, with the gas glowing brightly and visible from miles away. You can even camp overnight, giving you bragging rights to having spent the night at the “Door to Hell” – and survived!

The campfire never goes out for tenters at Turkmenistan's Darvaza Gas Crater <br>Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

The campfire never goes out for tenters at Turkmenistan’s Darvaza Gas Crater
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

MIR travelers Russ and Ellen Cmolik are about to camp out at the "Door to Hell" Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

MIR travelers Russ and Ellen Cmolik are about to camp out at the “Door to Hell”
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Travel to Turkmenistan with MIRYou can see – and feel the heat – of Darvaza’s “Door to Hell” on MIR’s classic independent private journey, Essential Turkmenistan, or on MIR’s Caspian Odyssey by Private Train rail journey. You can also book a custom private journey to Turkmenistan.


(Top photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik)

PUBLISHED: July 24, 2014

Related Posts

Share your thoughts