The Soviets weren’t exactly known for their fluffy environmental credentials. They turned the Aral Sea into a toxic desert, laid radioactive waste to a huge tract of Ukraine and Belarus, and poisoned entire rivers with industrial waste. Alongside all these ecological disasters, there is the famous Door to Hell.
Viewed in Google Maps, the Door to Hell looks like a small round crater in the middle of a desert:
This isn’t just a crater though.
Back in 1971, the Soviet Union discovered a large natural gas field in the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan. They began drilling and created a large underground storage area beneath the well.
You can guess what happened next:
Highly flammable gas and unprotected industrial equipment don’t tend to get along all that well, and the inevitable happened and the underground gas storage exploded destroying the drilling equipment and most of the plant. Although no-one was killed in the explosion, the power was enough to create the 70 metre wide crater you can see from the air. This happened when the ground collapsed into the storage void:
Not all the gas escaped in the explosion, and was leaking out through the collapsed desert floor, so the scientists decided that the best course of action would be to burn off the remaining stores, and presumably try their hand somewhere else.
in retrospect, lighting a fire at the top of an uncapped gas well that had already exploded probably wasn’t the genius move that the scientists thought it might be. Gas continued to escape the well and percolate through the rubble to create hundreds of little burners throughout the crater that continue to burn more than 40 years later:
The eerie light flooding from the pit during the dusk and at night have garnered the site the nickname “The Door To Hell”, and it’s become a bit of a tourist attraction, with people travelling from all over the world to see the fiery pit.
Of course, any phenomenon like this is going to attract other types of guest too. Just as the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles attracted prehistoric mammoths and sabre toothed cats, the Door to Hell also attracts wildlife.
Specifically Giant Spiders.
Wherever you go around the Door to Hell, you’ll hear scuttling in the sand and see these:
Attracted by the warmth, and presumably the juicy unprotected toes of sandal wearing tourists, these delightful sand coloured camel spiders are about 3 inches across creep across the desert floor looking for something to sink their fangs into.