This fiery pit has been burning since the 1970s when Turkmenistan was still under Soviet rule. In the distant past, the Karakum Desert was an obscure corner of the Silk Road, but its modern economy is much more robust, thanks to rich deposits of oil and gas. Although there is some dispute about the origin of the crater, the most common explanation states that in 1971, a drilling rig broke into a giant underground gas chamber, which collapsed, taking the rig with it. That initial breakthrough caused other areas to crumble, eventually making a crater 70m wide and 20m deep.
The only people in the area live in a tiny community of 350 camel herders and rug makers called Darvaza.
Follow Gary and Monika Wescott as they drive through Turkmenistan on their quest for the Pacific Ocean via the Silk Road in 2014.
The Door to Hell
Okay, we were now driving in Turkmenistan. Oh Boy! It had been a long night and a long frustrating day. Since our five-day transit visa had already expired we were essentially driving in the country illegally. We knew that fuel in Turkmenistan was a dollar a gallon. Even though we had to pay $100 fuel surcharge, we had arrived with empty tanks. After a quick drive around town to change money we found the only gas station had run out of diesel. Thinking there must be other stations outside of town, we headed for Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, some 324 miles away.