In the North East of Ethiopia lies the Danokil Desert. At its heart is a volcanic crater, Dallol, little known and seldom visited but quite extraordinary.
Surrounding the volcano are acidic hot springs, mountains of sulphur, pillars of salt, small gas geysers and pools of acid isolated by salt ridges. It makes for one of the most bizarre landscapes on planet Earth.
Dallol is effectively a volcanic explosion crater. It was formed when basaltic magma intruded in to salt deposits and water. This subsequently caused a huge phreatic eruption. The rising magma made contact with the ground water. As magma is so extremely hot the water evaporated immediately. The result was a huge explosion of rock, ash, water and steam – not to mention volcanic bombs (molten rock which cools and solidifies before it hits the ground).
The volcano last erupted in 1926 and gained some attention then but it had been known to Europeans for about two hundred years. Yet the site remained effectively unknown to most until recently – simply because of the hostile nature of the environment, the almost unbearable heat of the area and the very present danger from toxic fumes.
The volcano is surrounded by a huge saline area, the edges of which are studded with a multitude of fairy chimneys where gases have broken through. The sulphuric hot springs bubble at boiling point. The salt of the Danokil Depression, 136.8 meters below sea level, mixes with volcanic minerals such as sulfur, to create terraces and unique, other worldly concretions. Geysers and chimneys adorn the site throughout.