Dallol is a cinder cone volcano in the Danakil Depression. It is located in the north and eastern region of the Erta Ale Mountains in Ethiopia, on the border with Eritrea. The Dallol region is officially, the hottest spot on the earth. It is a boiling cauldron of burning salts, sulfuric acid and volcanic rock. The variations of color and unusual formations, caused by the constant geologic activity, has created a beautiful, but practically alien landscape. It is the 14th stop in the travel series, A World Far And Away.
Geologic movement inside the volcanic crater of Dallol and the interaction between the volcanic minerals and the salt in the water, have raised the temperature in the vicinity to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius).
Further away from the volcano, the temperatures are still extreme. They average by noon at 48 Celsius or 118 Fahrenheit. Barbara Cavalazzi from the University of Bologna in Italy, once measured a temperature of 55 degrees Celsius or 131 Fahrenheit.
Along with the amazingly high temperatures of the area, the volcano and the nearby hydro-thermal fields, provide for the world’s lowest sub-volcanic region. It is 410 feet or 125 meters, below sea level.
Danakil Depression has been called the “gateway to hell”. It is also referred to as the Afar Depression or Afar Triangle and is contained inside the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. It is the place where three continental tectonic plates meet.
As these huge plates move apart at a yearly pace of 1 to 2 centimeters (0.39 to 0.78 inches), new crust is being formed, creating various types of faults and fissures. It results in large lava lakes, that light up the night sky.
The subsequent thermal action provides the conditions necessary for geysers and hot springs. Discharges of brine and acidic liquid produce numerous cones of salt deposits and significant bodies of potash.
The Danakil waters have an average pH of 0.2, which is almost unheard of in any natural setting.
Located in the Horn of Africa, the Danakil Depression and the Dallol Volcano, are one of the most remote, inhospitable and least studied locations, in the entire world.
Dallol was formed by the intrusion of basaltic magma into Miocene salt deposits and the subsequent hydro-thermal movement. Magma steam blasts took place in 1926, which formed Dallol Volcano, but numerous other eruption craters can be found nearby.
The 1926 event, produced a 30 meter (98.4 feet) wide crater at the foot of the Black Mountain.
In October 2004, the shallow magma chamber beneath Dallol deflated, which fed a magma intrusion heading southwards beneath the rift. Another major eruption occurred in January 2011.
Dallol is a term used by the local Afar people, meaning disintegration and dissolution. It describes a landscape of green acid ponds, iron oxide, sulfur, and salt desert plains.
Although some enthusiasts have described Dallol and the surrounding area to Yellowstone National Park in the United States, the Danakil Depression has a far more varied and completely unique landscape.
The Dallol volcano which is actually a hydro-thermal field in its entirety, accounts for the unusual structures formed in a complex interaction of solution and re-crystallization, driven by processes, of hydro-thermal waters and rapid evaporation.
These chemical discharges result in black, gray, green, pink, red, turquoise, yellow and multi-color white, deposits, which provide for a spectacular array of color across the landscape.
As one of the driest places on the earth, it receives just 100 to 200mm (3.9 to 7.8 inches) a year of precipitation so therefore, vegetative growth is quite limited.
The hot and dry climate of the area, means that just a few plants or animals, can actually survive there.
Although the Dallol site itself is unpopulated, the nomadic Afar people, have settled nearby in a semi-permanent village called Hamadela.
Since 2013, teams of scientists from Europlanet, a consortium of companies and research institutions have begun studies of the region to investigate how life might evolve on other planets. It may well serve as analogues, for a future trip to Mars.
The hot springs in the Depression are home to microorganisms called extremophiles, which by its very name, suggests extreme conditions.
Tourists to the area will need to contend with a number of issues. Along with the sweltering heat, the closer you get to the volcano the more you need to be concerned with the poisonous gases being released from the ground. These would include hydrogen sulphide and chlorine. One would need to wear gas masks at this point.
Travelers will need the services of an Afar guide. They will know where to go and where to step. Walking through an active geothermal area can be dangerous. Falling through a salt crust into extremely acidic and near boiling water, might well be life threatening.
The closest hospital is in Mekelle which is hours away, from the Dallol crater.
Another concern is the present security situation. Located near the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea, one needs to be mindful of the political situation. The researchers that come to the area, are accompanied by military men, for their own protection.
This writer recommends you also visit Erta Ale. A shield volcano, it is the most active volcano in Ethiopia, located nearby Dallol, (a distance of 80.7 kilometers or 50 miles). It is one of only six lava lakes, globally. Of course, this will necessitate, that you spend at least one-night camping in the Danakil Depression.
Erta Ale will light up the night sky, which can be seen from miles away.
It is interesting to note that in 1974, Donald Johanson and his colleagues, found the now internationally celebrated Australopithecus fossil known as “Lucy” in this region.
Many other fossils of early hominis have been uncovered in the Danakil Depression. It has led to a number of paleontologists to theorize; the area may be where our species first evolved. This has resulted in an additional name for the area “cradle of humanity”.
Dallol volcano is located 122 kilometers or 75.8 miles from Mekelle. It will require driving for hours, on bumpy dusty dirt roads, that will be in poor condition. It takes you from the highlands of Ethiopia, where Mekelle is located, to the low-lying desert of the Danakil Depression.
There is no official admission to the Crater, but the local cost of your tour which will be either one day, or a number of days to a week and will range from $500.00 to $1000.00 USD (United States Dollar).
Travelers, will need to book a trip, with a local tourist company. These companies often employ individuals that have armed forces experience, to keep you safe on your trip.
Days and Time of Operations
It is available for viewing according to the schedule provided by the travel companies and local guides, throughout the calendar year. The same day tour will be from 4:00 am to 4:00 pm. The multi-day trips, will typically arrive at your hotel at 8:00 am.
Is available in Mekelle upon your arrival. You will be camping out for a number of days for the typical trip.
- One should wear layered clothes, it is extremely hot during the day, but can become quite cold in the evening. You will be provided with blankets, by the travel company.
- Proper footwear is important, you are making your way around active geothermal areas
- Bring extra bottled water, so you can always stay hydrated during your visit.
- Bring any extra supplies you will think you will need, including snacks.
- Make sure you have a couple of flashlights.
- One should continue to apply sunscreen to any exposed areas of the body.
- Body wipes and hand sanitizer will come in handy.
- There are no public facilities in the area.