A Volcanic Rainbow in the Hottest Place on Earth

Richard Roscoe

People who visit Dallol, Ethiopia certainly don't do it for the weather: for a time the mining ghost town held the record for the hottest inhabited place on the planet, with an average year-round temperature of 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Daily heat in the region, known as the Danakil Depression, regularly climbs past 115 degrees.

But for those who brave the searing equatorial desert, amazing visual wonders await. In 2002, I joined a group of scientists studying nearby Erta Ale volcano. An Ethiopian military helicopter brought us to Dallol at a time when reaching the area by land was considered exceedingly dangerous.

Dallol lies in northeastern Ethiopia close to the disputed Eritrean border. This, and the at times somewhat hostile Afar tribesmen, make the area somewhat unstable and several armed attacks on tourist convoys have occurred in recent years, somewhat hemming touristic development of the area.

Nevertheless, tourists increasingly are drawn to the springs to see the stunning yellow and red hydrothermal deposits. By 2008, when I made a second visit, small convoys of 4-wheel drive vehicles accompanied by armed guards were occasionally bringing visitors to the springs.

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