Getting to and From Black Rock City Takes Time and Patience

By Tammy Lesueur

As a longtime Burning Man participant, I know planning arrival and departure is something we all talk about and try to time. Yes, time. No one wants to be stuck waiting in line for hours. Some of us may shudder thinking back to 2013 when a predicted thunderstorm led to the entire Black Rock City population trying to leave all at the same time. People were stuck in the Exodus line for hours.

Over 90% of 2015 Burning Man participants came on playa via some sort of transportation through the Gate. This is not surprising since you must have a ticket to enter Black Rock City. Six percent decided to use the Burner Express or Shuttle.

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Looking at this graph, you can see the peak arrival time is Sunday. Again this is not surprising because the event officially starts on Sunday. The graph does point out heavy traffic and longer wait times indeed happen Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I will give the Burning Man Organization credit for streamlining the process: now that you can arrive earlier on Sunday, the time spent in line waiting to get through the gate has shortened. I don’t know the average wait times to sit in line in traffic, but for my group personally, it was one the shortest we had in 10 years.

We saw the same pattern with leaving Black Rock City. Exodus times in the past could range from an hour to more than five hours. Referring to the above graph, you can see peak days to leave are Sunday and Monday. It is interesting to note arrival times seem to be a little more spread out over the course of four days, whereas exodus is compacted into two days with 35% of the population leaving at the same time. My guess is we all have to get back to work by Tuesday.

While the data aren’t as detailed as showing the best time of day or night to enter or leave Black Rock City, it may be a question for a future Census. We’ve tried all different times of the day and night with varying results.

If you have input about how your arrival or exodus went, let us know by leaving a comment.


Lead photo by Neil Girling

About the author: Census Team

Census Team

The Census Lab is a volunteer team of information geeks, academic researchers, students, and general data nerds who have surveyed Black Rock City (BRC) residents since 2002.

18 Comments on “Getting to and From Black Rock City Takes Time and Patience

  • Tony says:

    Our camp arrived in separate caravans, early entry Friday and Saturday. Those who had tickets at will call skipped waiting in line and got to camp first. I thought that was, at the very least, annoying. Friday took around three hours from hitting the playa to arriving at camp, Saturday I am told was longer, due to the dust storms. We had no traffic until we hit the playa, and then were stalled for hours in an understaffed gate line, inspiring me to volunteer for gate this year. You can’t complain about it unless you’re willing to help.

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    • Weezle says:

      I agree with the comment on the Will Call line, it was very apparent that those who had Will Call exited the main entry line, had a very short wait for ticket pickup and then went to the front of the line ahead of those who had tickets in hand. Not sure it was planned this way, but I agree, it was very annoying indeed.

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    • Burning Tourist says:

      I think there is a misunderstanding about Will Call.
      a) 2015 had very short Will Call lines compared to prior years because the BORG offered better shipping options (mainly to international burners) after the 6+ hours Will Call wait times experienced in 2014. I think most burners had their tickets shipped.
      b) To get to Will Call, you have to get to the front of the general ticket line in the first place. Then you have to queue your vehicle at Will Call. Then you have to queue for your tickets. Then you have to get your vehicle out of the Will Call vehicle queue. Only then, can you be readmitted to the front of the ticket line ONCE AGAIN to show your tickets. So, the perception of the Will Call line being annoying is correct, but only for those in the Will Call line, not for those in the ticket line.
      Waiting in line to get to Burning Man is already the beginning of the party!!

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      • Tony says:

        “To get to Will Call, you have to get to the front of the general ticket line in the first place. Then you have to queue your vehicle at Will Call. Then you have to queue for your tickets. Then you have to get your vehicle out of the Will Call vehicle queue. Only then, can you be readmitted to the front of the ticket line ONCE AGAIN to show your tickets.” That was not the experience I, nor any of my camp members had with Will Call this year. As soon as we got on playa, Will Call was directed out of line to to get their tickets, while the rest of us who had paid for our tickets to be mailed were forced to wait in a two hour line before inspection. Every group of ours that arrived had the same experience, and those who went to Will Call waited on average 1 1/2 hours less than everybody else. It was annoying and consistent over several days.

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  • John says:

    After getting into Fernley around 2pm, my crew and I finally left there around 7pm Sunday after some snafus with our vehicle. We were immediately in traffic along the highway until Gerlach. The good thing though was we had a couple multi-hour waits between pulses, the last of which was from about midnight to 3am. We drove the last 30 miles on the highway straight onto the playa, and Gate Road was empty. We drove right to Will Call, 1 of our crew grabbed her ticket, we went through inspection and through the greeter station, and were at camp by 5am. After having been stuck on Gate Road before, I much preferred getting stuck on the highway. And having a school bus where we all could sleep until the next pulse made it even easier to deal with the traffic.

    As for Exodus, we had the bus completely loaded up and ready to go before the Temple burned. After it fell, we biked back to the bus, loaded the bikes, and set out. I think we were only in the Exodus line for 2–2.5 hours or so, which wasn’t bad at all.

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  • Dani says:

    For the past 3 -4 years I have left on Tuesday after the temple burn. We spend Monday mooping and pre-packing. 2015 I had to be at work on Wednesday morning and I can’t do a straight drive home, so we took our time packing Monday, in the shade, then dropped the shade loaded the van and left camp around 5pm. We waited about 2.5 hours on gate road for the pavement and then made a slow trek to Reno. We got to the hotel around 10, not bad at all. We usually arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday and always have a wait of a couple hours. We are used to it, and don’t mind. :)

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  • 666isMONEY says:

    Early Sunday morning was a good idea. I camped about 100-miles away and arrived at the gate shortly after they opened. Left on Tuesday, before sun rose. No problem!

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  • digitalmorgan says:

    Last year, 2015, I timed my arrival for Sunday, 11:00am, 45 minutes later, including Will Call, I was pounding tent stakes!

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  • Mark McCormack says:

    I would love to tell you when we arrive and leave , except then everybody would be doing it then as well, and that would make it a pain in the ass for me.

    I can tell you I am in and out both ends in less than an hour, and stress free..

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  • Patrick Barbour says:

    I’m a bit confused by the Arrival/Departure graphs above. I get it that the area under the Arrival graph (colored in) represents the number of people who have arrived out of the total coming, but what does the Percentage axis mean?
    Randomly picking 20% as an example, we see that Sat. early and again at Sun. late we’re at ‘20%’. But it obviously can’t mean 20% of the total # of people are arriving at just those two moments, so that’s my confusion. Thanks!

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    • B^2 says:

      HI Patrick,
      These graphs are formatted as normal curves where the area under the curve (colored in pink for arrivals and purple for departures) represents the total population of burners. If you add up the percent for each day, you’ll see each curve roughly adds up to 100%, with some very early arrivals and very late departures not included in this date range.

      You’re correct that a bit over 20% of the population arrived on Saturday, for a running total of about 50% of the population on playa, while an additional 20% percent arrived on Sunday.

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  • ANTHONY says:

    Hello, I think that those of us who paid premium prices for our tickets, $1200 each, should have a premium lane for arrival and departure. It may sound snobbish but it would not cost anything to anyone and may prompt more people to pay for higher priced tickets next year. You may even be able to offer more tickets thus subsidizing more art projects. I think it’s a win win.

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  • Kodfather says:

    Arrive Tuesday leave Tuesday BOOM !

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  • Redraeven says:

    My husband came in on the Burner Express last year. Took 10 hours from Reno into BRC.

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