Rangers: Navigators at the Edge of Chaos

This is post is part of a series written by members of the Operations teams that run the public infrastructure of Black Rock City. Check out the rest of the series!

by Librarian

Black Rock Rangers are participants who volunteer a portion of their time at Burning Man in service of the safety and well-being of the Burning Man community.

They act as non-confrontational community mediators, providers of reliable information, facilitators of public safety (with the expectation that everybody read the back of their ticket, of course!), and navigators of the edge of chaos.

Day and night, pairs of Rangers can be found walking and bicycling the streets of Black Rock City, engaging with the community, enjoying the art, and always ready to help sort things out.

What do Rangers do?

Is Land Honorarium Art by Sarah Cockings London, England. Photo by Bill Kositzky
On the move: Rangers doing their thang (Photo by Bill Kositzky)

Rangers may be called upon to do many things, including:

  • provide outreach and education to help Burners acculturate to Burning Man
  • act as an information resource to the community
  • respond to emergencies and help get the appropriate resources to the scene
  • reunite lost children with their family
  • help disoriented participants get back to their camp mates
  • listen to participants who are having a particularly rough day
  • facilitate problem-solving, mediation, and conflict resolution (without telling people what to do)
  • build rapport with fellow Burners as participants and integral members of the community

Rangers come from all parts of the Burning Man community, and share a common desire to ensure its continued well-being.

An Actual Day in the Life of a Ranger

You wake up early. You take a moment to wonder why you signed up for a morning shift that starts at 6 am. Then you remember that you enjoy giving back to BRC, and sometimes that involves getting up early to go on shift. [Ranger shifts run 24/7, so there are shifts for early-birds and night-owls both.]

You change into your Ranger “costume” — recognizably khaki-colored with the distinctive Ranger logo. You get jazzed that you finally added all the patches you collected from the last three years.

You hop on your bike and pedal to Ranger HQ, just next to Center Camp. You sign in for your shift, and check out a radio from the friendly Rangers working the HQ window.  You watch the sun rise as your shift begins — another beautiful day in BRC!

Ranger Outpost Tokyo
Home base: Ranger Outpost Tokyo (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

You get “cruise directed” by a Shift Lead who gives you a portion of the city to patrol with your Ranger partner.

You’ve been assigned a quadrant of the inner playa — cool! You get to check out some art!

On your way to your patrol area, you and your partner stop by Center Camp for some coffee.

While you’re there, you direct a trio of people who just arrived in BRC to the nearest porta-potties.

Now that you’re caffeinated, you and your partner slowly cruise your section of the playa on your bikes, looking at the art and saying “hello” to the few folks you meet at that hour.

A couple of hours into your shift, you watch someone tumble from their bike from about 200 yards away. It looks like a bad one, so you and your partner head over to make sure the participant is okay.

Turns out that she’s pretty banged up and hit her head, so you grab your radio and call for a medical response. You sit and chat with the participant and her friends while you wait for the team from Rampart to arrive. They take over, and get her loaded into their golf cart. You go back to your slow tour of the inner playa art.

Black Rock Rangers at the morning meeting.
Rise ‘n shine: Black Rock Rangers at the morning meeting (Photo by David Marr)

One of the art pieces you discover is a beautifully shaded installation with some comfy-looking places to sit. After consulting with your partner, you decide that you need to “ranger” this shade, and you sit and take a load off for awhile.

Around 10 am, a shift lead calls you on the radio and asks how you’re doing. You respond that you could use a change of scenery. After managing your liquids at HQ, you and your partner are off to your new patrol area in the back streets of the city behind Center Camp.

One of the camps you encounter along K street is gifting screenprints on clothing, so you happily strip off your Ranger t-shirt and ask them to decorate it. While you watch the pros at work, they ask you questions about Rangering: “No, we’re not cops. We’re participants just like you.”

As the clock reaches 12 noon, your shift lead calls you back in and thanks you for your service to the city. You go back to Ranger HQ, return your radio, and check out from shift. You decide to head back to camp for some food and a nap, leaving the city in the capable hands of the afternoon shift.

How do I Become a Ranger?

Think Rangering might be for you? Are you the person your camp-mates turn to when they want someone to solve problems and mediate tension or unhappiness? Want to expand your mediation and problem-solving skills as a leader in the community?

Prospective Rangers are at least 18 years or older. You must have been to Burning Man at least twice, and at least once in the past 10 years.

Potential Rangers have the following traits:

  • good judgment
  • excellent communication skills
  • a great sense of humor
  • patience, patience, and more patience
  • generosity and empathy
  • an easy-going attitude
  • creative problem-solving abilities
  • an ability to orient yourself within an ever-changing city

Find out more about the Ranger application process.

(Top by photo by Bill Kositzky)

2 Comments on “Rangers: Navigators at the Edge of Chaos

  • Andrew Lau says:

    Allcom, allcom, Platypus here.

    While I don’t speak on behalf of Rangers in any official capacity, I do have to point out that the eligibility criteria has very recently changed.

    Rangers will now accept candidates (aka “Alphas”) who have attended Burning Man at least once within the last 10 years AND have volunteered in a significant capacity as a regional Ranger at a Burning Man Regional event at least once within the last 3 years.


    Send email to the Ranger Volunteer Coordinators with “Regional Ranger Qualification Exception: ” in the subject line. Please provide your experience with Regional Rangering in the email, including the Regional Event, Years Rangered, total hours (approx.) Rangered, special teams or roles you held, and a Regional Ranger Lead contact name and email address to validate this information. Volunteer Coordinators will manually process you through.

    In dust we trust. See ya out on the Playa.

    Report comment

  • Juno says:

    So grateful for the service Rangers provide. Thanks for writing this post!

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.