See The Sky! Black out Black Rock

WHEN: Wednesday, August 31, 11 – midnight

WHAT: Turn all your lights out. Look up at the sky.


Have you ever been out in Black Rock City, looked around at all the natural beauty, and thought “goddamit, this city’s really in the way?”

One of the most amazing experiences of nature I’ve ever had was looking up at the night sky in the Black Rock Desert and seeing the whole goddam Milky Way … maybe the whole universe … stare back.

The DPW gets to see it before they build the city. The Restoration crew gets to see it when they clean up after the city. But people attending Burning Man don’t get to see it, because for all that Black Rock City is a miracle, it is also a massive source of light pollution.

Unless we turn the lights out for a little while. You wanna do that?

BlackOut BlackRock is an idea that has been discussed among nature loving Burners for a few years, but no one’s ever really pushed for it. This year, however, they’re pushing. Politely.

Alaric Moore is a second year Burner who knew she wanted to be on the DPW and Resto teams after she first got a good look at rural Nevada.

“Last year, when I first was driving up to Gerlach, it was super lush,” she said. “And I saw the mountains, and the blue sky, and the green … and I was like ‘Holy Fuck! I’d have been here 5 years ago if I’d known it was so pretty! I’d been avoiding it because it was all blinky lights and noise and people trying to give me backrubs.”

But nothing compared to the view of that night sky.

“This year,” she told me from the desert, “I was leaving the saloon and I was talking to Dark Angel, and I was looking up at the sky, and I just couldn’t stop looking. And he told me about this idea, that people had been talking about it as a joke for a couple of years, and I just said ‘fuck it. I’m going to create and event for it.’”

Operation BlackOut BlackRock is now real. It’s got a Facebook event and everything. And the message is simple: if we turn out all our lights at the same time (Wednesday, August 31, from 11 – midnight) and look up at the night sky, we’ll see something amazing. The most amazing light show in the cosmos.

“Each year, thousands of people travel to the Black Rock Desert, a pristine and remote wilderness, and bring enough light pollution with them to drown out one of the most beautiful night skies you’ve ever seen,” said co-organizer Spencer Bartley. “Black Out Black Rock is asking everyone, just for one hour at 11pm on Wednesday of event week, to turn off their lights, look up, and remember why we came to this desert. Park your art car and look up. Turn off your theme camp lights, play your set in the dark, and look up. We left the cities of the default world for a reason. Just for one hour, look up, and remember why we came here.”

It’s voluntary of course, but the more people who participate the more amazing it will be.

“I don’t want it to be a thing where people go around and kill each other’s generators, although that sounds fun and I would probably do it,” Alaric said. “But I don’t want it to be that. I just want the people who come for the human aspect of Burning Man and don’t get to enjoy the natural aspect of it as much to see what they’re missing. As a good friend of mine put it: Burning Man is all about what people can do, their potential. The blackout is about what nature already is.”

BlackOut BlackRock has no official leaders, and everyone is encouraged and welcome to contribute in whatever way they can. To connect with other people on the project, visit their Facebook event page or join their Facebook organizer’s group.

But the bottom line is: if we can get enough people to turn all their lights off from 11 – midnight on Wednesday, Aug. 31, we’ll see something far more amazing than anything anybody can bring to the desert. We’ll see what’s always been there.



About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

15 Comments on “See The Sky! Black out Black Rock

  • The Hustler says:

    Whoa! Yes!

    I thought about doing some night sky pictures this year with Black Rock City in the back/foreground; maybe by Point 3 or the walk-in camping area.
    I wondered if there would be enough ambient light from the city to illuminate Razorback, even just a little.

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  • Kennita Watson says:

    When will it be closest to new moon? That’s when the stars will really take center stage.

    Just checked the Web — AWESOME! New moon this year is Sept. 1, Thursday 02:04 AM — just 2-3 hours after Blackout.

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  • LeAle says:

    This year I’m coming to BRC for the first time together with my girlfriend and we always said that we should go far enough into the playa in order to see the sky. We are coming from Italy and when we have the opportunity we spend hours on the seaside look at the stars: the night sky is amazing. You feel like home when you look at the stars, we all live under the same sky. It would be just extraordinary if we can eliminate light pollution and even better if for a while also the music stops! We can do it!
    Thanks for pushing (politely :)) for it.

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  • JetFuel says:

    As a great friend of mine, Arlette, just mentioned:
    “…and in that moment, I appreciated, with new understanding, that I was not looking up, but out.”

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  • Tuna says:

    Love this idea. I’m a fortunate early arrival (August 8) so we’ll get to see a full moon on Thursday, 8/18. Before that it will be a first quarter, so looking forward to seeing some dense night skies.

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  • Doug says:

    The view is absolutely amazing, and that is a big part of why I’ve taken on responsibilities that let me be on-playa on the first day it is open for theme camp construction. It is quiet and dark and beautiful (and real hard to navigate).

    That said, the idea of shutting down the city for an hour during the middle of the week is a terrible idea imho. Everyone goes to Burning Man for their own reasons, and for many it is the greatest party on earth. Nights for them are about partying, not looking at stars. There are other options for darkness and quiet during the other 51 weeks a year, but there’s only one week a year to “do” Burning Man.

    For some people the place they want to be at that time is in a large sound camp dancing. Pushing for everything to be shut down for an hour, and for all art cars to be turned off, is effectively asking for the values of one group to be imposed on another.

    But if someone wants to push for this, I think a much better time would be for maybe 5-10 minutes just before the Temple burn. Announced in advance for next year.

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  • Absurditrix says:

    I’m concerned about all the unlit hoopleheads in thoroughfares getting mowed over and wondering why. If you’re in motion or anyplace where bikes and art cars are, you and your stuff needs to be lit, PLEASE. Downward-facing red light will cut down on light pollution; red is the easiest for your eyes to adjust to star-gazing and you’ll still be visible. The whole city won’t shut down and be still in darkness for an entire hour, so you must be prepared for traffic still.

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  • It Was On Fire When I Got Here says:

    I love the idea of seeing the full night sky.
    However, the entire city would have to participate and that seems daunting.
    Also, not necessarily safe.

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  • Pooh Bear says:

    I was working at Burning Man Station forth of July weekend. I was walking back from the main house to the trailer where I was staying. There was no moon. With no light pollution, the sky just blew me away. I really hope we can get a blackout on Playa this year. Some of the most amazing art we could see is right above our heads.

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  • Tom says:

    Nice idea, in theory, but trying to get 70,000 people (half of whom are on drugs enhanced by blinky lights) to turn off their lights seems futile…

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  • Great Idea! Fantastic place for a stupendous view of the Universe! Spread the word.

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  • Mommalinny says:

    Wonderful idea. Can’t wait to see if it gets pulled off. I’ve wanted to do a BRC wide Om (imagine the sound wave created by that many people hitting the same pitch!) on the opening day/night….a “welcome om”. I hope your idea is the first in annual citywide events.

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  • Wander Woman says:

    A fabulous idea! I’ll do whatever I can to promote it. Although I’ve camped at Triago Hot Springs area, it is my first time at Burning Man. Can’t wait!

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  • Zengunfighter says:

    Well, that worked wel…

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