Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the many complexities it’s created, for the second year in a row, we will not be building Black Rock City together. But the Black Rock Desert exists as a second home to many of us, and you may be thinking about going to the playa this summer. If that’s the case, this guide is for you!
Responsible Recreation on Public Lands
America’s public lands are a treasure, and one of the brightest gems is our beloved Black Rock Desert. The Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA) is public land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, our partner and permitting agency for Black Rock City. The NCA is a sensitive habitat and ecosystem that requires active environmental protection, and that means greater responsibility for visitors.
We encourage our community to recreate responsibly when visiting public lands. This means planning ahead, playing it safe, being prepared, and leaving no trace. Learn from the best — Friends of the Black Rock High Rock gives you guidance and great tips for camping and exploring this fascinating area, which extends far beyond the ancient seabed. Be sure to check BLM’s website to learn more about this vast wilderness we call home.
BLM Nevada Communications Chief Chris Bush says: “We want people to have fun on public lands, we want people to be safe, and we want minimal negative impact on the environment.”
As a Burner, you live the 10 Principles — including Leaving No Trace and Civic Responsibility — year-round. You’re an ambassador of Burning Man culture, and this summer we ask that you put those principles in motion if you travel to the deserts and canyons of the NCA.
Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Did you know that Burning Man is the largest Leave No Trace event in the world? Leaving No Trace is a demonstration of our community’s integrity and commitment to the environment. Leaving No Trace is a signal that you respect the place and people around you. There is no better place to demonstrate this than in the pristine Black Rock Desert and neighboring communities.
A few guidelines to get you started (these should sound familiar!):
- Never burn anything directly on the playa surface.
- Store fuel safely.
- Pack it in, pack it out. There are no trash cans in the Black Rock Desert. Don’t let anything hit the ground.
- DON’T PEE OR POOP ON THE PLAYA!
- Dispose of all fluids and materials, including gray water, by the appropriate means.
- Drive safely and at a reasonable speed for the conditions. Don’t drive erratically, ride on the roof or hang off the side of your vehicle, or drive while intoxicated.
- DON’T DRIVE ON WET PLAYA!
- Secure your load, inspect your trailer, have a backup plan.
- Bring everything you need for Radical Self Reliance. The desert is real.
- Break out your old Survival Guides or check out the last one we published online. Those lists of “what to bring” apply even more importantly now.
The Leave No Trace page of our website and the Leave No Trace section of our most recent Survival Guide are treasure troves of tips for responsibly visiting the playa.
Timing Your Visit
The Black Rock Desert is open year-round. Have you longed to see a dazzling springtime desert wildflower show, or the black-tailed jackrabbit and bighorn sheep in their natural habitat? Consider visiting at other times of the year to get a full glimpse of the natural wonder we often miss during Burn Week. Whatever time of year you visit, always be mindful of how you engage with this awe-inspiring natural ecosystem we all love.
Public Health and Safety
At the time of writing, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you travel to the Black Rock Desert this year, please be mindful of the health and safety of yourself and your group, as well as your neighbors and the local communities you pass through. Be sure to follow all state and local guidelines when gathering with others.
From Governor Sisolak on April 19: “The mask and face covering requirements set forth in Directive 024 will continue to be a statewide standard. This measure will remain in place to protect the health and safety of Nevadans and help get the state to a full reopening.”
Respect and Support Our Neighbors
Respect for nearby communities is a central tenet to our presence in Northern Nevada. Understand that your actions have impacts — positive and negative — and that you represent the Burning Man community when you interact with locals. Let’s do our best to support our neighbors this summer.
The Black Rock Desert was traditionally Northern Paiute (Numu) and Western Shoshone (Newe) land. You can learn more about the culture and history of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe at the Museum and Visitors Center (check before you go for re-opening information). If you want to visit Pyramid Lake, you must get a permit ahead of time, and remember the lake is home to two types of endangered fish. Artifact hunting and graffiti are prohibited.
Tribal businesses appreciate your patronage, so be sure to support local companies and entrepreneurs in Wadsworth and Nixon. The Empire Store is open, and so are businesses in Gerlach, the last towns on Hwy 447 before you turn toward the NCA. We hope you will support these businesses during your journey to the desert — gas up on your way in, buy supplies, get a meal, or stay the night. Planet X Pottery is eight miles outside Gerlach, and worth the drive.
For all of these communities, public safety, courtesy, and land stewardship are priorities. Be aware of your environment and don’t strain local resources. Take your trash with you, and treat property with respect. Don’t get stranded or stuck! Mind speed limits and other traffic laws.
Fly Ranch, a 3,800-acre ranch in Northern Nevada near Black Rock City, is not open to the public. Want to visit Fly Ranch? Sign up for a donation-based nature walk and read the Fly Ranch Survival Guide. If you’re interested in learning more about this unique property, sign up for the Fly Ranch Newsletter or visit the Fly Ranch site.
Be Safe, Be Responsible, and Have Fun!
Burning Man Project and the Burning Man community have a longstanding positive track record in Leaving No Trace, supporting responsible use of public lands, and positively impacting Nevada’s tourism and economy. If you choose to visit the Black Rock Desert and neighboring communities, please remember your choices can have ripple effects far beyond you and your group. Thank you for upholding our reputation as stewards of the land and friends of our neighboring communities.
Cover image of the playa, 2017 (Photo by Charles Mosneron Dupin)