So, You Want to Visit the Playa This Summer… Part 1

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 the Bureau of Land Management (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 as some are requirements at Black Rock City!):

  • 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

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)

About the author: Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

24 Comments on “So, You Want to Visit the Playa This Summer… Part 1

  • Burning Man Project Communications says:

    Reminder: Burning Man Project has a responsibility to maintain this space for the benefit of all participants, to ensure that comments serve to enhance the experience of our visitors, rather than cause harm. While spirited conversation is welcome, unruly and rude behavior is not. Posts that are harmful to others or run counter to the spirit of civil discourse may be removed.

    Please review our COMMENT POLICY here, then comment with care: https://journal.burningman.org/comment-policy/

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    • Ferry Grisel says:

      Hello Burning man,

      Covid is on his way back with good tests and the vaccins. So is there a date when we possable party this year at burning man? In Holland we can parry arount july. Love to hear from you. Realy would love to visit you with my great girl this year!

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    • Nitro says:

      BurningNOman 2021…we went anyway! It was fun, it was different. Rangers were very nice and appreciated that we held to the 10 principles. Lots of off road vehicles and dirt bikes racing around (there is no speed limit as I asked the rangers). We are going back…without masks as we’ve all been vaccinated. It’s different. Hot springs. No boundaries. It’s fun.
      Nitro
      Rusty Palm mutant vehicle

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  • bmix says:

    Having just heard the news, I have to say I’m disappointed… this year would have been my 20th anniversary of being a burner, and I was really looking forward to going back to BRC. That being said, knowing that the lack of an event is really going to have an impact on a lot of people (not just themselves), I have to think, logically, that the decision was made with public safety and the future viability of the event in mind. So, not mad, just sad… I’ve missed out on so much stuff this year and last that I’ve lost count, so this is just another thing for the pile. I guess the good news is that I have a lot more time to plan for ’22. Onward then into the virtual breach…

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  • grtgrtr says:

    “DON’T DRIVE ON WET PLAYA!”
    Yup, and also realize that the surface inch may be bone dry but rests on deep mud. Looks can be deceiving.

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    • Timofvoodoo says:

      Sooo true! I’ve seen it dry and cracked in areas a good 10″ down with wet mud below. It all felt solid to walk on and even drove fine untill I turned the wheel and it crumbled away leaving me stuck in the muck for hours! Don’t be me kids.

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  • Blue Eyed Tree Frog says:

    I would add, with the trash fence gone, you have a lot more room to fuck up. Don’t go too far away from access roads and camps, preparation is going to be even more key. Stay in groups, stay in contact. Your cell phone is not reliable. Wet playa can be under the crust and your car will sink.

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  • Voo-Doo says:

    I think we just made Larry Harvey’s spirit happy )'(

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  • Reptar says:

    Tossing in too – the ‘close’ hot springs to the playa are essentially warm septic tanks. As tempting as it is – resist the temptation to splash around in the them – and if you do, don’t get the water in your nose/mouth. Treat it like a hot tub at a very sketchy motel. ;-)

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  • Don P says:

    Is there a good writeup somewhere of approaches to handle pee and poop while on the playa? For those coming in a car, and no RV black water tank.

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    • Blondie says:

      Get a portable toilet from Cabella’s or the like. They are amazing. It stays sealed up for travel and can easily be dumped into your toilet at home when you return. Mine has not leaked for the 17 years I owned it so far. Use the 1 ply dissolvable toilet paper in it that they recommend.

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    • B to the D says:

      The comment below is spot on, but if you plan to be out for longer than a couple days line the bucket toilet with a thick garbage bag, add pine pellets (fill it about a quarter way with them). They absorb urine. When you poop add a scoop of pine pellets over it. When it’s full just add a new bag with pellets again. The pellets reduce smell dramatically.

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    • please rent portapotties! there isn’t going to be DPW to cleanup buckets of unmentionables.

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      • Tanner says:

        Our camp is hiring our own DPW crew to steal our beer in insult our women. We’re even hiring a few guys to dress up in Boy Scout uniforms to walk around camp to tell us how we’re doing things wrong.

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      • Droolbug says:

        I’m looking into renting a porto right now but all places want an address for delivery to get a $quote. Do you have personal experience renting a porto for out on the playa?

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      • Tanner says:

        @Droolbug
        I wouldn’t hire an actual portapotty because they’re a lot more expensive than Ex DPW or BRC Ranger. Ex Gate Crew is also a good source of labor for this camp essential. They will work for food, Campbell Soup is best and they’ll also eat beef jerky. They will already have their own sleeping gear since they spend most of the year couch surfing. I’ve also heard that First Camp members are looking for work this year. They have an excess of frozen lobster that can be had on the cheap.

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  • Blondie says:

    I am also a 20 year Burner. I applaud the BM Org for coming to this decision. They put participants’ safety first, instead of money. I give them kudos for that. I do terribly miss the event though, and 2022 will be amazing.

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  • Zippo says:

    It’s the right decision, and I commend the ORG for realizing the enormity of the task of trying to put on a mega-event in a hostile desert environment while the pandemic is still going on. We haven’t been told whether the BLM would give Burning Man a permit or not, but the logistics of trying to give 80,000 people a quick, on site COVID test at the gate, or checking “vaccine passports”, which can easily be counterfeited, the nightmare scenarios just go on and on. And, enforcing ‘mask discipline’ at an event which is so counter-cultural, is a lost cause. Small groups going to the playa and doing your own “Burning Man”, is actually a great idea. It’s public land, after all.

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  • Mr. Stick in the mud says:

    I personally would discourage anyone but the more radically self reliant campers from going to the Playa this year. It’s a desert and can be very dangerous for the ill prepared. No one will sell you ice or coffee, there are no portos (the logistics of pooping just got complicated), and most importantly there won’t be any medical tents. Seriously folks, try to satiate your Burner hunger with local events or get a bunch of like minded Burners together & build something for next year.

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  • Cristena Walker says:

    So people are going to the playa without the BM org? Will this work? Or will they just close the access to the playa to keep people out? How did it work last year I know a bunch of people went anyway?

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    • Mack says:

      The locals and law enforcement welcomed Burners last year. If the same happens again this year it begs the question, should there be a company that produces the event if their services are not required?

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  • Blender says:

    i’m pretty excited that the worlds biggest selfie event has been cancelled.
    all the worry and fear only adds fuel to my fire!!
    we gonna go out and play there at some unspecified time ;)

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    • Stan says:

      But how are the influencers supposed to make money if they don’t have the backdrop of BM to show how edgy they are? These are hard working, image conscious individuals who have families to feed and bills to pay. It’s not fair that they’ll need to fly to some second-world country’s music festival to take pictures of themselves being not as edgy. It’s not as good as standing in front of art cars and people dressed up as Mad Max, IT’S JUST NOT AS GOOD!

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