A series about visiting the Black Rock Desert in the summer of 2021, with updates from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), insights into desert life, responsible recreation on public lands, Leaving No Trace, staying safe, visiting Gerlach and the surrounding communities, emergency services, and much more. Please use this series as a guide to help you be prepared and stay informed as you travel to the Black Rock Desert. Read all the posts here.
We’re about two weeks away from what would have been Burn Week 2021. Here at HQ we’re missing the playa something fierce (though many of us are working in Gerlach this summer—see below for deets). And we know some of you are planning to visit the Black Rock Desert in the coming weeks. To that end, and to help keep our community informed, we present this final installment of our So, You Want to Visit the Playa This Summer series.
COVID-19 & Public Health
The COVID-19 situation has been evolving week to week, and as of this writing, we’re currently in a global upswing in case numbers. If you choose to travel to the playa, please follow local health and safety guidelines (be sure you note the new mask mandate) and take precautions to protect yourself, your community, and our Northern Nevada neighbors. Nevada’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health encourages everyone to get vaccinated against COVID, and for those unvaccinated to get tested before heading out to the desert. The State of Nevada has terrific information on their website.
Leave No Trace
Speaking of Leaving No Trace… our friends at Friends of Black Rock High Rock are pros in environmental stewardship. Their office in Gerlach (on the left side of the road as you drive north through town) will be open, and they have great books and maps, as well as last-minute supplies for sale. You can watch their LNT training here, and you may even see them in the National Conservation Area conducting conservation programs and projects. Do check in with the Leave No Trace organization for year-round education and updates. See the sidebar for Leave No Trace tips from DA, Burning Man Project’s Environmental Restoration Manager and originator of the MOOP Map.
Since BLM has stated they will not permit commercial activity on playa this summer, visitors to the National Conservation Area must be responsible for their own sanitation and waste management, without on-site vendors. You can still transport your own portable toilets and use them on the playa. Please be careful though—calculate the number of units you’ll need for your camp size for the time you will be there (given BLM won’t allow servicing either), and remember that high winds can make for tippy conditions!
Disposing of Trash
Don’t make your trash someone else’s problem! Trash disposed of irresponsibly (read: left on the playa, having fallen off your vehicle, or dumped in unauthorized places such as in front of people’s homes, at rest stops, restaurants, hotels, RV parks or stores) is neither moral nor legal, and is a pain point for local communities who are forced to clean up after others. Either bring your trash home with you, or dispose of it at a designated location. Lockwood Landfill in Sparks, Nevada will take your trash, and other Waste Management trash drop off locations may be open. Do your research ahead of time, and know the location you’re going to use and what their hours are, including holiday closures on Labor Day.
BLM has published temporary restrictions for the Black Rock Desert this summer, in effect from August 18 through October 31, 2021. Among the restrictions are a prohibition on commercial activities as defined in 43 CFR 2932.5. Any BLM decisions for the public lands this summer are outside the cycle of negotiations of the Black Rock City SRP, and Burning Man Project has no say or influence in this decision-making. We do want our community to be informed, however, and are sharing this information widely so you are prepared for your travels.
Using GPS Coordinates
With no trash fence, no city map, no Man to orient by, and camps that are dispersed for miles, you can easily get lost in the Black Rock Desert. If you’re camped on the playa and strike out on your own, communicate with friends ahead of time and be clear about your plans and location. You can load a GPS navigation app (in advance!) on your phone, purchase a handheld GPS device, or research how to share your GPS coordinates natively on your smartphone (it’s pretty straightforward). We’ve heard the what3words app is being used by some visitors to the Black Rock Desert this summer to track their locations, and Gaia GPS can track your route and get you home. Sharing your GPS coordinates with emergency service providers can mean the difference between being rescued, and not.
Burning Man Project in Gerlach
This summer, there are more Burning Man Project employees and volunteers than usual living, working, and playing in Gerlach. We are activating and improving our properties, building infrastructure, and contributing to the inclusive, equitable development of the region. During the next few weeks, our volunteer Black Rock Rangers will be supporting the town of Gerlach as they do each year, helping to guide visitors and answer questions. Our office on Main Street is open, so drop by if we can assist you with local information. We’re there to help. Want to learn more about what we are doing? Every Thursday morning at 9:00 am, Burning Man Project staff lead a tour of our Gerlach properties and explain our current plans, soliciting feedback and ideas from town locals and visitors. Join us at the Oasis (see below) for the weekly tours!
What’s New in Gerlach?
When you arrive in Gerlach, you may see a buzz of activity and notice some new things you haven’t seen before. Look for the bright blue and white “Oasis” sign out in front of the Desert Club (old hotel). If you’re traveling west through town, turn right at the Oasis sign and head to the parking lot behind the building. We’ve built a new plaza where you can fill up on potable water, purchase ice (that’s right, ICE!) and snow cones, review a timeline of Gerlach history, and sit in the shade while you eat delicious pizza at High Rock Pizza. Be sure to fuel up and have a meal or kombucha before you head out to the playa. Check the Gerlach Outreach Facebook page to see what’s open. For more about what’s going on in Gerlach, check out John Curley’s latest pieces. Limited ice sales will also be available at the Empire Store and the Nixon Store, outside of Gerlach (call stores for details).
As you leave town, you’ll see a spire road and brand new plaza being constructed on the east side of County Route 34 at “the 360” property, a Burning Man Project-owned, 360-acre site with future plans to support theme camps and mutant vehicle owners. Stay tuned for more info! We’re excited to be offering services and experiences on that property that will benefit both the Gerlach and Burning Man communities.
Burning Man Project on the Playa
Burning Man Project has no event or operations on the playa in 2021. Thousands of people volunteer in Black Rock City each year, and many of those same folks are planning to visit the playa and recreate in the coming weeks. You may see people out there in their personal capacities wearing BRC team shirts or patches, as many are proud to represent their affiliation, even off-duty!
Information in Social Forums
Several online communities have emerged aiming to share resources, ways to connect, and best practices for people visiting the playa this summer. The Facebook group Black Rock Plan B is one of these forums. We haven’t fact-checked information shared in these groups, but we see a lot of informative conversations happening there. Please follow advice found online with caution, and when in doubt, do your own research.
Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe
If you’re planning to visit the Black Rock Desert, you will travel through the ancestral lands of the Numu—the Northern Paiute. Today, the lands of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (PLPT) include the towns of Sutcliff, Wadsworth, and Nixon. All Burners making the journey this summer, or any time, are strongly encouraged to develop their awareness of, and respect for, our indigenous neighbors in Northern Nevada.
Here are a few concrete ways you can do this:
- Grow your connection with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe through a community project to share resources, time, and support. Learn more about the Great Giveback Challenge here, which connects Burners with opportunities to give back to and support the Indigenous people of the Great Basin. If you’re interested in volunteering with the Great Giveback Challenge, fill out this questionnaire to get started.
- Respect sacred sites by learning the history, observing posted signs, and staying in public areas. More information about which areas the public can visit are on the permits page of the PLPT website. Permits are required for visits to the lake and for overnight camping. Learn more by planning a visit to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center in Nixon as a part of your journey.
- You can support local artisans by shopping at the Museum gift shop, and further support the Tribe by buying gas and supplies at the stores in Wadsworth and Nixon.
- Learn to practice Cultural Humility, not just with our neighbors in Northern Nevada, but for all cultures not your own, in your hometown and around the globe. Where can you start learning? Check out the Cultural Humility course in Burning Man Hive.
Stewards of Our Culture
As Burners, how we show up in the Black Rock Desert and in Northern Nevada this summer (and especially around Burn Week) has far-reaching implications for the future of Black Rock City, as well as our relationships with our Nevada neighbors and our community’s standing with Nevada authorities and the Bureau of Land Management. If you choose to visit, please plan ahead, come prepared, be safe, leave no trace, and respect local communities. Help us ensure our community and Black Rock City have a longstanding home in the Black Rock Desert by being good stewards of Burning Man culture.
For more insight into responsible travel to and on the playa, be sure you read the full series on the Burning Man Journal So, You Want to Visit the Playa This Summer. For tips on how to go to Burning Man any time, any place, and 365 days a year, be sure you check out the recently published 365: A Burning Man Field Guide.
Have a great rest of your summer and stay safe out there, friends. See you in the dust next year!
Cover image of the playa by Charles Mosneron Dupin