Black Rock City, including the remnants one might expect to see after a torrential storm in a temporary city of 74,000, is disappearing, as it does every year, from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
Burning Man participants staunchly embrace a Leave No Trace principle, removing matter out of place together, and this year that shared commitment is on full display. A prime example is the camps who have returned to retrieve the remainder of their belongings and lend a hand.
“We went home to Inverness, California, on Sunday and came back yesterday with a trailer, rake, and metal detector,” said Jim Pettigrew of the Black Rock Yacht Club, a camp that teaches people how to landsail. “Leaving no trace is a big deal, especially this year with damp carpets and damaged tents. We needed the additional time to regroup, and we wanted to be able to help others with the right gear and an extra set of hands. We’re happy to help — this was our favorite burn.”
Zero stuck or abandoned vehicles remain on site or on the exit road, as people have returned with friends and tow trucks to retrieve them.
Black Rock City is unique for its lack of trash cans, with campers instead implementing their own systems for minimizing and removing waste. The organization’s volunteers interacted with camps over the course of two weeks, answering questions and showing participants how to resolve problems themselves related to fuel storage, leaks, spills, and trash management. In this collaborative way, each camp, and the community as a whole, can leave the space as clean as we found it. Burning Man Operations will remain onsite until early October.
“Burning Man is adhering to the terms of their Special Recreation Permit, even under these unusual conditions,” said BLM Nevada Director of Communications, Chris Bush. “They always do an outstanding job. We haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary and will continue monitoring the event site until the inspection occurs in three weeks.”
Not only does Burning Man remediate environmental issues in Black Rock City, we also clear local highways of litter and anything that has fallen from departing vehicles. Each year — and 2023 is no exception — the Highway Cleanup Crew records conditions along state routes 446 and 447, as well as county road 34, pre-event. When the event is over, they remove debris and meticulously record locations where debris was found. We leave these roads in better condition than we found them by also removing trash unrelated to the event.
“The Burning Man organization is a strong partner in ensuring the safety and cleanliness of State Routes 447 and 446 during and after the event,” reports Nevada Department of Transportation Interim District Engineer Bhupinder Sandhu. “At NDOT, our mission is the safety and mobility of everyone on Nevada highways. We appreciate the collaboration with event leadership to establish protocols to clear the road of debris and wrecked or abandoned vehicles in a safe and expeditious manner.”
In 2007, Burning Man created the Leave Nevada Beautiful campaign to encourage all participants to take their trash, recycling, and RV waste to proper disposal facilities. Participation in that campaign includes the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, who set up permitted trash collection points at approved locations on reservation land along Hwy 447, charging a fee and supporting the local economy. Recent photos published by various organizations do not accurately portray the conditions of the site nor the cleanup process.
2023 was an exceptional year for precipitation that created unique conditions and challenges for campers and travelers, as well as for the dusty alkaline surface of the playa. The Burning Man community respects the opportunity to use public lands and has come together in extraordinary ways.
Our deepest appreciation goes out to the extended Burning Man community and the many officials and agencies who stood by our side during the recent storms. The many years of cooperation — and your faith in us — are part of what made this year successful.
Cover image of The Man after the rain, 2023 (Photo by Scott London)