Burning Man Is a Muddy Mess

Rain blocks crowds on opening day

Aug 26, 2014
Outside Magazine
2013 5DMKII Burning Man 2013 BurningMan Canon Canon EOS 5D Mark II Duncan Rawlinson Photography Nevada Photo by Duncan Rawlinson USA http://Duncan.co http://www.Duncan.co

With enough rain, the fine dust of Black Rock Desert turns to what a Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper referred to as "mucky mud."    Duncan Rawlinson/Flickr

When you're heading to a gigantic weeklong art festival in the Nevada desert, you're probably prepared for the unexpected. When you've paid as much as $1,000 to attend said festival, however, you probably won't be happy when a rainstorm shuts the whole thing down for opening day. Burning Man, set to begin Monday, turned away thousands of attendees after rain and standing water made roads unsafe for driving, according to event planners.

"We waited in line for 24 and a half hours, and probably covered 10 miles in that time," Nick Kelley, Outside Online photo editor and Burning Man correspondent, says. "The playa turned to sludge and they stopped everyone from going anywhere. Thousands of people should have gotten in before it even rained."

Katrina Raenell, a reporter with the Reno Gazette-Journal who made it to the grounds before the gates closed, said the storm rolled in at 6 a.m. and lasted for several hours, creating a mucky situation when combined with the fine dirt of Black Rock Desert. "The playa is mud, making it impossible to bike in and very difficult to walk in," she said.

Hundreds of would-be revelers in RVs and vans ended up parked in the lot of a Reno Walmart on Monday night. Due to Burning Man's terms and conditions, nobody will get a refund for their missed day. Still, many just went with the flow. "You're going to the desert, and you know there's weather to deal with," Mark Vanlerberghe, a "Burner" who overnighted at the Walmart, told the Associated Press. "I guess that's part of being a Burning Man. Don't get stressed about it."

Today is a new day: The ill-fated Burners will head back into the desert as the gates reopen and the lake bed dries up, likely by the afternoon.

Luckily, the rest of the week's forecast for the nearest city to Burning Man is almost all sunshine—with temperatures reaching the mid-90s. Whether or not you're envious of the soon-to-be very dusty and muddy festivalgoers, brush up on your history of the desert's biggest party with our 2012 oral history of Burning Man.

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