Dark clouds stretched across the horizon as we made our way across the northern Nevada desert to Black Rock City on Monday morning. A road sign just outside of Cedarville, California had warned, “Flooded.” Some Burners or a local teenager had added at the bottom, “with love.” We laughed. Everyone can use a little love.
But flash floods in the desert are not to be trifled with. Lack of vegetation and poor soil combined with a downpour of rain can turn a trickle of water into a car tumbling torrent in a matter of minutes. Common wisdom is to stick to the high ground and avoid gullies. We proceeded with caution.
We were more concerned about the rain’s impact on Burning Man. A quarter-inch of rain on the Black Rock Desert turns the Playa into a quagmire. Everything comes to a grinding halt. Nothing moves. Walking cakes the bottom of shoes with one to three inches of cement-quality mud. If a mobster picked you up and threw you into a lake, you’d be guaranteed to sink. It’s worse for bikes and vehicles.
Our worst fears were confirmed when we arrived at the cutoff to Burning Man. A really nice BLM Ranger and a not so nice roadblock greeted us. “I am sorry,” the ranger announced, “Burning Man has been shut down and will be for at least 12 hours. We are recommending that you drive into Fernley and wait.” Fernley was 78 miles away. Towns are few and far between in Nevada. We turned around and pulled off the road to seek a second opinion. “Black Rock City will be shut down until 12 noon tomorrow,” the official voice of Burning Man declared on Twitter. Damn. The 12 hours had grown to 24.
But you know the old adage: if life hands you lemons, make lemonade. That’s certainly what the folks stuck in the thousand or so vehicles caught between the entrance to Burning Man and the welcoming station did. Their cars were packed with food, booze, and God only knows what else. Why stress when you can have a party?
Burners on the inside had a similar attitude. Their only concern was the rapidly filling port-a-pots. Things were getting shitty, so to speak. Not surprisingly, the first vehicles that Burning Man approved for travel were sewage trucks. It may be the only time in history that sewage truck drivers received a standing ovation.
On a more serious note, I met a Burner on the Esplanade of Black Rock City who told me she and seven other people had been struck by lightning during the storm. It had hit nearby and travelled through the ground, knocking her down. A couple of days at the clinic and she was fine. “The guy carrying the umbrella that lightning struck wasn’t so lucky,” she told us.
Peggy and I decided to make our own lemonade. We would drive an extra 25 miles past Fernley to Fallon and the Bonanza Casino. The Bonanza featured cheap RV camping, liberal video poker machines, and enough free drinks to drown our sorrows about missing Burning Man. True to its Old West image, the casino’s restaurant was decorated with cowhides and served humongous cow-burgers. Bossy had given her all. We didn’t. Peggy and I left the next morning a hundred dollars richer and headed back to the now open Burning Man. The adventure was about to begin.
This blog marks the beginning of a series of blogs on Burning Man 2014 that I will write over the next few weeks. Here are a few photos to provide a taste of what’s to come. Think of them as appetizers.