The Beauty of the Black Rock Desert… My 11 Years at Burning Man

Deserts can have great beauty. The Burning Man festival is fortunate to be located in the remote Black Rock Desert of northwestern Nevada where it is surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery.

Situated on a flat playa that stretches out for over 100 miles, Burning Man is dwarfed by surrounding mountains and a vast, flat, desert floor. Once, the playa was filled with a huge, glacier fed lake that was over 500 feet deep. Wooly mammoths and Native Americans lived on its shore and called it home. Like other Great Basin Lakes, there were no outlets. Water that flowed into the lake stayed there and sediments carried in from the surrounding mountains sank to the bottom. As the climate changed, becoming hotter and drier, the lake dried up and the sediments became the base for today’s Playa.

By the 1840s and 50s pioneers and gold seekers from the young United States of America made their first forays into the desert heading for the goldfields of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The Applegate brothers created a trail through the Black Rock Desert that bears their name. I live in the Applegate Valley of Oregon beside the Applegate River, all named for the family. I also have family connections. Applegates and Mekemsons intermarried in the early 1800s.

Today, I am going to post several photos that place Burning Man in its Black Rock Desert surroundings.

I like this photo because it emphasizes how flat the Playa is. You can barely see the fence that marks the outer boundary of Burning Man. Art can be found even in this remote section but it takes a bit of effort to get there. The flat playa has enabled some land speed records to be set here. It has also provided a good base for launching rockets.
Of course, I like to spend time out there given my love of wide open spaces, desire to escape the crowds, and interest in the art. Here I am on the outside looking in. It was shortly after this that the Black Rock Rangers, the Border Patrol of BMO, came roaring over in an official truck. I hopped the fence and zoomed off on my bike. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson.)
The Border Patrol is wise to be vigilant on the outer edges of Burning Man, however. Aliens are known to hang out there.
Some even resemble cats. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve always thought that cats have a taint of alien blood. It may be more than a taint. Have you ever found your cat staring at you in a strange way and wondered what alien thoughts were passing through its mind?
Another perspective. Note the rain clouds. The Black Rock Desert receives less than 10 inches a year, which is the definition of a desert. At times, it seems like the majority falls during Burning Man! All traffic is stopped. A thick, caky mud clings to vehicle tires, bike tires and shoes. A small garbage bag worn on the shoes helps feet avoid the worst of it.
We’ve seen some spectacular rainbows accompany the storms.
Another example.
My friend, Ken Lake, caught a photo of this double rainbow hanging over Black Rock City.
The first rays of the morning sun touch the mountains surrounding Burning Man. Early morning and evening are the best time to photograph the scenery.
A few minutes later.
This sunrise photo is an example of how the large event is dwarfed by its surroundings.
Another example.
The sun sinks into the west, signifying that life at Burning Man is about to be seriously ramped upward.
While many Burners think party as night approaches, others pause to enjoy the beauty.
And beauty there is.
As the sun sets, the moon rises.
With a beauty and drama of its own. (Photo by Don Green.)
I’ll conclude with this photo of the moon hidden by the clouds— a contrast in light and dark.

NEXT POST: I was reading Walter Isaacson’s book on Leonardo Da Vinci this morning and Isaacson was discussing how incredibly observant Da Vinci was. This led me to look up at our house from a slightly different perspective. I was struck by some of the weird things we collect and decided it would make a fun post. The next post: A Home Full of Whimsy… What’s in your House?

18 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Black Rock Desert… My 11 Years at Burning Man

  1. Gorgeous photos of the natural setting, Curt. The rainbows are especially lovely, but I suppose they seem extra special because they’re so transient. Those mountains will still be there every morning (or evening, for that matter).

    • There’s a good chance that my great, great grandmother would have noticed those mountains when she came across the country in a wagon train, Linda. She may have been more concerned with surviving the desert than appreciating the beauty, however!

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