Burning Man is a unique and powerfully artistic event that is special to Nevada as a State, and has a significant economic impact on the Gerlach, Reno and Lake Tahoe area. Those of us who don’t go to Burning Man, though, can derive just as much enjoyment from the natural wonder of the little-known area located two hours north of Reno called the Black Rock Desert.
The Black Rock encompasses a wilderness area of over a million acres, while the desert itself is 70 miles long and 20 miles wide. The region has a rich history of native peoples, and is home to mountain ranges, volcanic activity (hot springs), fossils, wildlife…and most significantly, the playa.
The playa (alkali flats) is the main attraction for visitors to see because of its size, and particularly its utility as a large, flat area for breaking records. For example, the land speed record was set back in 1997 on the playa by Andy Green at 763.035 mph (Mach 1.016). Rocketry clubs are a common site on the playa while they try to set altitude records.
Photo credit: Trevor Bexon
There are four hot springs that have become popular in the Black Rock, one of which is cool enough for humans to enjoy. Fossils are also found in the area; at this point two mammoths have been found that met their end by getting stuck in the muddy playa. Many ancient pigs and horses from 15 million years ago have also been discovered. Petrified forests have been uncovered, and the Black Rock was home to a giant sequoia grove 16 million years ago painting a picture of a much different landscape at that time.
In addition, there are over 120 miles of historic trails around the Black Rock Desert including the Applegate and Nobles Trails. They are some of the longest sections of emigrant trails in the nation. Along with theundeveloped hiking trails that one can pick up anywhere in the wilderness area, the Black Rock offers solitude at a level many in America have not seen. Pair hiking with camping on the playa, and you’ll achieve an unmatched desert experience within Nevada.
When looking at all the Black Rock has to offer, it should mean much more to Nevada than just the location of an annual festival. While Burning Man is an unequivocally vital event toward galvanizing the community backing for protecting the area as a whole, there should be more than just one week a year to celebrate the Black Rock Desert–and we as Nevadans have an easy opportunity (if not an obligation) to explore this beautiful area and protect it year round.