For the first time in decades, Burning Man’s eponymous Man did not burn on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend due to inclement weather.
Unseasonable rains on Friday turned the northern Nevada desert playa where the annual convening is held into a large, largely impassable mud puddle. Roads into and out of Black Rock City—as well as bus and airplane service—were closed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Pershing County Sheriff’s Department, leaving up to 80,000 Burners at the event at loose ends on the traditional night of culmination—the burning of the Man effigy that gives the gathering its name.
Organizers urged attendees on Saturday to conserve food, fuel and water, and to limit movement around the camp, lest they become stuck in the muck or run out of provisions before they were able to leave the nine-day event, which was slated to wrap up Monday. Burns of art installations, including the Man, were postponed.
By Saturday evening, the Burning Man organizers said they were working to place mobile cellphone trailers in “strategic positions” and opening up internet access in the famously off-the-grid location.
Organizers were discouraging people from walking out of Black Rock City, but also said they were arranging to send buses to the nearest town, Gerlach, to take anyone who did leave the playa on foot to Reno. The walk to County Road 34, the nearest paved road to the gathering, could be up to 5 miles.
“Hotel rooms in Gerlach are full, and moving to Reno is your best option for a good night’s sleep if you choose to leave the playa,” organizers said in an online posting Saturday evening. “We do not recommend walking this distance at night. One can become disoriented by the darkness and doing a search and rescue will delay us from helping the city open back up again.”
Major media outlets around the world covered the muddy situation at Black Rock City, with the Associated Press alarmingly reporting the area received "6 inches" of rain and was slated to get another “quarter foot” before Labor Day weekend was over. That report was later corrected with the actual precipitation totals—about 0.6 inches of rain Friday into Saturday, with perhaps another quarter of an inch expected Sunday. Year to date, the area has received about 5 inches of rain in total.
Despite the unexpected and rather challenging circumstances, many attendees said their spirits remained high after a wet night and dry day of burning in the mud.
Burners made the best of the conditions and returned to the business at hand: Partying.
Jeremy Paul of Twin Peaks in San Francisco, a temple builder for nine Burns, said, “The playa is a marvel—plus all the artwork looks great in the rain.”
Alice Kwznetsova, 8, of Redwood City, was similarly enthusiastic.
“We get to make face masks,” she said, motioning to her 4-year-old brother Eric’s mud-covered mug. “I told him it was good for his skin.”
Participating in their third Burn, the Kwznetsova children weren’t crazy about organizers’ advice to wear socks over bare feet or shoes to avoid getting stuck in the mud. Still, they were having a good time.
OG Burners swear by the sock method: You get a bit more traction than if you use plastic bags, and you can strip them off and have clean feet.
The weather Saturday was gray, but only a few sprinkles fell, giving some attendees hope that a storm system slated to hit Black Rock City on Saturday night and Sunday might miss Black Rock City. By the afternoon, blue skies appeared across the playa.
Sasha Marks heard of Jimmy Buffett’s passing and proclaimed it was time for a Margaritaville happy hour. She donned a fresh and fabulous outfit and rallied campmates who’d already spent the afternoon day drinking.
“What I love about Burning Man is the extreme weather,” said Marks, of Oakland, who was on her 14th Burn. “It brings people together and makes it more than just a party.”
Friday night’s showers kept many Burners hiding in their tents and trailers—but not everyone. James Martin of San Francisco and Marcia Holland of Glasgow, Scotland, lit a fire in a burn barrel and toasted marshmallows for s'mores. But when a DJ began a set in the camp next door, their campmates moved their fire to the party next door and danced until sunrise.
“The DJ was supposed to headline a big club way out on the playa, but he couldn’t get there, so played in camp,” Martin said. “It wasn’t raining, but all the dancing squished the mud up over the top of our boots—but it was warm mud.”
“The sunrise was incredible because of the reflections in the puddles on the playa,” Holland said.
Alex Homs and Remy Paille of Santa Cruz left a friend’s trailer at midnight, planning to walk home. But then they found another camp of New Yorkers that was holding a “mud rave.”
“You just went into this room and slid into the mud,” Paille said. “They had three DJs and a cover from the rain. We stayed till 3:30 a.m.”
Paths through the puddles were well established by Saturday afternoon.
Participants had their fingers crossed that the rain would keep its distance, but the forecast included showers and thunderstorms through Sunday, with clearer skies by Monday.
Still, some Burners did apparently head for the exits. DJ and music producer Diplo posted a video of himself and comedian Chris Rock on Twitter/X, saying they had walked five miles to leave Black Rock City and were picked up "by a fan."
Julie Makinen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org