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Burning Man 2023: Campers dig out of the mud, try to hit the highway

Organizers of a dog art project disassemble their creation on Monday at Burning Man. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

The only thing harder than building a city is taking one down, especially when it’s caked in mud. 

Tens of thousands of attendees of Burning Man 2023 woke Monday to sunny skies in the northern Nevada desert and wasted no time beginning the dirty business of striking camp. 

At Burning Man 2023, the first step was to de-mud just about everything. Many camps have shaded spaces or "rooms" covered in mats or carpets. On Monday, campers had these floor coverings lying out to dry just about everywhere in hopes of crunching off some of the mud before packing them up.

Muddy carpets lie on the playa of the Black Rock Desert on Monday as Burning Man winds down. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

Many things that didn’t require mud removal were nevertheless wet from the weekend’s unseasonable rain and needed to be dried before being stowed away. Everything from containers and mattresses to clothes and fur coats could be seen drying in the sun around Black Rock City on Monday. 

Wait times to drive off the playa stretched to eight hours on Monday night.

Man Who Died on Friday Is Identified

As attendees began flocking homeward, authorities released the name of the man who died Friday at Burning Man. He was Leon Reece, 32. They did not provide his hometown.

Sheriff Jerry Allen told the Reno Gazette Journal that rain and tough conditions on the playa that night made it hard for deputies to arrive and begin their investigation. By the time officers arrived, a physician at Burning Man had declared Reece dead.

Allen sought to debunk some rumors that have circulated about Burning Man 2023, saying in a statement Monday night that "there is no validity to any reports regarding an Ebola outbreak, or any other disease, the Mud is real Mud, and no entity at the festival has erected any structures to stop anyone from leaving the playa.”

However, Allen said concerns about trash and debris being left behind were real. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he said that there are "numerous vehicles strewn all throughout the playa for several miles."

“Some participants were unwilling to wait or use the beaten path to attempt to leave the desert and have had to abandon their vehicles and personal property wherever their vehicle came to rest," he told the newspaper, noting that Burning Man organizers are ultimately responsible for removing litter from the public land that the event is held on.

Disappointment and Acceptance

For many campers and artists who’d traveled far or worked months for the event, losing two days of Build Week and two days of the event to rain was disappointing. 

“It’s bittersweet watching it get packed away, but it feels like a release,” said Gio Mantis, creator of the art project Axolotl, as she was packing pieces back in her truck. Mantis and her team spent two months building the giant lizard in her native Mexico, but parts of it were held up at the U.S. border during shipping. “We just got it up on Wednesday at 2 a.m., and now we are taking it down.”

The organizers of the Axolotl art project at Burning Man pack up their project on Monday. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

Other campers took the teardown in stride.

“Who wants a taco?!” called a man named Joe, who declined to give his last name. His camp was still feeding fellow Burners soft tacos on Monday afternoon. 

A man who gave his name only as Joe hands out tacos to passersby at Burning Man on Monday. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

A former Alaska resident, Joe was at his first Burning Man and said the weather didn’t keep him from having a great time. “No, no, not a bit. Loved it.”

A pile of pillows that used to cover the floor of his camp’s open stage were spread out on the hood of a truck to dry out in the sun.

Pillows dry on the hood of a vehicle at Burning Man 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

An Eight-Hour Wait To Get Off the Playa

Bike riding, driving and even walking on the bumpy, rutted streets proved difficult, especially with a variety of trucks, trailers and other support vehicles given the green light to move through the streets to help strike camps and structures. 

“I can’t get it! It’s stuck in the mud!” shouted one woman to an RV driver as she tried in vain to hitch a trailer to the back. But other trucks had executed an early escape, with many campsites cleared by the time the gates officially reopened at 2 p.m. By 9 p.m., the traffic jam to get to the nearest paved road stretched to eight hours, according to hosts on Burning Man Information Radio, streaming at

An art car is stuck in mud on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada during Burning Man 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

By late afternoon, Black Rock City had filled with attendees making the most of the last hours of their Burn. Some trekked across the playa to see the remaining art projects. One man sat in the dirt to replace a bandage on his foot. Another braved the bumpy roads to ride naked toward Center Camp. Many said they would not soon forget the adventure of Burning Man 2023.

“This is nothing. In 1998, we were stuck here for three weeks,” Crimson Rose, co-founder of Burning Man and the Black Rock Arts Foundation, said about this year's wet playa. “The port-a-potty guys picked up the toilets and left us,” added Rose. “It was not good.” 

On Monday night, after the burn of the Man effigy was delayed two days, Rose was to set the longest-living Burning Man afire Monday night, as she has done for more than 30 years

The effigy went up in smoke around 9:30 p.m. amid an explosion of pyrotechnics and fireworks.