Burning Man participants arriving early to build camps will be turned away at the nearest town.
Update, Tuesday, August 22: The Burning Man Project has shared that the Black Rock Desert playa will remain closed to holders of Stewards Tickets until at noon on Wednesday, August 23 at the soonest. “The water on the playa is noticeably drying, but there was a lot of rain, and there is still a lot of mud,” reads a passage of their email.
Previously: Last year’s extreme heat factored into many people’s decisions to sit out Burning Man this year. The most pressing obstacle currently faced by those currently on playa is heavy rain, however.
Hurricane Hilary has unleashed an uncharacteristic downpour to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man will take place from August 27 – September 4. The alkaline dust covering the prehistoric lakebed behaves like fast-setting concrete when wet, rendering travel to and from the event site impossible until it dries.
In addition to Burning Man Project staff, participants granted early access to build theme camps autonomous from the 501(c)(3) nonprofit itself arrive on playa to build theme camps in the days leading up to the event. August 21 emails have instructed holders of Stewards Tickets, as these early entry passes are called, to hold off on entering the desert until further notice.
“Gate Road is closed and all vehicle movement in, out, and around Black Rock City is stopped,” reads one email. “This will likely last through at least Tuesday (22nd August) at noon. Remember, it can sometimes take more than 12 hours for the playa to dry after heavy rain, so please be patient — we will open up as soon as possible.”
“Do not come to [the nearby town of] Gerlach to queue up and wait,” it continues. “We will turn you around. This message is to several thousand participants, and if you all queue up in town it will be a disaster. There isn’t enough room, food or accommodation for you to do that.”
Jerry James and the late Larry Harvey organized the first Burning Man on Baker Beach in San Francisco in 1986. Among the first editions’ attendees were members of the Cacophony Society, a local group of pranksters and performance artists whose influence on the gathering endures to this day.
Importantly, after police intervention prevented Harvey and James from burning the gathering’s namesake effigy during the 1990 installment, it was a Cacophonist named John Law who invited them to perform the ritual at his “Zone Trip” event in the Black Rock Desert instead. Burning Man has taken place on a relatively small portion of the flat, featureless expanse ever since.
While heavy rain is uncommon on the playa at this time of year, 2023 is not the first time it has hampered activity during the event. The most recent such incident took place in 2014, when standing water prevented thousands of attendees from arriving on the first Monday in which regular ticket holders were allowed to enter.
The Burning Man Project is set to share another assessment of the situation at 10am PT on Tuesday, August 22. This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.