Burning Man festival attendees get stuck in the mud after unprecedented rain

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I’m sure the Burning Man festival used to be counter-culture and cool but at this point it seems more like a version of Coachella for the Silicon Valley set. I say this because when I lived in the Bay Area, I used to meet men in bars or on dates who worked in tech who would brag about going to Burning Man. They thought it made them unique and cool, like they were the only software engineer from Oracle who had ever been there. But now it’s a cliche among those tech-y circles. Burning Man takes place in a remote corner of Northwest Nevada in a desert called a playa, a sunken dry lake bed. People camp and make art installations and there’s live music but there aren’t any headliners and it’s kind of chaotic. (Diplo and Chris Rock were in attendance this year…what an embarrassment of riches.) Since this is the summer of unprecedented weather, guess what–this part of Nevada got two months’ worth of rainfall in one day. Because the water can’t run off from the landscape, it just sinks into the dry lake bed. So people were stuck at Burning Man all weekend because all the roads have turned to mud. It’s even hard to walk because the mud is so cement-like it clings to people’s shoes. About 70,000 people are there. I dread to think what has become of the porta-potties.

70,000 people have been ordered to shelter in place:
Thousands of people remain trapped at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert after heavy rains inundated the area and created thick, ankle-deep mud which sticks to campers’ shoes and vehicle tires. Attendees were told to shelter in place in the Black Rock Desert and conserve food, water and fuel after a rainstorm swamped the area, forcing officials to halt any entering or leaving of the festival. “A little over 70,000 people,” remained stranded Saturday, Sgt. Nathan Carmichael, with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN Sunday morning. Some people have left the site by walking out but “most of the RVs are stuck in place,” he said.

They haven’t been able to “burn” the “Man” because of the weather: Event organizers announced earlier Sunday plans to burn the Man – the huge totem set on fire at the festival’s culmination – on Sunday night if weather allowed. However, the burn was rescheduled for Monday night “due to rain and muddy conditions Sunday, and an inability to move heavy equipment and fire safety onsite,” organizers said.

The roads at the festival are closed indefinitely: “We do not currently have an estimated time for the roads to be dry enough for RVs or vehicles to navigate safely,” Burning Man organizers said in a Saturday evening statement. “Monday late in the day would be possible if weather conditions are in our favor. It could be sooner.” Organizers noted the rain falling on an already saturated playa overnight and Sunday “will affect the amount of time it takes for the playa to dry.”

For now, the gate and airport into Black Rock City remain closed and no driving is allowed into or out of the city except for emergency vehicles, the organizers said on social media. Black Rock City is a temporary metropolis erected annually for the festival and comes complete with emergency, safety and sanitary infrastructure.

Some people have tried to leave on foot but are getting stuck: “People who have tried to bike through it and have gotten stuck because it’s about ankle deep,” Burhorn said. The mud is so thick it “sticks to your shoes and makes it almost like a boot around your boot,” she added. It’s unclear exactly how many people are stranded at the festival, but typically more than 70,000 people attend the weeklong event. It’s being held from August 28 to September 4 this year.

[From CNN]

As I’m writing this the driving ban was just lifted but it was still taking about 7 hours for people to get out. I can tolerate camping but thick, gloopy mud up to my ankles? No thank you. There weren’t any injuries related to the mud as far as we know so I’m glad for that, although the article reports that a 40-year-old man died of causes unrelated to the rain. Anyway, at this point Mother Nature isn’t so much ringing the alarm bell as she is hitting us on the head with a frying pan. But we’ve brought it on ourselves. The world isn’t just getting hotter, the weather is getting weirder, and deluges of rain in the desert are just one of the weird things we’re going to see more and more often.

I’ll be honest, I do feel some Schadenfreude specifically for the tech bros who went to Burning Man to take mushrooms and wear assless chaps, only to be stranded in the mud and totally unprepared for it. I’m sure most attendees are well prepared but you have to figure as the event gets larger there are more people who won’t know what they’re doing. It’s a shame Elon Musk wasn’t there this time–he’s gone every year for almost two decades–it would have been hilarious to see him glooping around in the mud, looking miserable. I hope that mental image brings some of you as much joy as it did me.

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54 Responses to “Burning Man festival attendees get stuck in the mud after unprecedented rain”

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  1. Jais says:

    That looks absolutely miserable.

  2. Alita2727 says:

    Burners were advised not to go due to weather. 🙄

    • Bee (not THAT Bee) says:

      When? The weather forecast was for clear skies until very shortly ahead of the storm. Through at least Weds. Weather is hard to predict out there. Most people who go understand that.

  3. Jensa says:

    The real catastrophe here is the amount of junk that people will just abandon because of the mud – camping equipment, etc., even broken down cars – the damage this does to the playa, and the huge clear up process this will entail.

    • Bettyrose says:

      And that’s where I feel guilty finding the situation hilarious, but I’ve always considered this event problematic.

      • Slush says:

        The upside is it’s possible they won’t get a permit from BLM again

      • Coco Bean says:

        I think it’s a real possibility BLM won’t give a permit next year. The past few days showed a real flaw in having 70,000 people in a remote area that basically strands everyone during a severe weather event.

  4. Jensa says:

    Also, Diplo is a twerp.

    • Coco Bean says:

      Totally agree. Can’t believe he’s the spokesperson. 🤦🏻‍♀️ I guess we got what we deserved

    • Megan says:

      I went to BM in the early 2000’s and it was amazing. It’s a shame what’s happened to it.

  5. blue says:

    That old lakebed soil is very silty & highly alkaline, enough so that the sticky mud it makes causes burns to skin. Nothing relaxing or pleasant about a bath in that mud!

  6. Bettyrose says:

    Bay Area non-burners have been collectively laughing for days. Like, we’re just walking down the street cry-laughing about this. The schadenfreude is real. And yeah it was more counter culture in the 90s but burners were still pretty obnoxious about it, owning it as a full identity, and it’s just gotten progressively worse as it becomes bigger, more expensive, and a cult of tech bros.

    • Brandy Alexander says:

      Us Las Vegans have found it pretty hilarious too, after we cleared up our own messes from the rain.

    • Winter says:

      Dated a burner bernie bro a few yrs back. <Triple threat &such a petulant w pseudo chill. Just wore me off relationships. His Whole identity was hosting celebs at BM <this IS a cult.

      Big schadenfreude here.

    • Dierski says:

      Completely Agree, Bettyrose! The schadenfreude is definitely real.

  7. CC says:

    I have a couple of friends in Reno who haaaate Burning Man, since attendees often fly in and out of the airport, racking up an huge carbon footprint, and clog up the city before and after the festival. My friends have been pretty amused by this.

  8. Giddy says:

    I’m not cool enough to have ever understood the appeal of Burning Man. There were warnings about the weather ahead of this year’s gathering, so 70,000 people ignored them. Maybe they’ll listen next time.

    • Kitten says:

      Then why didn’t the organizers cancel the event? They shouldn’t have given people the option of attending but they wanted their $$$$$$$$$.

  9. Coco Bean says:

    Burner here, just got out after a loooong exodus. It wasn’t great BUT everyone pitched in and shared resources, helped each other, etc. After we accepted that we were safe but stuck, we made the best of it and spirits were good. We come to the playa to create community and we sure did this year!

    I am pretty pissed at people who ignored shelter in place and no driving orders. They chewed up the playa with their cars and rv’s and made it more difficult for everyone else to leave and the playa restoration crew to do their job. Of course there is that small group in any society who makes it worse for the rest.

    BMorg does an amazing job restoring the playa to its original condition every year. I already know people who are going back out next weekend to help. I was scouring my camp before leaving yesterday afternoon for the tiniest pieces of trash.

    As far as knowing about the weather, when I went in on Saturday the 26th, it was a clear forecast the rest of the week. Internet is limited so many of us had no clue about the weather until Friday and by then it was too late to do anything but shelter at camp. If I’d known, I’d have left early. And I think that’s a problem out at Burning Man, no internet, so it’s difficult to get any reliable weather info. That might need to change next year, if there is even a next year.

    Diplo is a poser. Him and the other celebrities and extra wealthy folks could leave their camps because they paid other people to set it up and break it down.

    Anyways, that’s the latest from your friendly Celebitchy Burner!

    • Coco Bean says:

      Oh, and the Porto’s were far better than I thought they’d be. They had crews servicing them by mid-day Sunday. The radio station was broadcasting for everyone to pee in personal buckets at camp. Not ideal but not the worst either.

    • Slush says:

      How will they restore all the ruts from people driving on wet clay?

      • Coco Bean says:

        That, I don’t know. There has been rain in the past and ruts, though not to this degree, and they’ve always fixed them. It’ll probably take longer and with more manpower.

        I’m curious to see how it all plays out. As I said above in another comment, the past few days have really shown the flaws in having 70,000 people in a remote area where we can get stranded due to a major weather event.

    • Eurydice says:

      Thanks so much for the first hand information. I’m glad this ended up a positive (and safe) experience for you.

      • Coco Bean says:

        Thanks, we were definitely panicking thinking of everyone who was caught out in deep playa during the storm, unable to get back to the safety of their camp. I’m still en route home and finding out everything that happened. It’s the first I’ve heard someone died. I was so worried about that and thought everyone had pulled through.

    • Bird says:

      I live in Reno and agree with you on the weather. There was no forecast for rain. I got my car washed on Thursday wanting to get ahead of burners who muck the carwashes up with playa dust. It poured here over the weekend. I’ve never been but always look forward to seeing the people, art cars etc before and after. It’s also a boost to our economy. I think BLM will approve the permit next year. They and organizers just might be better prepared.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I never ceases to amaze me that people who go out into the middle of nowhere for recreation–or art, or whatever Burning Man is–who get ‘surprised’ by lack of internet & demand change. No. The entire world is NOT connected to the web nor should it be. Wild spaces are wild.
      And I hope the permit requires the event organizers to pay for the cleanup & rut rehab, etc., not stick the federal government with that expense.

    • Cheche says:

      I had to skip this year. The stories on the news are way different than what I’m hearing from friends and camp mates. They just hunkered down and enjoyed the burn in a different way. I’m sure was horrible for the sparkle ponies who didn’t bother to read the Survival Guide (sent each with the ticket that explains how to prepare for the burn including rain) and were shocked when Mother Nature decided to show up. As for the fools who left early and chewed up the playa for everyone else…
      The going rate to have a basic tow off playa is roughly 2K, larger RVs about 3K. Rental insurance won’t pay for anything that happens off road. Too bad.

  10. AnneL says:

    I went to Santa Fe in the late 90s and went to the event where they burn a giant straw man. People walked there and walked back to their homes or hotels. It was fun. Does this event have the same origin? The whole idea of camping in the desert with a ton of other people holds no appeal for me. But I enjoyed that one giant-man-burning event, which took up maybe a few hours total.

    I’m glad that people weren’t hurt (aside from the one man but apparently that was not weather or mud related), but still, WTF were they thinking? They were TOLD not to go and they went any way?! Why wasn’t it just cancelled?

    • trillion says:

      Burning Man started small here in SF at Ocean Beach and then grew too large and hence moved. I’m not finding joy that rich people had a bad experience. I have tons of friends who work year-round for this event and it’s a big part of their lives- artists, builders, organizers, etc. “Tech bros” don’t own Burning Man. They just get the most attention. And it’s not just drugs and debauchery either, there are sober camps, silent camps, family camps, etc. etc. but those don’t generate clicks.

    • Bettyrose says:

      I think it started mid-90s but philosophically it sounds like a similar concept. Like, burning down the man is a great idea, now more than ever, but it has to be a daily effort in all our lives to breakdown the classist white supremacist foundations of our society. I’m in favor of rituals that get people, er, fired up about the work, but c’mon with 10s of thousands of people in the desert mid climate disaster.

    • BeanieBean says:

      They still do that Zozobra event in Santa Fe on Labor Day weekend. My guess is that may be an influence for Burning Man.

  11. NJGR says:

    Minor quibble: “assless chaps” is redundant.

    • ooshpick says:

      LOL! Best comment ever

    • SophieJara says:

      Dying. And since we’re quibbling – I actually like Burning Man, but I like raves, so there you go – but my quibble is that there is not live music. I mean, maybe not zero, but close to zero. The playa is terrible for instruments. There are DJs. If folks needed more reasons not to like it lol. The giant art and art cars are really fun though!!

  12. Harla A Brazen Hussy says:

    My hubby just called me to let me know that the burner mobiles are starting to make their way into our rural town. We see them every year going to and coming from as our area is a major through way from So Cal to Nevada.

  13. Chaine says:

    i don’t think all or even the majority are “bros” but yes, the people i know who go are techie and they do have higher incomes than the majority of Americans. it is like their adult nerdy version of summer camp, especially how they talk about it ad nauseam the rest of the year… “this one time at burning man”— they are genuinely nice decent people but I hate to get in a group when they are all there because inevitably the talk turns to something to do with Burning Man and hearing about this event is SO FRICKIN BORING for those us who have never gone and don’t plan to go. i’m sure the mud flood will be the topic of endless hearty discussion amongst them for years to come.

    • Slush says:

      Idk where this originated, but I saw a few people saying on social media this weekend: “being trapped at Burning Man looks almost as bad as being trapped in a conversation with someone who has been to Burning Man” lol

  14. Jb says:

    Many burner friends reported all was good. We live in a different part of the desert out west and rain is actually pretty magical here. Also Elon was supposedly there and there was a video of him (supposedly) being picked by helicopter (before the airport opened).

  15. Stef says:

    Retired But we here with a lot of friends who still go every year. Many of them are artists and they create cool camps that provide art, dancing, and experiences for others every year.

    Luckily, friends are safe and en route home now. It’s usually dust stroma they have to navigate, not mud.

    It’s not all tech bros and the wealthy. Some original Burners think the tech peeps made BM too commercial and basically ruined it.

  16. It Really Is You, Not Me says:

    I cracked up at “like they were the only software engineer from Oracle….” My husband is a software engineer and while he isn’t an Edgelord, there are SO SO SO many we know through his work who are.
    I think if Justin Theroux was a software engineer, he would have been at Burning Man every…single…year.

  17. Slush says:

    *steps onto sopabox*

    What drives me crazy about burners I know, is that they talk about what a wonderful community is fostered out there , meanwhile, they are the least community minded, and Most Horrible People You Know (TM) in their every day life in Los Angeles, and it’s absolutely insufferable. Like wow, if it’s so wonderful, why don’t you try to make that happen in your life here?

    Oh because it’s not actually about that and it’s just about rolling on Molly and being up your own a** for a week about what a good world citizen you are, meanwhile you are trashing an ancient lakebed, the ecosystem around it, and the residential neighborhoods you dump your trash in as you leave? Then you come back and compete against each other to see how many times you can say the word “playa” when talking about it?

    Anyway….just my 2 cents

    *steps off soapbox*

  18. Elsa says:

    Burning Man always seemed to me to be utterly pretentious and a huge bore. I can’t stand carnival type atmospheres. But maybe I’m just an old stick-in-the- mud. There was a Burning Man guy on Millionaire Matchmaker who was just the most immature, loser guy imaginable. Turned me off forever to the event.

  19. Boo says:

    Is that second photo BM? It looks like the UK (Glastonbury maybe)

    • Jen says:

      I was wondering why that was included, too. if you click, you’ll get the Getty caption which s indicates it was from a festival in Germany in 2017.

  20. MonicaQ says:

    I love EDC but Burning Man seems like a nightmare on wheels.

  21. Beech says:

    Zozobra aka Old Man Gloom kicks off the Santa Fiesta.

  22. Fina says:

    Carina, one of the photos is from a German festival that had to be canceled after a few days due to extreme weather a few years back. Nothing to do with Burning Man.