People have left Burning Man, but it took hours and they left a huge mess

Embed from Getty Images
Over the weekend the Burning Man festival turned into a muddy mess because of unprecedented rain. The mud was so sticky and hard to navigate because the festival takes place in a dry lake bed where the water can’t run off anywhere. People who tried to leave the festival in their cars or RVs were getting stuck, and some people walked several miles to the main road in order to get out. Local authorities issued a driving ban until Monday afternoon. But getting over 70,000 people out of the desert in an orderly fashion takes a long time–as long as nine hours to go six miles. And some people actually left their vehicles and belongings behind! The desert is also full of trash. The sheriff for Pershing County where this festival took place has been giving comments to the press via email and he sounds mad. I would be, too.

Burning Man attendees ditched their cars and left heaps of trash across a miles-long stretch in a Nevada desert as thousands of festival-goers began a mass exodus out of the muddy site, a local sheriff said.

Sheriff Jerry Allen of Pershing County — where the week-long annual music and art festival is held — told the San Francisco Chronicle in an email that every year there are “large amounts of property and trash strewn from the Festival into Reno and points beyond.”

But this year was worse than normal thanks to the muddy mess on the festival grounds after a torrential downpour over the weekend, Allen said.

“This year is a little different in that there are numerous vehicles strewn all throughout the playa for several miles,” Allen told the news outlet, referring to the Black Rock Desert.

The sheriff said, “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.”

Allen also said the conditions were causing tensions to rise on the playa.

“Angry” Burning Man-goers were “not showing compassion to their fellow man who have endured the same issues over the past few days,” Allen said.

[From Insider]

One of the ten principles of Burning Man is to leave no trace. That’s also generally good camping etiquette anyway, and I’m frustrated that so many people thought it was okay to leave trash there. The Black Rock Desert where Burning Man happens is Bureau of Land Management land, it’s owned by the federal government. It’s a conservation area with rules and regulations and it’s supposed to be kept pristine. Then again, people leave trash in the national parks so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Abandoning cars in the middle of the desert also seems rather…melodramatic. Why would people do that? This is just more evidence that the festival has jumped the shark. Inexperienced or ill-prepared attendees, in high enough quantities, made things worse for everyone else around them. For what it’s worth, you couldn’t pay me enough money to go there, but I do feel for the people who did follow the rules and cleaned up after themselves. It sounds like this year was a nightmare experience. What strange weather event do we think is on the bingo card for next year at Burning Man? Tornado? St Elmo’s fire? A dust storm?

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Picture note by CB: photos credit Getty and via Instagram. Diplo photo on the frontpage is from this slideshow

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

32 Responses to “People have left Burning Man, but it took hours and they left a huge mess”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Slush says:

    Not only do they trash “the playa” (eye roll) they also dump their trash in the neighborhoods and towns on the way home. “Leave no trace” my ass.

    It’s my sincere hope they don’t get a permit next year after this mess.

    • Startup Spouse says:

      And they also burn things for fun. So much for caring about climate change and carbon emissions.

      It’s a bunch of wannabe hippie hypocrites who don’t actually care about their impact on the environment as long as they have a good time.

    • LarkspurLM says:

      I agree….leave no trace didn’t seem to apply in 2023. It was a disaster with the rain, but get your s**t out of there.

      • Slush says:

        It never applied. They just moved their mess into the cities and towns surrounding the festival. The greater population just knows about it now due to social media.

    • Bee (not THAT Bee) says:

      Oh, bawwwww! Leaver No Trace applies EVERY year, and every year it happens. There is always a massive cleanup done after the burn. It lasts a month and both paid staff and unpaid volunteers take part. It will be fine! People are already planning to return for cleanup and playa restoration. (Also, fwiw, “playa” is what they call this type of desert. It’s the recognized name for it. The NWS uses it. Burning Man did not make that up.)

      All of this moaning and hand wringing and throwing up is coming from people who don’t really know anytihing, or have an agenda. The sheriffs rake in money from the event, make no mistake. He’s being a massive hypocrite because he knows perfectly well it will be handled.

      Some idiots out of 70,000+ people left their cars there. That’s an expensive (for THEM) mistake. They will all be removed and the owners will foot the bill. The tow truck folks are making bank this year.

      This is a 30+ year event and the media is sensationalizing it for clicks. As usual. There’s been rain and mud out there before. It’s only the sparkleponies and newbies who are freaking out. (The wooks are probably fine, they always are.)

      The rest of the season people offroad, there are races etc out there. Burning man cleans up after itself better than most. The BLM actually holds them up to others as an example of how to do LNT right!

      Coachella leaves way more trash. Way, way more. If this had happened there it would be a true disaster because people do not come prepared and expect to be catered to.

      So spare me the crying, it’s all going to be taken care of. Check back in in a month and see.

      • Startup Spouse says:

        I look forward to checking back in 30 days from now to see what happens. I’d love to be proven wrong.

        There’s a really good Twitter thread from @our_nextlife on the impact of BM each year on the surrounding towns, including all of the plastic waste from new purchases that are then left behind for someone else to handle. It’s not pretty.

        I don’t know the ethics of Coachella, but what gets me angry about BM is the hypocrisy. Is it really “leave no trace” if you trash the place knowing that BM staff will pick up after you? And what about burning the “art”? Stick it to the man by releasing more greenhouse gases and calling it art! What a party.

      • Dara says:

        I worked with someone that has gone every year for about a decade. The amount of thought and effort that went into the planning was next level. His explanation of how hard most of the groups (camps?) work to make sure they have an epic time, but still leave no trace when it was over, had me impressed. I’m sure this is like everything else in the age we are in, a few entitled and unprepared assholes ruin it for everyone else.

      • Slush says:

        Bee, it has literally never left no trace. They just move the traces from the venue to the surrounding cities and towns, making it the problem of those people to clean up. Startup Spouse explains well above.

        I grew up and have family in and around the area so please don’t lecture me on how I don’t know anything about the mess you all leave behind you, especially if you only come in for these few weeks a year.

        Maybe not you specifically, but many many of your fellow burners.

      • Slush says:

        Also, returning to say, that your response to me is literally exactly why people dislike Burners so much. The absolute entitlement and lack of care for the communities impacted by you all is rampant and completely against what the festival claims to stand for.

        It’s wild to see Burners to prove everyone’s point, over and over again, loudly, thinking you’re making yourselves look better.

      • Oya says:

        I wanted to respond to your post about it being healing and transformational. This was my second year going and I went because I wanted to say goodbye to our camp
        mayor on his 22nd and last burn. I was able to
        Gift him a tarot reading that brought him to tears. For me each year I have gone, something in me healed. This year it was how I viewed men. My friend and I faced a lot of obstacle getting to burning man and at every turn there was a man there willing and wanting to assist us. I was always told I was loud and it was always used as a negative , as if it was a detractor of my attractiveness. To hear so many wonderful older men tell me it gave them joy every time they heard my laugh through the camp
        Did something to
        Me. I ended up with the moniker “crazy auntie” by the time I left. That place is more than just a party and trust I party . It is more an experience. And I cannot wait
        To return.

      • Maisie says:

        Please. Everyone who lives in California knows that Burning Man has long been a place where mostly boring but well-off white folks go to prove to the world that they have “flava” that’s not applied externally and that they’re truly “creative.” Uh-huh. It’s the very definition of try-hard. But throw some mud on their party and the veneer shatters. The outrage over the loss of their god-given privilege to be awesome probably manifested itself in one long scream of “DO SOMETHING!!!” And all the garbage they left behind was their petulant reply when no one – not the elements, not the organizers, not the police – did anything. Not surprising at all.

    • DK says:

      And the photos of the trash itself are ridiculous. Who takes full length mirrors and framed pictures with them when the go camping?!
      Maybe 1% a-holes should just be banned from camping full stop. They abandoned their vehicles because it’s NBD to them to just buy new ones.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I don’t understand your eye roll at playa. It’s a geological term; it’s also Spanish for ‘beach’, which this area once was when there was a lake.

      • Startup Spouse says:

        @BeanieBean When the influencers talk about the “playa” it takes on a different tone and just sounds pretentious.

        You’re right, but that’s the only way I can explain it.

    • jujubean says:

      The land is not OWNED by the Bureau of Land Management. It is Native American land that is “managed” by the BLM and the Native Americans have no say in who can access it and what will be done to it. It is a colonialist holdover. When the BLM was started, it was because the US government believed that the Native people would not be able to manage their own affairs as they were children at best and savages at worst. Basically, it is often used to enrich private companies as they get logging and mining rights on Native lands.

      • Bee (not THAT Bee) says:

        The Burning Man organization works closely with the Paiute folks. They also deal with the BLM, because they have to. And the sheriffs who are all out there in their air conditioned 4x4s making overtime.

        I haven’t been out there in years, although I live in northern Nevada. It’s just that I find all the freaking out by the media just as silly as the majority of the Sussex coverage.

        Yes, it’s a nuisance for a couple of weeks, once a year Yes, idiots show up and show out and it makes the whole event look bad. However, it is far less messy than so many other events… Coachella, Rainbow, Hot August Nights, 4th of July at Lake Tahoe… I could go on. 4th of July at the lake is especially egregious. You want to see photos of trash? Google that.

        Burning Man is the 3rd largest city in Reno… for a week. And they do an exemplary job of cleanup/restoration. To the point that the BLM uses them as a shining example of how to do LNT properly.

        Most of the folks who go out there are good people who make a real effort to do the right thing. It’s more about art than partying. But that doesn’t drive clicks as much as OMG MUDPOCALYPSE!!!

        Sneer at me all you want, but Burning Man is more than the worst attendees. Hopefully the mud will scare most of those folks off next year! It’s gotten smaller. Perhaps it will get smaller still, and go back to being 99% dedicated and prepared people.

        Enjoy Street Vibrations! LOL.

  2. kate says:

    I think you have no idea what you are talking about.

  3. Another Anna says:

    This was the year I learned that Burning Man wasn’t a music festival. I have such mixed feelings about its existence, not the least of which that building a temporary city just to burn it down is kind of a weird choice to me. Why not work towards actual city building? Is this just to let off steam? In the climate change era is it a great idea to have a summer festival in the desert where you set things on fire? Who goes to this festival and what does that imply about the festival itself? I saw a picture of Neil Katyal there dressed like he was going to a rave. That picture says something, but I have no idea what.

    • Dutch says:

      Like most things in the modern world that started with good intentions but was eventually ruined by late stage capitalism. It started as an art festival where people could be creative in an environment without many of the restrictions imposed on society (read lots of psychedellics and hardly any clothes). Over the course of the event they would build a giant wooden effigy that they would burn as the finale of the festival. Brendan Hunt of Ted Lasso said on a podcast how BM has been this liberating experience for him and he’s been going off and on for a long time. As the years have gone on, it’s become a popular place for the uber wealthy to rave, take drugs and look at naked people. Evidently the private airports around the festival site are stacked with private jets during the festival weekend. So it would not surprise me if the vehicles that were abandoned were mostly rentals from people would rather pay the extra fees than be inconvenienced.

  4. Harla A Brazen Hussy says:

    Burning Man usually has a contract with a crew that comes in after the event and cleans up every single bit of trash and restores the playa, that’s one of the reasons why they’re able to secure permits each year. Now I don’t know what they’re going to do with the vehicles, if they’re towed and stored, that will cost the owners big $$, as well it should.

  5. Jensa says:

    Because of the way the mud dries (very hard), it’s going to be really difficult to get cars out if they’re stuck. Plus there will be general rubbish now buried in the mud that will be virtually impossible to dig out, and will be gradually working it’s way to the surface over coming months or even years. I thought the desert was subject to some degree of environmental protection so all of this seems really pretty bad.

    • BeanieBean says:

      It’s managed by the BLM, so federal environmental protection laws apply, like NEPA, the NHPA, Clear Air Act, Clean Water Act, ESA. My guess is the analyses were conducted long ago & they’re simply reviewing/rubberstamping what’s been done before.

  6. Skyblue says:

    I used to live in a small town in Montana that was ravaged every few years by the Rainbow People gatherings. Same sort of thoughtless behavior. Abandoned vehicles, abandoned dogs, shoplifting, drained food banks, unpaid hospital bills, panhandling, garbage…in the name of peace, love and happiness, I guess. And spare me the “not everyone who attends is like that”. I guess I don’t understand why the collective they/we doesn’t care about the communities affected by these sort of events.

    • Startup Spouse says:


      Because sex/drugs > community/the environment

    • BeanieBean says:

      Oh, those Rainbow Family people! That’s what this has reminded me of1 I’ve worked for the Forest Service most of my federal career (some National Park Service, some Army), and the amount of planning & hiring that has to happen for one of those events! Everybody hates them! Such destruction! And they don’t even bother to obtain Special Use Permits! Something about how there’s a lot of lawyers in the group, blah blah blah. So the National Forest has to foot the bill for everything–law enforcement, clean up, NEPA, NHPA, etc. Just a huge nightmare.

  7. Billy pilgrim says:

    Someone already said and ITA, Burning Man jumped the shark years ago. As someone already commented, it’s a bunch of wannabes, hipster, social media photo opportunists hippocrites who seemingly only have regard for themselves.

  8. schmootc says:

    Read some commentary on cnn or nbs about how this kind of thing is coming for all of us soon. The natural disasters are just getting worse as time goes by and unfortunately the wannabe hipsters with money aren’t going to be the ones paying the price as evidenced by how this played out. Those in reduced circumstances are going to get screwed when their homes are destroyed or their immediate environment is no longer livable and/or society as a whole is going to pay to help those people get back on their feet (as is appropriate) and pay to clean up after rich assholes who make messes (nope).

  9. girl_ninja says:

    These festivals are just so Instagram & TikTok influencers can show off and make money from influencing with ads. Lest we forget that this festival is in Black Rock City and is built on the ancestral territory of the Native Americans (Northern Paiute People). I hope that the Burning Man is made to clean this mess up.

    • Oya says:

      Absolutely not. 95% of us are NOT there to make money. Do not paint that entire festival with one brush, it’s not fair to the people who actually abide by the principles which is the majority of us. As for it being native lands – they rent it out to the festival every year because for the most part people abide by the rules and respect the land. Unfortunately, this year we had a lot more unprepared and entitled newbies

  10. Oya says:

    We had a dust tornado last year and at the beginning of the festival this year a tropical storm. It was my favorite burn despite the rain. Most of us were out there enjoying our time. Most the issues were caused by what we call “sparkle ponies” – people who come in late in the week and treat burning man like Coachella. It took me and my friend 1 1/2 hours to get out on Monday morning and our other friends varied between 3 1/2 hours and 11 hours to get out the following day. Overall those of us who are true burners didn’t let the rain stop the fun, we kept partying. We were dismayed by the multiple messages of fear we got once we hit the pavement and were back online. The media made a bigger deal
    Out of what happened and I felt it was very irresponsible reporting. With that said, I look forward to going back in a few years