Exploring the Back Roads of Nevada: The Black Rock Desert
"The scenery on the larger playas is peculiar, and usually desolate in the extreme, but yet is not without its charms. In crossing these wastes the traveler may ride for miles over a perfectly level floor, with an unbroken skyline before him and not an object in sight to cast a shadow on the oceanlike expanse." Isreal C. Russell 'Geological History of Lake Lahontan, a Quartnernary Lake of Northwestern Nevada.'
A Brief History of The Black Rock Desert
If you head two hours Northeast of Reno Nevada on Interstate 80 past Fernley and head out into the desert you will eventually find Empire Nevada.
Empire Nevada is a small mining community that my Father-In-Law spent many years in as a boy.
If you pass Empire a few miles you will enter into Gerlach Nevada and Bruno's Casino where you can stop in for a drink and some food before heading North about twenty-five minutes to the entrance of The Black Rock Desert.
Here you will see a vast desert of dried cracked earth from horizon to horizon.
On August 15th 1849 James Fremont and Peter Lassen led a wagon train through this desert on a short cut to Oregon.
The desert is tricky, the cracked earth gives the illusion that the horizon is near. This was the case and this route decided upon by Fremont and Lassen would be called "The Death Route."
Hundreds of cattle and people perished due to lack of water and supplies and it took many years to clean up the debris left by this wagon train.
One of the wagons, seen on the right, can still be seen near the North side of the desert by Double Hot Springs.
Isreal Russel, a geologist with the U.S Geological Survey, set out in 1881 to map the location of the ancient Lake Lahonton that at one time covered most of Nevada. During this expedition he found The Black Rock Desert and in 1882 this region was published in Russell's "Geological History of Lake Lahontan, a Quarternary lake of Northwestern Nevada."
Current Geological surveys show the Black Rock Desert is at an elevation of 3,848 feet above sea level, which is hard to believe when looking out over the white dry alkaline of the earth.
The Hot Springs of The Black Rock Desert
There are many naturally occurring hot springs in the Black Rock Desert area. I will give a quick review of three popular sites.
1.) Trego Hot Springs - Trego Hot Springs are located directly across from the twelve-mile entrance. Once you have entered at twelve-mile you will head directly East until you reach Trego. If you enter through the Southeast launce you will take a pick up road crossing the playa until you reach a railroad crossing. This is an active railroad crossing and care should be taken.
Trego Hots Springs are man made springs big enough to swim in, but be carefull it is HOT!
The GPS location is: 40N 46.200'/119W 06.780'
2.) Black Rock Hot Springs - To reach Black Rock Hot Springs from Southeast Launch you would head West until you reach a pick up road then travel North. Stay to the left until you reach the foot of the Black Rock Mountains.
Black Rock Hot Springs is a small round hot pool for those quiet romantic or solitary soaks.
The GPS location is: 40N 58.320'/119W 00.420'
3.) Double Hot Springs - Iti is difficult to find and extremely dangerous due to scalding hot temperatures. We are not going to discuss this hot spring.
A Map of The Black Rock Desert and Surrounding Gerlach
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Every year the week before Labor Day thousands of Burners travel through Reno to attend Burning Man.
Burning Man is a gathering of thousands of people every year to experiment with collective living, survival camping, and art in an area called Black Rock City.
Black Rock City is one of the largest cities in Nevada for the week that is built.
The experience began with Larry Harvey in the Bay Area region and moved to the Black Rock Desert a few years after the festival began in the 1980s.
The Black Rock Desert provides the perfect foundation for a city built in a half circle surrounding a wooden man that eventually is burned.
The festival prides itself on keeping a strict "pack it in pack it out" policy and not only requires its participants to follow strict guidelines to avoid enviromental disruption but spends thousands of dollars in clean up after the event.
For more information on Burning Man go to burningman.com.
Things to Bring to Enjoy The Black Rock Desert
Light Cloths to Cover Body
Bring Plenty of Food
Bring More Than Plenty of Water
Plenty of Water
Plastic Containers (for dust Protection)
Dust Mask (for sandstorms)
A Tent or Shelter
A Tent or Shelter
Eye Protection (for sandstorms)
Plenty of Water
The Black Rock Desert
The Black Rock Desert is maintaned by the Bureau of Land Management and is open to the public.
You should only visit the Black Rock Desert in a four wheel drive vehicle, the roads and conditions require more than most two wheel drive vehicles offer.
Playa roads should not be used during winter or early spring, if you get caught out in the playa after a rainstorm your vehicle can loss traction and you can be stuck out in the desert for hours or days before help can arrive.
Make sure that before you journey out into the desert that you have collected your camping and survival gear. I have included a chart above with this information. Also, make sure that you have given your vehicle a quick tune-up and that you have extra tools, a jack, oil, and water.
As you drive out onto the playa make sure to look behind you at the huge "Rooster Tail" of dust.
I hope you visit the Black Rock Desert and find it as peaceful and awe inspiring as I do. Happy travels and I will see you with the next installment of "Exploring the Back Roads..."
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