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Exploring the Back Roads of Nevada: The Black Rock Desert

Updated on December 11, 2013
Old Wagon From "The Death Route"
Old Wagon From "The Death Route" | Source

"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.

Double Hot Springs
Double Hot Springs | Source
Trego Hot Springs
Trego Hot Springs | Source

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

Would You Consider Ever Going to Burning Man?

See results

Burning Man

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

Things to Bring to Enjoy The Black Rock Desert

Long Stays
Light Cloths to Cover Body
Warm Cloths
Bring Plenty of Food
Extra Socks
Bring More Than Plenty of Water
A Hat
Plenty of Water
Plastic Containers (for dust Protection)
Dust Mask (for sandstorms)
A Tent or Shelter
A Tent or Shelter
Eye Protection (for sandstorms)
Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Bag
Plenty of Water
The Black Rock Desert
The Black Rock Desert | Source
The Black Rock Desert
The Black Rock Desert | Source

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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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      - Of course you would be at the Ace. I've only dorloed over it forever!!! I am wishing you lots of drinks and feet up on a lounge chair with a good book and deep breaths of fresh air. All sans large computer monitor and mouse!

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      4 years ago from Reno NV

      I have just returned from camping out in the desert for a week and feel ready to work. Thank you for your comments and for stopping by to read. Jamie

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      I enjoyed reading about the history and geology of Black Rock Desert, an extraordinary place with these curious hot springs that must be tempting to bathe in yet....scorching at the same time! And the Burning Man is a powerful image, I'd be interested in going to this annual event if I was ever out Nevada way.

    • Eric Flynn profile image

      Eric Wayne Flynn 

      4 years ago from Providence, Rhode Island

      What a landscape, looks peaceful.


    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      4 years ago from California

      I am thinking he knows! He has been going now for years and loves it

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      4 years ago from Reno NV

      How exciting you need him to stop by Gold and seventh.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      4 years ago from California

      Came back for another read Jamie! My nephew is just heading out there today!

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      5 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you tillsontitan. Jamie

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      I've always been fascinated by the desert and your wonderful hub just makes it more intriguing. Your photos are beautiful and I'm not surprised to see you mentioned Burning Man.

      Great addition to the Back Roads series Jamie.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, and shared.

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      5 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Kim for your continual support I hope all is well. jamie

      It is good to hear from you Jodah, I am glad to introduce you to an awe inspiring desert. Jamie

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Good work Jamie found this very thorough and interesting of a place

      I knew nothing about. Burning man sounds interesting too.

    • ocfireflies profile image


      5 years ago from North Carolina

      How I hope to travel to these back roads someday. Thanks for providing the visuals which show the beauty and the challenges of visiting such terrain. What a great addition to Bill's Back Roads idea. Naturally, I look forward to more of these and as always the poems interspersed.

      Happy Friday,


    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      5 years ago from Reno NV

      Well Bill I have about six more of these in mind. So they will arrive peppered out here and there (between a poem or two, and finishing another series) I am glad this works for the "Exploring the Back Roads..." series. I hope my other contributions are up to the challenge also. Thank you Audrey and annart for stopping by and enjoying my first installment. Jamie

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      5 years ago from SW England

      Congratulations on your excellent contribution to 'Exploring the Backs Roads of...' series. I'll put your link into mine too. It's an amazing place, isn't it? You give excellent locations references and great advice for travelling. I'd love to see this but it won't be soon; who knows, I might manage it one day! Ann

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      5 years ago from California

      So this is where burning man is! This is a great little article--I like Bill's idea about back roads articles!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I almost missed this one, Jamie! Well done and thanks for taking part in this little experiment. I'll link yours to mine and hopefully that will do some good.


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