Black Rock Desert - June 2016

Black Rock Desert - Jun, 2016 - Pics

Driving on the Playa at 80 MPH


Pyramid Lake Shoreline

Alone in the Desert

What the hell is up with the Jack Rabbits at night? Seriously between Fernley and the Playa I counted 29 Jack Rabbits… One of which ran out in front of me before I could do anything. No, I didn’t turn around to see if I got him (no significant thud). Two others decided that the middle of my lane was a great place to go for a jog. I slammed on the brakes as one of them disappeared under my front bumper, only to come hopping out and run down the middle of the lane. He would go a couple of yards and look left; then go a couple of yards and look right… and he did this for a solid minute before picking a direction and getting out of the way. With the second one I laid on the horn while he jogged down my lane. Again, just took his sweet time about which way to go and finally got out of the way.

I’m doomed.. seriously doomed to always arrive on the Playa after dark. Setting up camp in the dark is a pain, so I just rolled out my pad and thick sleeping bag and slept in the car that first night. Like always the stars at night are the most amazing thing. They are so bright that things that are normally familiar and easy to find become obscured by the other stars you normally can’t see and the Milky Way. This is one of the best parts of going to the Black Rock.

The next day I set up a couple cans, cardboard targets, and a metal spin target and decide to get the site on my .22 set right. I had purchased 300 rounds of ammo and I spent about an hour and a half getting it sited in. I have not touched this gun in, oh, 25 year or so, but it still worked fairly well. Jammed a few times (with plain lead – jacketed rounds worked better). Finally got it sited in and could hit what I was aiming at on a fairly regular basis. (Yes, I picked up and counted my brass.) If I had to live out there I guess I would be eating a bunch of Jack Rabbit… but only hunting at night – during the day they stay under cover.

Why would they stay under cover? Let me talk, for a moment about the wild life I saw out there this trip. Burners who only go during Burning Man tend to think the place is completely dead. That is so far from the truth. While there I saw the following:

  1. Black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)
  2. Desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)
  3. White-tailed antelope squirrel (Ammospermophyllus leucurus)
  4. Pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) – Yes.. saw one of these just off the playa.
  5. Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) (Saw these guys at night while driving… Damn they had big wing spans)
  6. Owl pellet – You know, that bundle of indigestible stuff that owls throw up after eating something.
  7. Coyotes – Didn’t see them, but sure heard them.
  8. Road Runner
  9. Grass Hoppers
  10. Dragon Flies
The owls and the hawks explain why everyone else stays undercover during the day. Most soft places are covered in various tracks, and it is easy to find various critter holes by looking at where the tracks congregate. I've never seen a snake while out there, and only ever encountered a scorpion in Death Valley. Not even sure if they live out there.

So after target practice and breakfast (oatmeal) I decided to drive around a bit an explore. I drove over to the “Frog Pond” hot spring and wandered around there for a bit. Then drove up to some rocks near that spring and climbed up to get a view out over the playa HERE. This looked like a pretty popular place for folks to hang out, and while looking around I found a really nice glass pipe just sitting on the ground. This I later gifted to someone I know who uses that kind of thing.

While driving around I encountered the largest bit of MOOP I have ever seen. This was a rusted wire that was broken up into peices and strung out across the playa for almost a quarter of a mile. It was over on the DUNE side of the play (south side) and south of the crossing to Frog Pond. It looked like it had been there for years and some anomoly had brought it all back to the surface. It is a driving hazard. The ends could puncture a tire quite readily. In any case, I was not equiped to pull it up and haul it away, or even concentrate it in one spot.

Next I drove up to the Black Rock Spring. This one is easy to find, just head for the Black Rock (you will know it when you see it) and drive to the left side of it. When the playa ends just follow the dirt road (be sure to have a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle) until you get to the spring. There are signs about not camping within 300 feet. I by passed the spring and went a bit further to see if I could hike to the top of the black rock. Not seeing a way up, I took a shorter hike around some of the rocks at the base of this gigantic outcrop. It is interesting to note some of the geology going on there – layers of what I call druzzy quart trapped between layers of solid black rock. There is a story there, but I can’t read it. Eventually went back to the spring to check out the temperature. Someone has place a handy thermometer on the end of the little dock that juts out into the water. 110° - just a little hotter than I felt like jumping into. So decided that perhaps I should go check out Double Hot Spring as there is a soaking tub there that you can control by moving the pipe that feeds it.

However, on the way out of the Black Rock Spring I got turned around and took a different road out. It was a designated road, but when it got to the playa I could tell this was not how I came in. And I could tell that the ground here was moist. How moist I did not know. There were tracks from previous vehicles that lead off to dryer ground, so I decided to give it a shot. BIG MISTAKE. Suddenly I could feel the wheels lose traction and the car start sliding around. I knew instantly that if I got stuck I was in big trouble – as there is no way to get help other than to walk back to the spring and wait for someone to show up. I gunned it to keep the wheels moving and spun around to head back the way I came. Mud was flying everywhere (including into the car as I had the window open), but I managed to slip and slide my way back to the dry road. Not knowing my original mistake I took another road that seemed to lead around in front of the Black Rock.. but it was petering out and going nowhere. I did a little bit of cross country to see if I could get back to the playa, but that proved fruitless as I came across more ground I didn’t think I could cross.

Finally I went back to the spring and realized my mistake. Once I got out to the Playa I was lower on gas than I would like to be out there, so decided to forego Double Hot and hit Gerlach for gas and dinner. You can drive as fast as you like out there.. I averaged 70 MPH while heading back, and it still took almost an hour to get to town. Once there, I gassed up and hit Bruno’s for a really good hamburger.

While at Bruno’s I got to talking to a couple who were RV’ing on the playa. One (Motz) was a 14 year Burner and the other (Wild Child a.k.a. Screw Lucy) had her first year in 2015. Wild Child used to be a roller derby jammer, and she explained the rules of roller derby. Motz runs the camp Black Rock City Welding and Repair (he used to be part of STAG CAMP - so my name, Stagger, brought back some memories for him). We talked about the playa, and about Burning Man (and the human carcass wash) and about roller derby. Wild Child said that next Burning Man on Wed or Thursday night at the Black Rock Roller Disco they were going to have an exhibition Roller Derby and that she would be jamming (Note: Not like it sounds… there are Blockers and Jammers – It’s the jammers that score the points and the blocker who try to stop them.) I plan on trying to attend that. They were a great pair and I’d like to meet up with them out in the city. We shall see. (I even found a facebook page for Black Rock City Roller Derby. I guess you really can find anything out there. I keep telling people that, but am still surprised now and then.

Oh and Wild Child said there has to be a roller derby team in San Francisco.. So I looked it up. There is HERE. I might check it out sometime to see how it is live. The only time I have ever seen roller derby was on UHF channels when I was a kid, and I sure didn't understand the rules. (The Rules)

After dinner, back out to the Playa.. this time with the tent set up (I have this single person tent that is perfect for one person and one person only. Love it.) Sat up and read for a while and star gazed. Slept until I heard the coyote’s just off the playa making chasing sounds. Did a little more shooting and a little more reading, then headed home.

The condition of the playa is fantastic. The area where Burning Man will be held is flat and dry.. no ruts from wet playa drivers.. no dunes of broken up playa. Solid flat and amazing. This is going to be a great year for biking on the playa.

Lessons Learned this trip:

  1. Check your gear – for some reason I thought I had everything in my back pack that I would need. Got there and my favorite pad was not in there. Also, the food supply was rather meager, still, I had stopped at the store on the way so I had something other than camp food to eat. And my lighter was missing – I had alternative fire making ability, but still, why use the emergency stuff when there should be a lighter in there.
  2. .22 ammo is apparently hard to come by. Stores put limits on the amount you can buy because it is so popular and others just don’t have any.
  3. Stay away from the brown playa. If you even suspect that it might be damp.. don’t drive on it.
  4. Gas up every chance you get.