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The Bureau of Land Management works to preserve and protect our natural and cultural public lands heritage for our benefit and future generations. Visitors can participate as managers by following the Tread Lightly and six Leave No Trace principles to help preserve these resources.

The alkaline Black Rock Desert Playa is a resilient surface that tends to repair itself through the scouring action of wind and water during Fall, Winter and Spring months. Visitors, attracted to the playa when it dries, may explore the surrounding region and this is an issue of concern. The playa edge areas and surrounding desert are not so resilient and require great consideration and care from visitors, especially resources such as hot springs. Programs such as Leave No Trace, oriented toward non-motorized users, and Tread Lightly! for motorized users give guidelines that aid in resource preservation.

4-Wheel Drive Use in the Black Rock Region

The popularity of recreation vehicles (RVs) has increased to staggering proportions in the past decade. Motorcycles, dune buggies, ATV's, jeep-type vehicles, pickups, campers and passenger cars can all fit the RV classification. Instead of "off-road vehicles (ORV),"they are now known as "off highway vehicles (OHV)." Indiscriminate RV use has resulted in restrictions and closures in other areas. One inconsiderate RV operator can cause thousands of acres to be closed to the enjoyment of all visitors. The Black Rock Desert region and its great Playa may look like a place for all-out cross- country travel. The reality is that many parts of the area and playa are sensitive and are now showing signs of degradation that could become permanent - unless we all do our part. Visitors can also be managers by helping the public land agency take care of this area. Noise, dust and visual impacts are often cited as the most objectionable characteristics of RV use. These impacts may or may not have a detrimental effect on wildlife, plant life, water and air quality, and other resources. Until such time as scientific studies are conducted to evaluate these impacts, we urge you to Do Your Part and Participate as a Visitor-Manager to reduce or eliminate these impacts.

Tread Lightly! Pledge

  • Travel only where motorized vehicles are permitted.
  • Respect the rights of others to enjoy their activities undisturbed.
  • Educate yourself by obtaining maps and regulations, comply with signs and barriers, and ask owner's permission to cross or use private property, such as Double Hot Springs, which is private surrounded by public land.
  • Avoid streams, meadows, muddy roads and trails, springs and riparian habitat, wildlife, livestock and steep hillsides.
  • Drive and travel responsibly to protect the environment and preserve opportunities to enjoy motorized vehicle use on public lands.

Caution Notes About the Black Rock Desert

  • Beware of driving on the playa when the surface appears to be dry, when in fact it may be wet and impassable beneath the crust. The mud is so sticky that vehicles have had to be abandoned and dug out later in the dry season. Times to watch out are during the winter and spring when precipitation and runoff into the playa is greatest. But some areas stay wet into summer, too. Check with Bruno's or the Texaco station in Gerlach for up-to-date conditions.
  • While tempting, avoid high speed on loose gravel roads and the Black Rock Playa. It is very easy to lose or over-control your vehicle. Lack of visibility in dusty conditions can easily cause collisions.
  • Many side roads and trails are not maintained and are seldom traveled. Use the buddy system and avoid traveling solo in areas where help may not be available.
  • Fuel and supplies are only available at Gerlach, Cedarville, Lovelock and Winnemucca. Although each has some medical facilities, the nearest full-scale medical facilities are in Reno.
  • Unattended buildings at Stevens Camp, High Rock Lake, Conlin Cabin and other locations can serve as havens if you become stranded in bad weather. Take care of these buildings so that others might make it out of a bad situation, as you would too.

Back-Country Road Tips in the Black Rock Region

This is high, cold desert country - even in summer. Evaporation rates are high and the wind is extremely chaffing. Lower deserts with thicker atmospheric layers have some protection from ultra-violet rays. The thinner air in this desert encourages more intensive ultra-violet radiation.

  • Not all the land is public - quite a bit in the Black Rock Desert region is private.
  • Respect the private landowners' properties and signs. Private landowners are not in the business of automotive/tourist services, towing, fuel and repairs.
  • Lip balm, chap stick, etc, and a higher-rated sunscreen are very necessary for everyone.
  • Check your vehicle to make sure it is ready for the rough conditions out there.
  • Notify a friend or neighbor where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Maintain a clean, safe camp. Locate your camp at least 200 feet (70 adult steps from water sources.
  • Do not bathe, or wash dishes or clothing in streams. Some of the hot springs contain endangered fish and soap may kill them.
  • Spare food, clothing, first aid kit, water, gasoline and un-ditching devices are essential items.
  • Avoid damage to trees and vegetation.
  • A Map of the area you visit and a compass could save your life
  • Keep children and pets under observation at all times.
  • Please remove all rock fire rings, bury or scatter the ashes, pack out all litter and naturalize your campsite before leaving.
  • Firearms use requires the utmost safety and noise consideration for others camped nearby. Firearms should only be discharged in carefully selected target areas. Shooting while out on the playa can have grave consequences - remember, it is flat for miles and even a .22-caliber bullet can travel well over a mile.

Leave No Trace is a national program that asks all users to pack out what you pack in, leave places cleaner than you found them, and leave natural and cultural resources intact. This is how citizens can join together with public land agencies in maintaining and protecting beautiful, fragile public lands - both arid and forested.

Leave No Trace Principles For Backcountry Use

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
  • Visit the backcountry in small groups.
  • Avoid popular areas during high-use periods.
  • Choose equipment and clothing in subdued colors.
  • Repackage food into reusable containers.

2. Camp and Travel On Durable Surfaces On the Trail

  • Stay on designated trails. Walk in single file down the middle of the path.
  • Do not shortcut switchbacks.
  • When traveling cross-country, choose the most durable surfaces available: rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Use a map and compass or GPS unit to eliminate the need for rock cairns, tree scars or flagging tape.
  • Step off the trail on the downhill side and talk softly when encountering pack stock.

At Camp:

  • Choose an established, legal site that will not be damaged by your stay.
  • Restrict activities to the area where vegetation is compacted or absent.
  • Keep pollutants out of water sources by camping at least 200 feet (70 adult steps) from, springs, streams, ponds and lakes.

3. Pack It In Pack It Out

  • Pack out with you everything that you bring into the backcountry.
  • Protect wildlife and your food through secured storage.
  • Pick up all spilled foods.

4. Properly Dispose What You Can't Pack Out.

  • Deposit human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from water, camp or trails. Thoroughly cover and naturalize the cathole site when finished.
  • Use toilet paper or wipes sparingly. Pack them out (ziplock plastic bags work well).
  • To wash yourself or dishes, carry water 200 feet away from all water sources and use small amounts of biodegradable soap.
  • Inspect your campsite for all trash and evidence of your stay. Pack out all trash: yours and others'. Naturalize your campsite before leaving.

5. Leave What You Find

  • Treat our cultural and natural heritage with respect. Leave plants, rocks and historical artifacts as you find them.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site should not be necessary.
  • Modern backpack tents do not require trenches around them.
  • Let nature's sound prevail. Keep loud voices and noises to a minimum.
  • Control pets at all times. Bury dog feces.
  • Do not build structures or furniture or dig trenches. Position older-style canvas tents to avoid digging trenches.

6. Reduce Fire Use and Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry, especially when rock fire rings are not removed. Also be aware that the cost of escaped fires Always carry a lightweight stove for cooking. Enjoy a candle lantern instead of a fire.
  • Where fires are permitted use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires (sand or earth on canvas sheet). Do not scar large rock or overhangs.
  • Overhangs and Shelter ceilings may have faded pictographs that you might miss but will be destroyed by soot or heat spalling.
  • Gather sticks no larger than an adult's wrist.
  • Preserve habitat by not snapping branches off live, dead or downed trees.
  • Put out campfires completely.
  • Remove and pack out all unburned trash from fire ring and scatter the cool ashes over a large area well away from camp.
  • If you built a new fire ring, take it apart and naturalize the hearth area and camp so as not to attract others and create an intensive-use spot.
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