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The Black Rock Desert

The Black Rock Desert is a thoroughly flat, prehistoric lakebed, composed of a hardpan alkali, ringed by majestic mountains. Daytime temperatures routinely exceed 100F and the humidity is extremely low, which rapidly and continually wicks the moisture from your body. Because the atmosphere is so dry, you may not feel particularly warm, but you’ll be steadily drying up. Sunscreen, lip balm and skin lotion are your best friends on the playa. At nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the atmosphere provides much less filtering of the sunlight which causes sunburn. As a result, you will burn much faster and more severely than at lower elevations. Put on sunscreen every morning and repeat as needed during the day.

Don’t be surprised if you spend your first day feeling a bit queasy and cranky. Begin drinking more water as you approach the desert. To stay healthy and enjoy the week, drink water all the time whether you think you need it or not. Drinking up to one gallon of water per person per day is the rule of thumb.

Remember to eat proper salty foods Remember to eat proper salty foods to prevent electrolyte imbalance. Users of alcohol, caffeine or other drugs are particularly at risk for dehydration, and should pay careful attention to their water intake. Dehydration can cause headaches, stomach cramps, abdominal pains, constipation, or flu-like symptoms. It exacerbates both heat-related and cold-related conditions (i.e. heat exhaustion and hypothermia), and makes it difficult for the body to mend itself. If someone you know complains of these symptoms, or shows signs of either severe overheating or (worse) a case of chills under the mid-day sun, get them to shade immediately and seek prompt medical help. In case of emergency, go to the Medical Clinic at Esplanade & 5:15 or an Emergency Services Station near the Civic Plazas. Medical staff are always on duty and evacuation is available.

Some signs that you may not be drinking enough water:

  • You don't carry a water bottle with you at all times.
  • You swill instead of drinking deeply.
  • You wait to drink until you're thirsty - too late!
  • Your urine is anything but clear and abundant.
  • You become cranky.

Beating the Heat (and the Cold)

Make sure you bring some kind of shade for your camp and try to lie low during the hottest part of the day (save your strength for the night). Use sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and water. If you don’t take a few basic steps to protect yourself, the desert’s midday sun will cook you in no time. However, when the sun drops over the horizon, temperatures can quickly plummet fifty degrees. Overnight lows in the 40's can seem exceptionally cold after extensive daytime sun, so you’ll want to bring warm clothing, and a good sleeping bag as well.

A Few Words About Storms

The playa can be subject to sudden bouts of fierce, unpredictable weather. Storm cells, fed by rising thermals that stream upward from the surrounding mountains, may arise in the late afternoon or evening and bring high winds, lightning and (sometimes) rain into camp. Likewise, dust storms can prowl the playa in packs or sweep in a broadened front across the plain. Suddenly besetting us, they can produce instant “white outs.” However, they are usually over quickly.

Long, sustained rainfall–or white out conditions– are unlikely; however, you will want to come to the event mentally and physically prepared for such occurrences.

  • DO NOT DRIVE your vehicle
  • Relax and wait until conditions change
  • Bring a plastic 5-gallon utility bucket (with lid!) and heavy-duty black garbage bags (as an emergency porta potty). The bags go home with you, NOT in a porta potty
  • Bring a complete basic first aid kit
  • Bring a battery-powered radio and tune into BMIR (94.5 FM)
In white-out conditions:
  • Seek immediate shelter and stay there. (White-outs are why goggles are great!)
  • If you are caught outside of shelter during this condition, simply sit down; cover your face with your shirt and wait. Using a dust mask is highly effective.
  • Be alert for moving vehicles.
  • If you are in a vehicle, STOP and wait for the air to clear. You will not be able to see where you are going!

Rainfall here is quite selective and dries quickly. Severe conditions rarely last more than half an hour. Storms often come in with little or no warning. You need to keep your camp battened down at all times so it’s secure. This is especially true when you’re away from camp. Winds can exceed 75mph and objects such as sleeping bags, chairs, card tables, empty ice chests and tents have been carried away by high winds.

In the event of rain:
  • DO NOT DRIVE your vehicle. You will become stuck!
  • Remain where you are
  • Do not ride your bike
  • Carry your bike; playa mud clogs it in a few feet

Securing Your Camp

securing your campTry to position your tent and shade structures to present the smallest possible profile to the wind (prevailing south-southwest to north-northeast). Weight the interior corners of your tent; stakes that are 12-inches or longer are recommended. Lengths of rebar make excellent stakes, but all exposed ends must be capped (empty 1-liter plastic soda bottles will do the trick) or bent into a candy cane shape to prevent foot/leg injuries. Full information on rebar, including tips for removal please visit Rebar 101.

At all times, keep objects (paper products, clothing, tarps, everything) secure from the wind. MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) is often created as a result of laziness. NEVER LET IT HIT THE GROUND and CLEAN AS YOU GO! Ropes or cables used to stabilize tents should be flagged, preferably with a white or reflective material. They are hazardous to pedestrians at night. Lock valuables in your car.

Make two spare door keys: hide one, carry one.

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