Nevada : Safety by City
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Burning Man is an annual Black Rock Desert of Nevada event.
It is a week-long celebration of art, music, and community, where attendees create a temporary “city,” known as Black Rock City, in the middle of the desert two hours north of Reno.
Black Rock City is only a “city” during Burning Man, with volunteers setting up a temporary home for the nine days surrounding Labor Day each year.
The event is on the playa, a flat, sandy terrain.
If you think of how dehydrated skin looks like the detailed outline of dried skin, that’s about what the playa looks like during Burning Man.
Yet, it’s a magical place as it was once the bed of the pre-historic Lake Lahontan.
Some might compare Burning Man to the original Woodstock, which has the same “roughing it” vibe with similar camaraderie.
There’s no money exchanging hands here.
You barter and borrow instead of getting billed.
Guests are referred to as “Burners.”
The gathering started in 1986 but didn’t move to the Black Rock Desert playa (“ply-uh”) until 1991.
The challenge was always getting approval to burn the tall “Burning Man” wooden structure.
Burning Man isn’t an event that people stumble upon.
Visitors intentionally go and abide by the 10 Principles of Burning Man:
- Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man.
- Gifting: Gifts are given unconditionally.
- Decommodification: Ads, commercialization, and financial gain are not allowed.
- Radical Self-reliance: Use your “inner resources” to survive and thrive.
- Radical Self-Expression: Showcase your talents as a gift freely and welcome others self-expression with open arms.
- Communal Effort: Cooperation and collaboration are expected. One for all.
- Civic Responsibility: Devotion to public welfare, law abidance, and civic responsibility.
- Leaving No Trace: Eco-friendly and diligent land protection means bringing out what you bring and taking nothing from nature.
- Participation: Burners must not stand by and watch but actively participate in the event with an open heart.
- Immediacy: “We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.”
As alluring as the freedom and transformation that Burning Man can provide, you’ve likely read more scary headlines than happy ones.
If you’re considering joining 80,000+ people in the desert next Labor Day, here’s what you need to know about how safe Burning Man is.
Warnings & Dangers in Burning Man in Black Rock City
OVERALL RISK: LOW
Burning Man is not another Coachella. You'll need to be a particular breed to enjoy Burning Man. This is living off the land (when the land is rather unliveable) and can come with certain risque and illegal activities. Plenty of law enforcement is there, and a lot of the risk comes from your self-control and personal responsibility for your actions. You can also enjoy it with low risk and avoid the temptations. The real risk is up to you, but you should understand the elements you'll be in.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
The only shuttle to Burning Man is from San Francisco; otherwise, you'll need a rental car and a lot of patience. The only road to Black Rock City is a two-lane highway congested beyond belief.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
One of the most common thefts here is people taking street signs, but you're probably more worried about your own stuff. I'd treat it as a medium risk, but you also don't want to bring anything of value to this dusty destination anyway. Do an inventory check each night at your campsite, and report any missing items immediately.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: HIGH
This is a high risk, especially if you aren't prepared. It's not that there's an imminent risk; it's that the weather is so unpredictable here. It might be triple digits; it might be freezing cold. It might be both in 24 hours. Wind fuels dust storms up to 75 miles an hour, which can hurt your eyes and respiratory system, and make you more prone to accidents if you try to move. Rainstorms make the playa a muddy mess. Walking around at night can lead you into the path of a car, large crowd, or bicycle.
MUGGING RISK: MEDIUM
Having guns or weapons here is illegal, but that doesn't mean some people won't try. Treat it as a medium risk, but you should also know the difference between theft and robbery. If someone goes into your tent or trailer to take something, that's a robbery.
TERRORISM RISK: MEDIUM
After the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, a 372-page document was prepared for Burning Man terrorism risks. While no act of terror has happened here, the report states, "The iconic status of Burning Man and widespread media coverage of the event could make the festival an attractive target for an individual or team of attackers." With global tensions, treat it as a medium risk and just remain vigilant while reporting anything suspicious. Well, as suspicious as something can be in a gathering filled with oddities.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Scams abound for fake Burning Man tickets, and in 2020 scammers went so far as to create a fake Burning Man website. The official site is BurningMan.org.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
I strongly recommend that every person worried about sexual assault reads the blog "Sexual Assault in Black Rock City." These incidents happen, and Reno's nearest medical facility to help a victim is two hours away. There are no "rape kits" on site. Stay with your friends, never let someone leave a group, and watch out for friends under the influence of anything.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
You need a freshwater supply here and must bring your own. You should have enough water for 1.5 gallons daily, but some people will bring up to three gallons, including bathing water.
Safest Places to Visit in Burning Man in Black Rock City
The BurningMan.org website is an in-depth website that answers every question you can think of and then some.
There’s even a first-timers guide for those considering the pilgrimage.
You can also connect with other Burners on Spark! and Hive.
Each year, Burning Man has a theme that dictates some events.
Since this “city” is created just for the event, the street names are made up each year, and the layout is always in a semi-circle with a center camp location.
Burning Man is laid out with sensory overload in each direction.
Art installations fill the landscape.
Campsites are built into mini-communities that each have their own flair.
Those without a “camp” group can stay in a zone designated for individuals or couples.
Vendors will vary each year, but there’s everything from fortune-tellers to zip lines to tattoo artists to massage therapists.
Dozens of art installations line the city, with discussions, workshops, and spiritual sites open to all.
Burners will get a guide to the event each year, listing all the different options.
Places to Avoid in Burning Man in Black Rock City
You should be aware that some parts of the city will have orgies or other sexually-explicit activities, all with consenting adults.
In fact, one location is called the “Orgy Dome” and requires an interview and an explanation of consent, boundaries, and fetishes.
Voyeurism is discouraged, and you can remove consent at any time.
If that’s not your thing, then don’t go there.
Since you shouldn’t judge anything anyway, don’t share your opinion.
You aren’t going to stumble into the Orgy Dome looking for the fortune-teller, I promise you.
Avoid trying to “power through” a major dust storm.
Get as inside as possible and wait it out.
If the health risks of the storm don’t discourage you, impact what sand pummeling exposed skin does to you at 75 miles an hour.
As someone who once stood on a beach during a hurricane, I can tell you it turns your skin into something resembling a hamburger.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Burning Man in Black Rock City
- I can’t stress enough how important it is for first-timers to join social media groups with experienced Burners. You will face challenges and see things you never thought possible, and these master Burners are more than happy to help.
- Bring a first aid kit and over-stock it before you go. Even on the official Burning Man YouTube channel, the “Emergency Services” is met with the principle of “Self Reliance.,” followed by a condescending “Your mommy won’t be here to help you.”
- Study how to pitch a tent that can withstand high winds. Setting it up quickly won’t stand the test of wacky winds here. Using rebar to secure the tent is recommended.
- Stores across Northern Nevada cater to Burners around Labor Day. You’ll walk into a grocery store to see a wall of water or outdoor supplies.
- If you plan to spend a few extra days in Reno or other cities, expect hotel room prices to increase. Burners bring in $10 million alone to the airport during the two weeks, and hotels will up the prices due to the surge in crowds. That’s on top of holiday weekend price increases.
- There are no showers at Burning Man. The only hope you have is the water you bring, baby wipes, and other self-cleaning products. Find a good dry shampoo.
- Portable toilets are available, but you can only dispose of human waste and one-ply toilet paper in them. Even two-ply paper is banned. You can bring a personal toilet, but you should review the rules of how to dispose of that waste on the Burning Man website. You can’t dump that in the portable toilets.
- Err on the side of too much water instead of risking the fear of running out. You will quickly dehydrate if you don’t keep drinking water, especially in a dry climate. That can lead to a host of health problems.
- There is no water or food for sale in Black Rock City. You can enter and leave to get supplies, but it’s better to stock up beforehand. Some camps set up communal kitchens, so there’s a shared responsibility of making food.
- You should really like the people you’re traveling with to Burning Man. It can be tough on relationships with temptation around, and the conditions can make irritable turn angry. If guilt tempts you to invite the one person who annoys you, then you’ll likely hate them by the end (and everyone will hate you for bringing them.)
So... How Safe Is Burning Man in Black Rock City Really?
2022 saw one of the safest Burning Man events in recent years, with just 16 arrests.
Some of those arrests were for people with bench warrants who never addressed the charges from the previous year.
58 people were arrested in 2019 after a two-year pandemic hiatus.
Over the years, crime has been a problem.
In 2015, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said deadpan, “We don’t have the personnel to issue citations to 70,000 naked people on the playa, but we will be upholding the law to the best of our ability.”
You can read about the security on site, including local and federal law enforcement, mixed with third-party security officers.
Burning Man organizers say this is the reason for added security, “Black Rock City staff have dealt with a small number of issues over the years where individuals displayed physically aggressive behavior, demonstrated the potential to harm themselves or others, or otherwise continued to behave badly when asked by Rangers or other Burning Man staff to stop.
While we rely on law enforcement for support when things get out of hand, there are cases where it would be helpful to have a team under our management that can monitor a situation before it rises to law enforcement action or while we are waiting for law enforcement, so as to ensure safety if things escalate before law enforcement arrives.”
It’s ignorant to think that there won’t be drugs, naked people, public acts of sex, violence, or other illegal activities happening.
While many of those things go against the principles of Burning Man, the reality is that some people’s self-expression gets out of hand.
Nearly 30 people have died since the beginning of Burning Man, and the most recent was a judge who died of natural causes during his annual trip to the festival.
Other causes have been car accidents on the way to the desert, suicides, and drug overdoses.
You significantly control how safe the experience really is for you.
The dust can be suffocating.
The temperatures can be extreme.
The temptations can be hard to resist.
Burning Man is a place to leave judgmental behavior behind, but you must bring your common sense and situational awareness skills.
How Does Burning Man in Black Rock City Compare?
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International guests need a passport and visa or visa waiver to get into the United States. If you are arrested for a crime, your visa can be rejected, and other complications for returning to your home country can happen.
The U.S. Dollar is used throughout the country, and you'll need to have cash on hand for some businesses. Please use a credit card for the best fraud prevention during supply runs.
Even organizers admit, "Weather on the playa is often violent and unpredictable. Dust storms, high winds, freezing temperatures, rain, we get it all out there. It's impossible to be overly prepared when it comes to the elements." You can't do without masks, goggles, comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and anything else you need to deal with high winds and unpredictable temperatures. Your clothing will be packed with dirt, so avoid anything that you aren't willing to throw away at the end if you can't wash out the stains.
The Reno Tahoe International Airport is about two hours south of Black Rock City. The drive to San Francisco is about six hours.
You should have a long, honest discussion with your insurance agent about what travel insurance you need for this trip. You should also review the AirMedCare Network insurance policy to cover a flight you might need in an emergency. The membership is $50, but the costs of paying for a medical helicopter could be tens of thousands of dollars.
Burning Man in Black Rock City Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month
Nevada - Safety by City
|Burning Man in Black Rock City
|North Las Vegas