We let ourselves luxuriate long past the normal wake-up time — we’re not in a hurry since we’ve decided to stay a full day here exploring. But the heat of the midday sun eventually forces us out of the tent.
The main order of business for today is to drive onto the playa. We’ve driven there before, but slowly and in the strict confines of Black Rock City’s grid. The city is gone now until August, so the whole playa will be ours, with no speed limits or people. We follow Rick’s directions to the dirt road that branches off of the gravel one. Even more care is required here, as one wrong move can get us stuck in the sand/mud, with nobody around for miles to help us. We slowly make our way north toward the playa, but eventually come across a deep puddle. We could spend time figuring out how to get past it, but decide to first scout ahead to make sure there are no other obstacles. We walk the remaining 300 m to the railroad and realize that with our car’s clearance we wouldn’t get over the rails. Oh, well… We turn back, drive to Gerlach, and take the normal route to the playa, via the “12 mile access point” (12 miles northeast of Gerlach on route 34). This is smooth sailing straight onto the ancient lake bed that has given us so many fond memories over the years.
By the way, as we drive to the playa, I notice that Masha raises her legs in the air every time we drive over cattle guards. Turns out, it’s an old, fun tradition among the women of the West to avoid growing to be old maids. Masha learned this trick from Devin Mattson’s mom and her friend when they were driving from Salt Lake City to Baker, NV to join us on our 2007 bicycle tour from New York to San Francisco.
The surface of the playa has already dried after the winter’s rains and is hard as concrete. It is covered with a spider web of tiny cracks that formed as the fine mud was drying. Hundreds of vehicle tracks overlay the spider web in all directions.
The amazing thing about the Black Rock playa is that its absolutely flat surface is so large: you can drive 20 miles on it in a straight line with no obstacles. Many land speed records have been set here.
We gun our car to 70 mph. Then try with eyes closed. It’s a little scary and a lot of fun!
Black Rock City’s pentagon should be somewhere here, and we’re curious whether any visible trace of it remains from last year. We don’t see it, but likely it is because we are probably not in the right spot; the playa is big.
We want to camp tonight at another hot spring, and Fly Geyser is highly recommended by the locals. It takes us some time to find it, but unfortunately we only get to see its towering bight-color shape and a tall plume of steam from a mile away — the owner of the land has selfishly closed the geyser off to public. We contemplate climbing over the fence anyway, but there’s nowhere to park the car inconspicuously. In the end we decide to get a room at Bruno’s motel instead, since tomorrow will be a long and treacherous day of cycling through 85 miles of desert with no services.
There’s an ultra-high-resolution satellite photograph of Black Rock City ‘08 on the wall at the grocery store in Empire. To our delight, we easily find Phoenix Circle Village, the Burning Man camp that we organized, laid out, and built for the 200-person group of our friends from NYC.