Millennia ago, it was the bed of Lake Lahontan, which covered 8,610 square miles of western Nevada. Today, it’s the stunning, massive Black Rock Desert, a smooth expanse of silty, buff-colored playa that provides the foundation for the annual Burning Man festival (which wrapped up earlier this month), as well as such lesser-known activities as model rocket launches and land sailing.
The Black Rock Desert, about 120 miles northeast of Reno, makes for an interesting day trip or weekend. Camping is allowed in the Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area, which encompasses the Black Rock Desert; there also are a few places to overnight (more on that later). Fall is a great time to explore Black Rock High Rock NCA: the temperature may be a little cooler than it is in the summer and the winter rains have not yet turned the playa into an impassible mush.
First stop: Gerlach
Gerlach is the small community on the southwest edge of the Black Rock Desert. It’s about 108 miles northeast of Reno (map here), and home of Friends of Black Rock High Rock and the Bureau of Land Management’s Black Rock Visitors’ Contact Center, both great sources of information on the Black Rock-High Rock NCA . Note that the Black Rock Desert is part of the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon NCA, an 800,000-acre swath of land that still is very primitive. You’ll be driving on dirt roads, and there is no cell service. Carry water, pay attention to road and weather conditions, let friends and family know of your plans, and visit the above-mentioned groups for more information.
Roads into the Black Rock Desert
Depart Gerlach north on Nevada state Route 447 (Main Street) and stay right at the fork to get on Pershing County Road 34. On your right (east) you’ll see a couple of dirt access roads (3-mile and 12-mile). Those are the quickest ways to access the Black Rock Playa. It’s on this flat expanse of desert that Burning Man occurs. Every year, during the week before Labor Day, more than 50,000 people gather to form Black Rock City and to celebrate creativity and self-expression with large-scale sculptures, activities, and of course, the burning of an approximately 40-foot-tall wooden man. At other times of the year, there’s no trace of the festival in this area.
Depart Gerlach north on Nevada state Route 447 (Main Street) and stay right at the fork to get on Pershing County Road 34. About three miles out, on your left (west) you’ll see the off-road track that is Guru Road. The route is lined with artwork built by DeWayne “Doobie” Williams in the late 1970s through the early ‘90s. Using local stone and other found objects, Williams created tributes to family, friends and local residents.
Planet X Pottery
Depart Gerlach north on Nevada state Route 447 for about 28 miles to get to Planet X Pottery, the studios of potter and artist John Bogard. Here, John and Rachel Bogard showcase fine porcelain, stoneware and Raku on the remnants of an old homestead on the Emigrant Trail.
Make it a weekend by staying overnight in Black Rock-High Rock Canyon NCA. Besides camping, there are a couple of places to stay. Soldier Meadows Ranch And Lodge is about 60 miles north of Gerlach; the Iverson Ranch and Wildlife Preserve is about 25 miles north of Gerlach.