Festival-goers at Burning Man were stranded through the weekend after heavy rain turned the Black Rock Desert into a makeshift mud pit. More than 70,000 attendees were ordered to shelter-in-place until Monday, according to Axios, due to persistent rainfall; the area reportedly saw the equivalent of two to three months of rain in a span of just 24 hours, stranding thousands of people who’d driven there with trailers and RVs in tow. The road was opened Monday, but the subsequent traffic jam led to a procession lasting hours. By Tuesday morning, wait times were “shortened” to a reasonable three hours, per SFGate.
Some attendees managed to get out early, including those who drove to Black Rock City in their RAM TRXs and Subarus. But those whose vehicles had the ability to escape the muddy mess following the excess rainfall on Friday and Saturday may have made it worse for those left behind, according to NBC.
Drivers with off-road capable vehicles left deep ruts in the surface of the “playa,” which made it harder for those with less-capable cars to traverse the desert lakebed, leading festival organizers to issue a driving ban. The ban was lifted on Monday afternoon, and the mass exodus began.
Earlier estimates had put the Black Rock backlog somewhere between eight to 12 hours in traffic. It’s not that bad anymore, but the current gridlock is just what happens when you put about 73,000 people in close proximity for a glorified bonfire and they all decide to bail at once. The ensuing traffic jam is a nightmare, and underscores the absurdity of the effort to get away from things like traffic jams and consumer waste.
Festival organizers expect the evacuation to continue through Wednesday following the flooding and five-mile backlog it created — which was initially greater than usual. Traffic jams are not unheard of at Burning Man. When the festival concludes, attendees stream out in unison, leading to gridlock on the limited roads leading in and out of the Black Rock Desert site.
Despite the rain being unusual, it was not altogether unexpected. Heavy localized rain is not as rare as news outlets are implying. The conditions that must be met for this situation are more or less all there, and moisture from the Southwest monsoon prompted local authorities to issue flash flood warnings in the area, as well as nearby sections of the California and Nevada desert.
The site of Black Rock City is susceptible to this kind of flooding because “the ground [is] unable to absorb the water without creating runoff and mudflows,” as Axios reports. Festival-goers allegedly banded together to weather the storm, sharing food and water with those who were less well-prepared. But for what, exactly? Oh, right: to spend multiple days in a desert. And the festivities were postponed, with the famous burning of the man totem being pushed back until Monday night, because you can’t really burn a man in the rain.
To top it off, local police claim to have been conducting an investigation into the death of a 32-year old man. Their investigation was delayed by the rain, and it’s not yet clear what caused the death of Leon Reece. The investigation is ongoing.
The festival is notoriously all about “radical self-reliance,” but it’s become emblematic of radical excess and abandon, which caters only to the wealthy. Thousands of people spending thousands of dollars to get away from it all during a days-long event that celebrates countercultural music and arts. But at some point, the current turns and you’re no longer countercultural. You’re no longer revolutionary. You’re just another badly-dressed Burning Man attendee, stuck in the mud.