BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. (AP) — Tens of thousands of partygoers were still stranded Monday morning in the northern Nevada desert after a late-summer storm turned a week-long counterculture fest into a mud pit. Burning Man organizers said the main road leading out of the festival was still too muddy for a mass exodus of
BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. (AP) — Tens of thousands of partygoers were still stranded Monday morning in the northern Nevada desert after a late-summer storm turned a week-long counterculture fest into a mud pit.
Burning Man organizers said the main road leading out of the festival was still too muddy for a mass exodus of RVs and vehicles to safely exit but hoped traffic could begin flowing around noon Monday.
Organizers closed the festival to vehicles after more than a half an inch (1.3 centimeters) of rain on Friday drenched the Black Rock Desert about 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of Reno.
The annual gathering attracts nearly 80,000 artists, musicians and activists for a mix of wilderness camping and avant-garde performances. Disruptions are part of the event’s recent history: Organizers had to temporarily close entrances to the festival in 2018 due to dust storms, and the event was twice canceled altogether during the pandemic.
“We are a little bit dirty and muddy but spirits are high. The party still going,” said Scott London, a Southern California photographer, adding that the travel limitations offered “a view of Burning Man that a lot of us don’t get to see.”
The road closures came just before “the Man” — a large wooden effigy — was supposed to have been burned Saturday night. Organizers said that the fires had been postponed to Monday night as authorities worked to reopen exit routes by the end of the Labor Day weekend.
At least one fatality has been reported at the festival, but Burning Man organizers said the death of a man in his 40s wasn’t weather-related. The sheriff of nearby Pershing County said he was investigating but has not identified the man.
President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday that he is aware of the situation at Burning Man, including the death, and the White House is in touch with local officials. Biden said he did not know the cause of death.
With their party closed to motorized traffic, attendees trudged through mud — many barefoot or with plastic bags on their feet. Revelers were urged to conserve supplies of food and water, and most remained hunkered down at the site.
A few, however, managed to walk several miles to the nearest town or catch a ride there.
Celebrity DJ Diplo posted a video to Instagram on Saturday evening showing him and comedian Chris Rock riding in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. He said they had walked six miles through the mud before hitching a ride.
“I legit walked the side of the road for hours with my thumb out,” wrote Diplo, whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz.
The event is remote on the best of days and emphasizes self-sufficiency — meaning most people bring in their own food, water and other supplies.
Those who remained Sunday described a resilient community making the most of the mucky conditions: Many posted selfies of themselves covered in mud, dancing or splashing in the makeshift lakes.
Rebecca Barger, a photographer from Philadelphia, arrived at her first Burning Man on Aug. 26 and was determined to stick it out through the end.
“I’m not leaving until both ‘The Man’ and ‘The Temple’ burn,” Barger said, referring to the wooden effigy and wooden structure that are traditionally torched during the event’s last two nights.
She said one of the biggest concerns has been the lack of toilet options because the trucks that normally arrive to clean out the portable toilets multiple times a day haven’t been able to reach the site since Friday’s rainstorm. Some revelers said trucks had resumed cleaning on Sunday.
To prevent her shoes from getting stuck in the muddy clay, Barger says she put a plastic bag over each of her shoes and then covered each bag with a sock. Others were just barefoot.
“Everyone has just adapted, sharing RVs for sleeping, offering food and coffee,” Barger said. “I danced in foot-deep clay for hours to incredible DJs.”
On their website, organizers encouraged participants to remain calm and suggested that the festival is built to endure conditions like the flooding. They said cellphone trailers were being dropped in several locations Saturday night and that they would be briefly opening up internet overnight. Shuttle buses were also being organized to take attendees to Reno from the nearest town of Gerlach, a walk of about five miles (eight kilometers) from the site.
The event began Aug. 27 and had been scheduled to end Monday with attendees packing up and cleaning up after themselves.
Associated Press reporters Michael Casey in Boston, R.J. Rico in Atlanta, Lea Skene in Baltimore, Juan Lozano in Houston, Julie Walker in New York and Rio Yamat in Las Vegas contributed.
The Associated Press