After heavy rains turned the dry lakebed to thick mud, attendees of the Burning Man festival in northwest Nevada made their way out of Black Rock City Sept. 3. A team of Daily Universe student journalists witnessed the beginning of the mass exodus by more than 70,000 people.
Some participants, known as “Burners,” hiked six miles through the heavy mud to the nearest paved road. Most traveled out in clay-caked RVs, trucks and cars. Organizers encouraged Burners to stay put until the terrain dried out but some participants left early anyway, navigating police and security controls on their way back to civilization.
Decorated bikes were carried atop cars and trailers during the mass exit. Burners used the bikes to get around the massive temporary city in the Black Rock Desert that was scheduled to be inhabited this year from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4.
Some Burners reportedly abandoned personal belongings in the mud of the ”playa.” Many who walked out tied trash bags around their feet to prevent clay sticking to and weighing down their shoes.
Although the weather caused several days’ delay in the culminating bonfire, Burners leaving the site told the Daily Universe they still enjoyed the weeklong festival. With tickets running hundreds or thousands of dollars, the Burners remained committed to the experience. All 70,000-plus passed through the tiny town of Gerlach, Nev., on their way home. Some stopped to eat, rearrange gear or check on vehicles left damaged by the muddy desert trek.