Home > Uncategorized > Another day, another dust storm

Another day, another dust storm

August 31/Day 45. My street is named Liminal (for the “L” arc), and it forms the outermost of the concentric series of arcs that make up Black Rock City. When a new vehicle enters the City speeding over the limit of 5 mph, or commits some other infraction, right here is generally where the police catch up to them and pull them over. I’ve witnessed it a half-dozen times already today. Usually they call in drug-sniffing dogs, which are fascinating to watch in action. It appears that several people have been ticketed for minor possession of drugs or open containers of alcohol, but I’ve yet to see anyone hauled away in handcuffs. Unlike California, where many Burners are from, Nevada’s drug laws are quite strict. For example, California’s so-called “medical marijuana card” is not honored in Nevada. At any rate, getting pulled over is a tough way to begin your Burner experience.

Dust, dust, dust

Today is very windy, perhaps more so than yesterday, and at times the visibility is zero. During a whiteout, I can breathe normally through my respirator but of course vision is restricted even with the goggles, though they do keep the dust out of my eyes. It’s an eerie experience to be riding my bicycle over the vast expanse of playa, hearing loud music coming from an indeterminate direction in the distance, but otherwise completely enshrouded in my own cocoon of dust. From time to time I happen upon one of the huge art pieces, which suddenly looms up in front of me, vague and shadowy, only 15 feet before my eyes. There’s almost the sensation of floating weightless; look up, down or all around and I’m enveloped in the same whitish powder without boundary.

The dust is pervasive and corrosive. After only two days of riding my bicycle on the playa I can feel the bearings grinding. It gets in the derailleur, the wheel hubs, the pedal crank—everywhere. I’m actually surprised that more of it hasn’t sifted into the camper.

Not only is the dust brutal on mechanical devices, it desiccates skin, especially my feet. Since I’ve been wearing flip-flops the whole time, my feet itch and feel like lizard skin. I’d forgotten the recommendation to bring vinegar to the playa to counteract the alkaline dust so prevalent here, and so famously hard on bare feet. Fortunately I remember that Jane sent one of her Votre Vu products with

Full house

Full house

me—the one called “On Holiday,” a body lotion that gets sucked right in the second it touches my poor feet. But the “On Holiday” works, probably much better than vinegar…and it certainly beats the smell.

During the few short periods of relatively unobstructed visibility I take some pictures, furtively, both because some people here find it offensive to be photographed (usually those with no clothes) and because I want to expose my camera to as little dust as possible. In some ways Black Rock City is like Glacier, Yellowstone, or any of the places I’ve been on this trip: first, there’s just too much that begs to be photographed and, second, no photo can convey the experience of being there.

This evening as dusk begins to settle in, the wind, that’s been southerly since I got here, veers hard to the west, blowing, I’d guess, at least 40 mph and lifting a whole new batch of dust into the air. Vehicles are still entering the playa in an unbroken line, but from 30 feet away all I can see through the camper windows is their oncoming headlights. Everything else is shrouded.

As dusk turns to dark, the wind is howling like a banshee outside my camper. We have blizzard conditions.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. The Other Brian
    September 5, 2011 at 10:46 am

    If the settlers heading to California, who passed through the Black Rock Desert in the mid 1800’s, could just see it now…

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