For a quarter century, Burning Man was a temporary experience. People went to the festival of “radical self-expression” in the Nevada desert and came back talking about their magical weeks.
Earlier this month, the organization that oversees Burning Man took a major step toward becoming a year-round experience by purchasing 3,800 acres in the Black Rock Desert.
The land, known as Fly Ranch, is a desert oasis with a dozen spring-fed pools and a man-made geyser that spews near-boiling water. It sits 21 miles north of Gerlach, Nev., and a few miles from the vast stretch of playa that’s been Burning Man’s home since 1991.
Officials with the nonprofit Burning Man Project said about a dozen unidentified individuals funded the $6.5 million purchase.
“In 2012, we became a nonprofit with the intention of amplifying and extending Burning Man culture. So here we are, taking a big step in that direction,” the organization wrote in a June 10 post on its website.
“As a year-round site, Fly Ranch has the potential to expand Burning Man Project’s activities and existing programs, as well as (to) amplify Burning Man’s cultural impact into the wider world beyond Black Rock City.”
Burning Man has been to Fly Ranch before – and some of Fly Ranch comes to Burning Man every year. The festival trucks in water from the ranch’s ample stores to hold down dust on the town’s temporary streets.
In 1997, the festival, then in its 11th year, was held at Fly Ranch. That year, 10,000 people paid $50 a person to attend. (The entry price now is almost $400.)
The one-time change from the barren desert, which has been the regular site since 1990, let participants soak in the waters of Fly Geyser. Many attendees have fond memories of the experience.
Organizers said they have no plans to move the 70,000-person event to Fly Ranch. It isn’t “suitable for the size and scope” of the current event, which is held in a dry lake bed where thousands camp for the week.
During that time, the Burning Man Project asks attendees to adhere to its “10 Principles” that include concepts like “radical self-expression,” “communal effort,” and “leave no trace.”
The use of the newly purchased land is expected to adhere to those principles. But how, exactly, Burning Man Project will use Fly Ranch hasn’t been determined, said Megan Miller, a spokeswoman for the group.
The organization’s web posts suggest it will ask the Burning Man community to help create a laboratory “to experiment with shelter, energy, environmentalism, new models of living, working and governance, and other innovations that could drive social change.” The ranch could feature sculptures or other large artwork, like the Burning Man festival.
Regardless of what Burning Man does with the land, the ranch will almost certainly see more visitors.
“There currently is no access,” said Michael Myers, executive director of Friends of Black Rock High Rock, a group that works to protect and promote the natural landscape in northwestern Nevada. “The whole property has been fenced off.”
Myers said people regularly contact his organization who’d like to experience Fly Ranch but can’t. “It’s a large property that has been coveted for visitation,” he said.
Fly Geyser is the ranch’s star attraction.
It was created accidentally in 1964 by engineers trying to tap into the area’s geothermal energy. The project never moved forward, but the improperly capped hole that the engineers dug continues to spew hot water from underground. Over time, mineral deposits and algae growth have created a striking green-and-rust colored outcropping around the geyser.
Myers called the purchase a positive opportunity for the area of rural Nevada, which otherwise sees little tourism. Visitors to Fly Ranch could provide a boost to nearby towns that now only benefit from the flood of cars passing through during the festival each August, he said.
Access to the land won’t immediately change under the new ownership, Miller said. She said Burning Man Project staff members will turn their attention to Fly Ranch in the fall, after this year’s festival is over.
“Do not try to visit Fly Ranch during Burning Man 2016. Seriously. Access will not be permitted,” the organization wrote on its website.
Miller said the group will eventually name some of the dozen or so individuals that funded the purchase, but it isn’t ready to yet.
In 2012, Burning Man changed from a privately organized event to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It set out to increase its global impact by creating a loose network of groups that advocate for solar energy, community centers in urban areas and arts funding, among other causes.
Jeff Maloney, a regular Burning Man attendee from Auburn, is part of Burning Man’s network in the Sacramento region. He serves as a board member of Sacramento Valley Spark, an arts group.
Maloney said he’s rooting for an artists’ commune to be established at Fly Ranch, with members living according to the 10 principles. He sees the land purchase as part of the evolution of Burning Man from a wild party in the desert to a thoughtful experiment in social design.
“What they want to do,” Maloney said, “is extend that mantra into a more permanent place.”