Offroad Adventure: Nevada’s Black Rock Desert

As a born and bred mountain gal, I admittedly spend most of my time off road on dirt trails lined with towering pines, or rocky roads overlooking thousands of acres of forested mountain range. However, that’s not to say that there’s nothing to be said for off road adventures in a more barren landscape. Take, for instance, Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Situated approximately 100 miles North-East of the biggest little city in the world, Reno, this vast landscape is an off road haven for adventurists who crave nothingness. Once covered by Lake Lahontan, a large pre-historic body of water, the area now boasts over 400 square miles of flat land. However, the most notorious section of the Black Rock Desert is known as “The Playa,” a 35-mile stretch of infamously flat, barren land covered in white dust.  “The Playa,” you say, “sounds familiar?” It should. The Playa is also home of the widely recognized Burning Man festival. You know, Burning Man, people in odd outfits, crazy cars, peace, love and burning down a giant man statue.

If you haven’t been able to get tickets for Burning Man the past couple years, there’s no need to worry. The Black Rock still has plenty of fun to offer, and you won’t have to cover your car in paper mache to participate. While it may have become famous in pop-culture for its wacky week-long hippie festival, the Black Rock desert is a haven for off roaders; especially in Nevada, where there’s not much else to do in this desolate part of the landscape. It’s not all bright lights and gambling out there, you know.

While much of the Black Rock desert is spotted with scattered rock and tumbleweeds, the primary attraction of this area is The Playa itself, which allows for high speeds and exploration in vast landscapes of nothingness. Typically trips into the desert will begin in the small Nevada towns of Empire or Gerlach, both equipped with gas stations and stores that offer one last chance to fuel up and grab a snack before beginning your adventure. Both locations can be easily mapped via the usual tools; however, it’s important to note that your GPS won’t work worth a darn once you’re out on The Playa, so be prepared with things like a compass, a map and a good memory to remember the way you came. Navigation out here can be a bear.

Once on The Playa, you’ll have an insane amount of options: go right, go left, go back, go forward, drive in cirles – without any trail markers, or trees to impede your progress, you can travel any which way in this vast landscape. Thus, so can everyone else. Be sure to keep your eyes open for other vehicles out on the Playa to avoid a collision. Other oddities of the area include limited visibility due to heat mirages, a high incidence of blowing dust and mini sand dunes that are nearly invisible from 50 feet away. For this reason, drive cautiously while you explore to avoid walking back to Gerlach for help. Because your cell phone might not work, either.

But isn’t that what off roading is all about? Getting out there, getting out of cell reception and exploring another chunk of God’s green earth with mud terrain tires to get us there? The next time you need an adventure in the western states, check out Black Rock. You never know; you might get lucky and meet some new friends for Burning Man or even time it right for a rocket launch test. It’s Nevada; they do weird stuff here.