Burning Man attendees began a mass exodus Monday after roads reopened following a days-long closure due to mud, leading to hours-long waits to leave the remote Nevada desert site, though many stuck around as the festival held its climactic burning of a wooden effigy Monday night.
The driving ban in Black Rock City—the temporary city set up during Burning Man—was lifted at 2:00 p.m. Pacific time Monday, organizers said, though they urged attendees to consider waiting until Tuesday to leave in order to ease congestion.
Burning Man’s titular burning of an effigy shaped like a man, the climax of the days-long festival, took place at 9:00 p.m. Monday after being postponed on Saturday and Sunday.
Approximately 64,000 of the event’s 72,000 attendees remained on the site as of 2 p.m. Monday, according to organizers, with the New York Times reporting that approximately half of attendees appeared to be present by the time the effigy ceremony—which it notes was much “calmer” than usual—took place.
The wait time to leave Black Rock City was eight hours as of early Tuesday morning, organizers said on X, formerly known as Twitter, though the Times notes that it can take up to 12 hours to leave the festival even during years without significant issues.
Downpouring rain that began Friday in Black Rock City led to the road closures and attendees being urged to shelter in place and conserve resources, caking the ground in mud that caused the treacherous conditions.
One person died at the event, but organizers cited by the Guardian said the cause of their death wasn’t related to the weather, and the local sheriff’s office is investigating.
“We come here every year to get schooled,” artist Olivia Steele told the Times on Monday, saying she would stay to watch the effigy burn. “This time we got a great education.”
What To Watch For
Attendees are expected to continue to leave Black Rock City throughout the day on Tuesday, and the burning of the temple, another part of the festival’s centerpiece effigy, is scheduled to take place at 8:00 p.m. Burning Man’s ethos of “leave no trace”—meaning returning Black Rock City’s desert site to how it was before the festival—will be harder to manage this year, Reuters notes, as cars were marooned on their way to the main road and the Times reports many items were abandoned or lost in the mud.
0.8 inches. That’s how much rain fell in Black Rock City between Friday and Saturday morning alone, which CNN notes is twice the average September rainfall for the area, with rain then continuing throughout the weekend. The clay ground in the region doesn’t absorb water as well, which caused the dangerously muddy conditions.
Many high-profile attendees escaped Burning Man by walking miles to the main road ahead of the roads reopening Monday, including Chris Rock, Cindy Crawford, Kaia Gerber, Austin Butler and Diplo, who CNN notes was able to make it to a concert in Washington, D.C. by Saturday night. The DJ posted a video to Instagram saying a fan had picked up him and Rock after they walked along the side of the road trying to get a ride.
Burning Man is an annual event that’s taken place since 1986, in which attendees—known as “Burners”—gather off the grid in the Nevada desert for an art festival that’s also become a celebration of the event’s self-sufficient lifestyle. The event takes place in the Nevada desert, approximately 120 miles north of Reno, and Reuters notes it is 15 miles from the nearest town. While traditionally an enclave of artists and other creative types, Burning Man has also more recently attracted a number of tech elites and billionaires, including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. The mud isn’t the first weather incident to affect Burning Man, such as dust storms that impacted the event in 2018 and 2022 and rain in 2014 that delayed the start of the festival. The 2023 festival was the second to take place since the Covid-19 pandemic, after events were canceled in 2020 and 2021.
Burning Man Attendees Begin to Leave Soggy Festival Site (New York Times)
Burning Man Diaries: An Insider Report From The Muddy Chaos of 2023 (Forbes)
Burning Man Doused: 73,000 Stuck At Festival Amid Unprecedented Rain, Muddy Conditions (Forbes)
Burning Man Festivalgoers Battle Heavy Rains And Foot Deep Mud—See Photos (Forbes)
Burning Man: 1 Dead As Flooding Strands Thousands At Nevada Desert Festival (Forbes)