Explore Nevada: The Black Rock Desert


Explore Nevada: The Black Rock Desert

Old Wagon From "The Death Route" / Black Rock Desert
Old Wagon From “The Death Route” / Black Rock Desert
The scenery on the larger playas are peculiar, and usually desolate in the extreme, but yet is not without its charms. In crossing these wastes the traveler may ride for miles over a perfectly level floor, with an unbroken skyline before him and not an object in sight to cast a shadow on the oceanlike expanse.” Isreal C. Russell ‘Geological History of Lake Lahontan, a Quartnernary Lake of Northwestern Nevada.’

Empire, Gerlach and Bruno’s Country Club


First a woman stood on a small hill of sage located on her new two acre plot of land.  She just finished signing the paperwork that morning and the trailer and the land was hers.  Second she tipped her hat to the Gypsum Mine where her husband started working and sat down on a boulder to watch the sunset.

Nevada is a place of dreams.  Two hours Northeast of Reno Nevada on Interstate 80 a traveler will eventually find Empire Nevada.  Scenery along the way consists of sagebrush covered rolling hills with Indian Taco stands as you leave each small pocket of native population.


Miles and miles of desert terrain, built from granite and sandstone carved into canyon home for Pinion.  Empire, Nevada, a ghost town since 2011, started as a tent city in the 20’s when its first Gypsum Mine opened.

First a rough town, mostly Gypsum Miners who worked for The Gypsum Mining Company and then Empire Mining, with a population of seven hundred Miners during its peak in the 60’s.  Second a company town, residents all worked for Empire Mining, that closed its doors after the Great Recession of 2009.

Therefore a few remaining residents were able to survive off of tourist money collected during an event called Burning Man where thousands of “Burners” travel through Empire on their way to the Black Rock Desert.

Empire Nevada / Black Rock Desert
The Trading Post at Empire Nevada / Black Rock Desert


Her husband only spoke Basque yet fit right in at the mine.  Within five years she had quit her job working for the “Department of the Interior” after a lengthy tour. The roaring twenties found her leaving her place in D.C. and heading west were she met her husband and settled in Empire.

Gypsum provided her with more then enough to live and she had plans of starting a farm with some livestock.  Her husband seemed happy and they had their first child on the way.   Even during her pregnancy she would hike up into the desert surrounding Empire where she found boundless opportunities for exploration.


If you pass Empire you will enter into Gerlach Nevada and Bruno’s Country Club where you can stop in for a drink and some food before heading North about twenty-five minutes to the entrance of The Black Rock Desert.

Gerlach, a short way downhill from Empire, is a town that survived.  Empire built itself around Gypsum Mining and Gerlach built itself around the railroad.  A Union Pacific switching station employs a handful of its residents and provides a small economy.

Though not quit considered a ghost town yet Gerlach still offers K-12, Washoe County School District, to its twelve or so children and a public library.

Gerlach provides sanctuary to many desert travelers from desert hunters to outdoor enthusiasts wanting to enjoy The Black Rock and its many hot springs.  Those who have traveled there and spent time in the desert wildlife nearby understand the importance of Bruno’s Country Club.

Many have sat at the bar for drinks and involved themselves in incredible conversations with desert weary folk before heading to their rooms.

A good night sleep at Bruno’s brings morning sun through curtains and after hearty breakfast at the restaurant preparations are made to move out onto the dry lake bed.

Black Rock Desert
Black Rock Desert

The Black Rock Desert

A vast desert of dried cracked earth from horizon to horizon that holds many secrets.

On August 15th 1849 James Fremont and Peter Lassen led a wagon train through this desert on what they considered a short cut to Oregon.

Fremont and Lassen decided that they could cross the desert in a shorter period of time then trying to move through the hills on either side.  The desert is tricky and cracked earth gives the illusion that the horizon is near.  This miscalculation by Fremont and Lassen led to tragedy along what would be called “The Death Route.”  Hundreds of pioneers and their cattle perished due to lack of water and supplies.

When hiking through The Black Rock hikers can still see debris left by Fremont and Lassen’s wagon train.  One of the wagons can still be seen near the North side of the desert by Double Hot Springs.

Isreal Russel, a geologist with the U.S Geological Survey, set out in 1881 to map the location of the ancient Lake Lahonton that at one time covered most of Nevada. During this expedition he found The Black Rock Desert and in 1882 this region was published in Russell’s “Geological History of Lake Lahontan, a Quarternary lake of Northwestern Nevada.”

Current Geological surveys show The Black Rock Desert at an elevation of 3,848 feet above sea level, which is hard to believe when looking out over miles of white dry alkaline earth.

Hot Springs of The Black Rock Desert

Hours after lounging in Trego the sky darkened as sun set behind a few tall Cattails.  Maybe it is time to stand up out of hot water and feel the chill in the air. One quickly dries off and runs to vehicle to turn on heater and ponder a perfect day spent in natural hot springs.

There are many naturally occurring hot springs in The Black Rock Desert area:

Trego Hot Springs / Black Rock Desert
Trego Hot Springs / Black Rock Desert
  1. Trego Hot Springs – Trego Hot Springs are located directly across from the Twelve-Mile entrance. Once you enter at Twelve-Mile you will head directly East until you reach Trego. If you enter the Southeast Launch you will take a pick up road crossing the playa until you reach a railroad crossing. This is an active railroad crossing and care should be taken. Trego Hots Springs are man made springs big enough to swim in, but be careful it is HOT!  The GPS location is: 40N 46.200’/119W 06.780′
  2. Black Rock Hot Springs – To reach Black Rock Hot Springs from Southeast Launch you head West until you reach a pick up road then travel North. Stay to the left until you reach the foot of the Black Rock Mountains.  Black Rock Hot Springs is a small round hot pool for those quiet romantic or solitary soaks.  The GPS location is: 40N 58.320’/119W 00.420′
  3. Double Hot Springs – This Hot Spring is difficult to find and extremely dangerous due to scalding hot temperatures.

Burning Man

Dust Storm Covers Burning Man 2015
Dust storm covers Burning Man Festival 2015 “The American Dream” / Black Rock Desert

Last night the man burned and thousands of “Burners” ran towards a giant wooden man consumed in flame.  Family is found within the random works of art whether sitting in camping chairs and sharing stories with passing “burners” or enjoying a Chai at Center Camp while listening to live music and watching ribbon dancers dance high above.

Burn night brings family formed over the event together for an amazing night of flame and celebration.

Every year the week before Labor Day thousands of Burners travel through Reno to attend Burning Man.  Burning Man is a gathering to experiment with collective living, survival camping, and art in an area called Black Rock City.

Black Rock City is one of the largest cities in Nevada for the week that is built.  An amazing achievement to witness.

Larry Harvey created the experience in the Bay Area and moved to The Black Rock Desert a few years after the festival began in the 1980’s.

The Black Rock Desert provides the perfect foundation for a city built surrounding a wooden man that eventually is burned.

A festival that prides itself on keeping a strict “pack it in pack it out” policy and not only requires its participants to follow strict guidelines to avoid environmental disruption but spends thousands of dollars in clean up after the event.

For more information on Burning Man go to burningman.com.

Google Map Black Rock Desert
Google Map Black Rock Desert

Equipment needed to Enjoy The Black Rock Desert

Long Stays
Light Cloths to Cover Body
Warm Cloths
Bring Plenty of Food
Extra Socks
More Than Plenty of Water
A Hat
Plenty of Water
Plastic Containers (for dust Protection)
Dust Mask (for sandstorms)
Tent or Shelter
Shelter or Tent
Eye Protection (for sandstorms)
Sleeping Bag
Bag, Sleeping
Plenty of Water

The Black Rock Desert is maintained throughout the year by the Bureau of Land Management and is open to the public.  Even though the area is well maintained it is remote and dangerous and all travel to the region should be well planned with emergency equipment if needed.

You should only visit the Black Rock Desert in a four wheel drive vehicle, the roads and conditions require more than most two wheel drive vehicles offer.

Playa roads should not be used during winter or early spring, if you get caught out in the playa after a rainstorm your vehicle can loss traction and you can be stuck out in the desert for hours or days before help can arrive.

Make sure that before you journey onto the desert that you have collected your camping and survival gear. Included above is a chart with camping information. Also, make sure that you have given your vehicle a quick tune-up and that you have extra tools, a jack, oil, and plenty of water.

As you drive out onto playa make sure to look behind you at your magnificent “Rooster Tail” of dust.


  • Black Rock Desert Wilderness/Bureau of Land Management.  https://www.blm.gov/visit/black-rock-desert-wilderness.
  • Black Rock Desert – Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Rock_Desert

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Jamie Lee Hamann
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Jamie Lee Hamann

Things have changed over the years. My name is Jamie Lee Hamann and I have a passion for writing short fiction and poetry. I started writing for TCE around 2015 and since then I have finished two collections of poetry "Six Years of Service" and "The Rhyme of the Ancient Middle Class" both available on Amazon and plans for more. I share a weekly poem for TCE every Saturday. I started work on my first novel and I am using TCE to share my progress as I go. I share new excerpts of this work every weekend. A Science Fiction novel that I hope is enjoyable to read. I currently live in Lemmon Valley NV with my family. I am excited to share my poetry and my writing. If you desire to find my other work on the internet feel free to stop by my website simplepoetics.weebly.com. The website offers articles on poetry, poems, and links to all my other writing.

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