Bugs on the Playa: Don’t Believe the Buzz

(Image maybe made by j0k3rCPG, maybe by elizabeth, but this is the internet, so who the hell knows?)

If you’ve been keeping up on the latest rumors flying around the internet, people are in a bit of a frenzy about an alleged bug infestation of plague-level proportions on the Black Rock Desert this year. We understand the eagerness to swarm around this click-worthy story, as the media most certainly has. We’re here to dispel the rumors (bless you, internet), provide some facts, and hopefully calm some nerves.

So are there bugs in Black Rock City? Yes. Due to unseasonably wet weather, the grass on the hills is unusually verdant, and that’s resulted in more bugs showing up in the desert than usual. There are green beetles called stink bugs (so-called because they emit a coriander-like odor when disturbed), mosquitos, and gnat-like seed bugs called Nysius. One entomologist reports that they might be causing skin irritations not because they’re biting, but because they’ve likely been eating mustard seed, which has been proliferating in the region recently, and the mustard oil irritates the skin when the bugs are smashed.

But despite the rampant rumors, these bugs are more of a mild nuisance than a full-blown infestation that should cause any major concern with Burning Man participants.

We’re hoping that continuing hot weather and a huge swarm of Burners descending upon their Black Rock Desert home sends them packing before long, but we can’t say for sure that’ll happen. So here’s how you can prepare (y’know, Radical Self-reliance and stuff) …

We’re told that these types of bugs are particularly attracted to bright lights (sorry, artists burning the midnight oil) and dark clothing (sorry, Death Guild), so if you’re concerned about getting bugged, wear light-colored clothing that provides good coverage. For the mosquitos, some mosquito repellent will do the trick. That’s the word from the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

On another bug-related note, there have been recent reports of West Nile Virus showing up in mosquitoes in Northern Nevada this summer — one in South Meadows (south of Reno), and one at Rye Patch Reservoir (near Lovelock) — and abatement procedures are underway. None have been found within proximity of Gerlach or the Black Rock Desert this year. Here are the most recent reports from Pershing County and Washoe County health departments. While of course there’s the remote possibility of exposure (to provide some perspective, here’s a map of all the current West Nile Virus activity in the US), we believe that this is extraordinarily unlikely to affect Burning Man participants.

In the end, we’ll remind you that Radical Self-reliance is a thing. We tell you every year to be prepared for damn near anything, and this time? We’ve got a new, interesting challenge. Welcome to it. We’ll see you on playa.

Replenish the Wood We Use at the Temple of Promise

For two years, Art for Trees has undertaken the admirable task of planting trees to replenish a portion of the wood we burn in Black Rock City’s Temple every year. After planting more than 5,100 trees so far, the project is back for the third time, so you can contribute to replenish the wood for the Temple of Promise.


bem3xhwaul9rowpxs0usAppropriately, this year’s Temple will have a stand of sculpted trees in its heart, initially with bare branches, which visitors will drape with messages they’ve written on cloths, creating a shady grove of weeping willows. This Temple is already a tribute to the all-important Burner principle of protecting the environment, so supporting Art for Trees’ efforts this year couldn’t be more fitting.

Check out the Art for Trees Indiegogo campaign and consider planting some trees in honor of the Temple of Promise.

And wouldn’t it be great to see this kind of project become widespread as a way to offset some of the environmental impact of our whole event? Let’s all try to come up with at least one more way to do that this year.

Video: 15 Years of National Conservation Lands

We’re so fortunate to be able to hold our event in the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. The U.S. Government designates some of the country’s most scenic, culturally rich, scientifically important and yet least known public lands as National Conservation Lands. We are proud to build Black Rock City in one of these areas, and we’re equally committed to respecting and protecting this special place.

2015 marks the 15th year of the NCL system, and our partners at the Bureau of Land Management made this video to celebrate:

From the BLM:

This year marks an important milestone for the BLM’s National Conservation Lands – America’s newest conservation system is 15 years old. Today, these National Conservation Lands include 874 federally recognized areas and more than 30 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert.

We invite you to celebrate with us, and VISIT, SHARE, and SUPPORT your National Conservation Lands throughout the year.

MOOP MAP 2014: Black Rock City Will Rise Again

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

DA, Playa Restoration Manager/Mastermind, and his fabulous and brilliant assistant Irene.
DA, Playa Restoration Manager/Mastermind, and his fabulous and brilliant assistant Irene.

In the midst of the bass-thumping, fire-florid, neon-edged glory of Black Rock City, we forget ourselves, lose our boundaries, recombine with our neighbors to become something new. And even as we’re out there, as Larry Harvey might say, “jiggling our molecules around,” there’s an awareness — this doesn’t last forever.

We have this window in time, this brilliant moment to reinvent ourselves into something slightly better, truer, more vibrant and conscious.

Well, I’m here to tell you that, even though the window for 2014 has closed, it will open again in 2015. Congratulations, Black Rock City: You successfully left no trace on the playa, helping to ensure that Burning Man can return to the desert we love.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Resto Love Letter

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Somebody left this message for us. The feeling is mutual. Photo by Tiffany Sinacola.
Somebody left this message for us. The feeling is mutual. Photo by Tiffany Sinacola.

…and just like that, it was over…

It’s hard to describe Burning Man to someone who’s never been — and it’s even harder to describe working for Burning Man. In all the dimensions, all the realms of the vast universe, there can be nothing else that even approaches this experience. I consider myself lucky to have discovered it.

This is the tenth year since I became a member of the Department of Public Works. Green as I was back in 2005, it only took me a few days to fall head over heels in love with these people: the strong, weird, passionate, fiercely individual, workaholic and totally misanthropic friends I’d been seeking my entire life. It is my great privilege to spend two months in the desert with the DPW every year, breaking our backs to build Black Rock City for little to no reward — other than the pleasure of each other’s company.

And what a pleasure it is. Each year, I write the Moop Map blog series not just as a celebration of Black Rock City and of the incredible accomplishment of leaving no trace — but as a love letter to the DPW, the best people I’ve ever known.

Today is the last day of operation for the Black Rock Saloon, our staff watering hole in Gerlach. Tomorrow, the BLM arrives to inspect the Burning Man site. As usual, the people of BRC and the DPW have left the place squeaky clean, ready for (much hoped for) winter rains to wash away our tracks. When the inspection is done, we’ll all scatter, the DPW diaspora extending once again around the globe until next August calls us home.

Thanks for a great year, Black Rock City. Tune in Wednesday for the results of the BLM’s site inspection, which will determine whether Burning Man will happen in 2015.

Till then, enjoy a few photos of the beautiful DPW Playa Restoration crew. You can find more of them here and here.

Burning Man Playa Restoration 2014

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MOOP MAP 2014: Storm Front

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

It’s been a warm September. For those who’ve been out here since early August or before, the heat has seemed relentless: an unending series of hot, still afternoons on the baking Black Rock Desert.

But at this time of year, you never know what tomorrow brings. You don’t even know what the weather will do in an hour. The desert creates its own atmospheric conditions: storms that sweep across the entire West will break up and encircle the playa without ever touching down. Or, they’ll intensify in power as they eddy and swirl, trapped in a rage between the surrounding mountain ranges. The Playa Restoration crew has a detailed evacuation protocol for such situations — like the one that happened yesterday.

There was a rumor that weather was coming, but that’s a rumor we hear often (usually followed by “but it probably won’t hit us”). It wasn’t until the black ridge of clouds crested the mountaintop that we started to worry. And then, out of nowhere, the temperature dropped ten degrees. The wind began to howl. And the desert surface lifted up into the sky.

Witch Doctor & Rebecca brave the sudden onslaught. Photo: Aaron Muszalski / @sfslim.
Witch Doctor & Rebecca brave the sudden onslaught. Photo: Aaron Muszalski / @sfslim.

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MOOP MAP 2014: Leaving No Trace Around the World

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~ Leaving No Trace ~
The Burning Man community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

I’ll be straight with you, Black Rock City: The map I have to show you today is not from Burning Man 2014. It’s not from Burning Man at all. It’s not even from this continent.

Today, I’m proud to show you the 2014 Moop Map from Tankwa Town, South Africa.

Click the map to read AfrikaBurn's 2014 moop report.
Click the map to read AfrikaBurn’s 2014 moop report.

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Coyote Nose: Astro-not!

Was reading an article about Burning Man the other day where the writer remarks on how serious the participants can be about Black Rock City’s principle of “Leave No Trace”. He mentions a happening at a bar where someone flicks a cigarette butt down and the instant scolding he gets from his campmates. The writer also mentions how impressed he is with this because the playa was already protected with AstroTurf. Participants were so concerned with leaving no trace that they would never let it hit the ground even if it had a protective barrier on it.

Upon reading this it occurred to me that people can think that putting down yards of AstroTurf in their camp will safeguard it from MOOP.

This year’s public service announcement:

AstroTurf is MOOP!!

AstroTurf is some of the worst and most difficult to get rid of MOOP ever, and more and more camps are using it.

AstroTurf shreds and sheds worse than a dried up Christmas tree, and when you finally pull it up after an event’s worth of trampling and occasional soakings, there’s a billion little green plastic grass blades embedded into the hard pan playa. And this can stretch for a block’s worth sometimes.

The Playa Restoration crew dubbed this spot "AstroTurf camp."
The Playa Restoration crew dubbed this spot “AstroTurf camp.”

For understandable reasons, AstroTurf is exponentially growing in popularity. It gives your camp a lush and dust-free floor, and I’m betting that many believe that it doubles as a MOOP catcher. Turns out that it’s a MOOP nightmare!

We all need to get the word out far and wide that AstroTurf is right up there with boa feathers, wood chips, and pistachio nut shells as “Worst MOOP Ever”.

Leave no trace – leave no couch – leave no AstroTurf!!
Never let it hit your pack job.

ASTRO – NOT!

Coyote Nose