In a grand exodus marked by torrents of rain and ankle-deep mud, thousands of attendees at the iconic Burning Man Festival made their journey home. The rainstorm drenched campsites, stranding over 70,000 free-spirited individuals, preventing their departure from Black Rock City, the temporary urban space lovingly built for the annual event, until the Nevada desert had an opportunity to dry.
It was not until Monday afternoon when officials finally lifted the driving ban imposed due to ominous rains on Friday, paving the path for evacuation. “Exodus operations have officially begun,” organizers proclaimed with an air of relief.
Despite the decision to lift travel restrictions, festival organizers warned of muddy conditions that still veiled the area making it challenging to maneuver through. They beseeched the remaining festival inhabitants to delay their exodus until Tuesday to stave off monumental gridlock.
Attendees were advised to extend their stay by one day, with the suggestion that spending time with friends within their camps may be more enjoyable than languishing in long lines of stationary vehicles. The estimated wait time for departure on Monday night lounge around seven hours, a time not uncommon for previous years according to the Burning Man website.
This unexpected upheaval of plans and missed flights sparked stress and bewilderment for many. On the flip side, the camaraderie birthed due to shared adversity drew camp communities closer. Stories of the generosity of spirit abound, with food, shelter, and resources offered up in camaraderie and shared humanity.
As the travel ban lifted, droves of people took their leave – some on foot, others testing the hazards in their vehicles. Among them were celebrities like DJ Diplo, Chris Rock, Cindy Crawford, Kaia Gerber, and Austin Butler who made the trek through the muddy desert before hitching a ride in a fan’s truck.
From the initial 72,000 people residing in the dusty city on Sunday evening, around 64,000 were still present by midday Monday. Many of these stayed on, adhering to the advice of festival organizers and anticipating the climax event – the ceremonial burning of the man.
The burning took place on Monday night, delayed by a day, with the remains of the colossal wooden figure continuing to smolder into the night. As the spectacle unfolded, attendees waiting to depart faced an even longer wait, with time estimates stretching to 8 hours.
The festival’s campgrounds were initially drenched on Friday, consequently leading to bans on vehicle movement, and advices to find shelter and conserve food and water. The remote area in Nevada received about twice the average September rainfall, leading to an extremely muddy affair.
The clay makeup of the desert area meant that the ground couldn’t absorb the water as swiftly as more fertile soil types. The mixture of water and clay created a near-cement like terrain where attendees found themselves stuck in.
Throughout the weekend, festival organizers maintained communication with attendees with frequent updates, emphasizing the need to keep roads clear. The anxious wait ended with the hopeful announcement at 2 p.m. Monday, “the driving ban has been lifted.” The great exodus from Burning Man was then finally able to commence.