Thousands of people who had spent days at the Burning Man festival packed their tents in rain-soaked shells of mud and debris on Monday and began leaving the sprawling site in remote northwestern Nevada.
“Evacuation proceedings have officially begun,” the organizers wrote in a post on social media.
But it was a confusing, uncertain trek. The ancient lake basin where the annual festival is held began to dry up Monday after several days of rain, but drivers said they still encountered foot-deep puddles and mudslides along the five-mile route from the camp. A paved road.
“You had to pull over,” said Christine Ray, 50, a physical therapist from Idaho who did just that in her truck. On her way, she saw maroon vehicles with no luck. “There were cars with half the wheels stuck.”
On Monday night, the culmination of the festival, twice postponed due to weather, finally took place: the burning of a tall human-like wooden effigy.
Even in normal years, it can take up to 12 hours to leave Burning Man as thousands of cars and trailers crawl off the desert playa and down the congested two-lane road. This year, some 72,000 participants asked to postpone their departure until Tuesday to avoid creating an epic traffic jam.
On Monday, Black Rock City — the name of the site in the federal states where the annual celebration of art and music takes place — was a hive of activity as people packed sleeping bags, stoves and mud tents into their trunks before heading out. Some left behind excess water, food, and camping supplies for the festivalgoers who stayed – known as burners.
About a third of the campers had packed up and left, while others were scavenging for the mucky flotsam left behind on the wasteland. There were abandoned bikes, mud-beaten tents, and the steel skeleton of a 15-foot shadow structure. In the camps, people scoured the ground for any items mixed in with the dirt and thick batter of the rain.
With good weather forecast for Monday night, some people decided to stay in the hope of seeing the burning of the wooden effigy as they were known to burn it.
“Of course I’m staying,” said Olivia Steele, 38, an artist whose trailer is fleeing the leaky tents of a half-dozen other campers. “We come here every year to go to school. This time we got better education.
Muddy conditions and the inability to move heavy fire protection equipment to the burn site were responsible for two postponements of the burn, Officials said in a social media account Attached to the festival.
Conditions remained dry and warm across the region on Monday, and the weather is expected to remain the same for the rest of the week, with just a slight chance of overnight showers from Tuesday morning. National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Deutschendorf said In Reno.
It was a welcome change from the rain that started Friday and forced festival-goers to stock up on shelter and food and water.
Bike wheels were clogged with mud, and people had to casually navigate the powdery desert with plastic bags over their shoes to protect them from the thick mud. Some decided to bail, and stumbled through miles of mud to reach the road. A widely shared video showed Music producer Diplo And comedian Chris Rock sat in the back of a pickup truck after being escorted by fans.
The transient city of Black Rock City has more than 70,000 residents each year and is a three-hour drive from the nearest airport, which is more than 100 miles away in Reno. This year’s festival started on August 27.
Officials are investigating the death of one participant, although they said it does not appear to be weather-related.
In normal years, people at the festival have to contend with extreme temperatures and dust storms, so this time, many tried to embrace the mud. Donovan McGrath, a 47-year-old yoga instructor from Los Angeles, said many of the campers threw parties in RVs, played games and got to know people trapped inside their homes.
“The rain provided a wonderful opportunity to walk, to slow down, to connect with people you wouldn’t have,” she said. “There were many silver linings.”
On Sunday afternoon, a White House official said President Biden had been briefed on the situation and that administration officials were in contact with state and local officials. In Playa, people laughed at the president being told about Burning Man, Mr. McGrath said.
Reno Mayor Hilary Schieve said Sunday on social media The city is working with regional partners to prepare for the mass exodus of Burning Man participants. Some parking lots at the local convention center were available for use, he said.
Many said the unexpected rain brought out the gritty, self-confident roots of a festival that has sometimes been criticized for becoming a destination party for tech moguls and social media influencers. By Monday afternoon, the tents were being taken down and a bus was expected to arrive at the 100-person Mystopia camp where Hayden Velda stayed during the festival. He and his team were already talking about a return.
“We’ll be back next year and hopefully it won’t rain,” he said.
Ernesto Londono, Anna Betts And Amanda Holbuch Contributed report.