Playa dust explained

First dusty day today! So far, my Burn has been pretty good. The weather was outright nice! Only the first two nights were cold, the others were warm, to a point where you could have worn shorts.

There was little to no wind, so no huge sand storms, the dreaded white-out, when you can’t see the hand at the end of your stretched out arm.

If you forget about the thunderstorm on Monday and the bit of mud it created, it was an easy burn. Today though, the winds picked up and started to blow the alkali dust over the playa.

And as Black Rock City is fully populated by ow, this means there is a lot of dust to blow. Slowly, the cracked crust of the playa has been ground into that fine powder, much much smaller than sand. It starts to be everywhere.

I didn’t sleep in that long this morning, despite seeing the break of dawn, and I feel a bit worn out. My stomach is a bit of a mess. I long for an apple or a crunchy salad…

We went over to out camp neighbors at Sweaty Betty’s and enrolled us for a free massage. Many girls also queued up for a free hair wash, after days on the playa we all look pretty beat, the hair mostly dusty-grey (albeit a beautiful color) and standing off in all directions.

Thank God we do have our shower bags and get to wash off the dust once a day. Unfortunately, with the dust all over, it feels like you re-apply the dust to your body the moment you dry off.

I went to a bike ride across the playa and out to the trash fence with the Earth Guardians today. I felt it was time to learn more about Black Rock desert, the dried out lake that I’m standing on, and all the dust it creates.

I also met Jeremy, a graphic designer from my favorite city Melbourne, and we rode a good part of the tour together.


Our guides rode out of Black Rock city and into the so-called deep playa, and explained the geology of the desert, and the chemical composition of the dust.

It is mostly a kind of clay, which explains its sticky, concrete-like consistency once it gets wet. Walk over it and you’ll accumulate playa heels, growing a few inches by the mud that’s stuck to your heel.

It’s clay-like composition is also the reason why it is forbidden to make fire directly on the playa. The heat turns the clay into a kind of brick-like substance, and these remain forever on the playa, being washed out in the next rainy season or becoming stumbling blocks for people and cars.

The dust consists also of broken down biological material, from the brief time when it becomes a lake, maybe one or two feet deep, in the winter, when the eggs of animals from the previous year quickly hatch, eat, procreate and die when the playa turns into a desert again.

The dust is highly alkaline, reaching a pH factor of 11.5. Neutral would be 7. Thanks to my camp mates I have a spray with a mixture of water and vinegar to wipe my hands and feet several times a day. The acid in the vinegar neutralizes the alkali dust, and does wonders to your skin!

Our trip brought us out to the trash fence that surrounds Black Rock City. It’s a measure to leave no trace, one of the guiding principles of Burning Man.

After the city disappears, the desert should be in the same state as before, leaving no man-made traces.

This is why why bring everything in and take all the trash out with us, even the used, grey water, and why we constantly bend over to pick up the MOOP. Standing for Matter Out Of Place, e.g. trash, ranging from cigarette stubs to plastic, but also organic material or wood chips, that do not belong on the playa.

They say one should ride along the trash fence after a storm. You’ll find all sorts of things in it, from money to little bags of weed.

We rode to the outermost corner of BRC at the 2 o’clock corner, and enjoyed the sunset. By the way, each sunset here has been fascinatingly beautiful. Different every night, but breath-taking.