A Visit to Burning Man's Fly Ranch
What is Fly Ranch?
It's a 3800 acre property near the playa that hosted Burning Man in 1997 (just a few miles past the turn-off you make every year into Black Rock City), though only for that year, and back when the event was 10,000 people. You can read more about the event in 1997 here if you'd like.
The Burning Man organization has tried to acquire it four times-ish over the past 20 years, finally succeeding this year, with $6.5m in funding completely gifted by wealthy Burners.
The ranch has a diverse ecosystem, with one part of it dominated by swimmable hot springs that are pretty amazing. They're huge! The first thing we did on getting there was to strip off our dusty clothes and hop into the water, which is, I'd guess, between 99 and 101 degrees F. The bottom is delightfully muddy in a good way, and my god it was a pleasure to be there, soaking with other Burners.
Why did they take us out to the ranch?
Our group of 14 (out of about 200 they took out to the Ranch in total during the week) included the regional contact for Burning Japan, artists like Bryan Tedrick who has built things like the giant boar sculpture on the playa this year, a meta-regional coordinator for the Midwestern regionals, someone leading a theme camp whose name I can't recall, me, and so on. It was a pretty diverse group of people in terms of what we do at and around Burning Man.
They explained that though they'd love to invite everyone, it's just not possible, which was clearly evident. There's simply no infrastructure there. There was one temporary shade structure, a couple porta-potties on a trailer, and a wooden pathway/viewing structure around the Fly Geyser. That's it. Plus, there are ecological concerns around the health of the pools and the surrounding grasslands. It's just not set up to deal with a flood of people.
While we were there, they just wanted us to get a feel for the surroundings, in order to get an idea of the kind of property it is, and start the creative juices flowing as regards what we might do with Fly Ranch.
We were also told a few things about their intentions for developing a plan for the ranch...
Why did Burning Man buy Fly Ranch?
Well, interestingly or recklessly (take your pick!), what was driven home to us while there, and what's been further emphasized in private conversations with people in the Org since then is that they do not have a plan for the land yet because they don't feel it'd be in keeping with Burning Man's mission to dictate a plan. Instead, they want to involve the community - us - in figuring out what should happen with it.
There are, however, some concrete reasons to have purchased it. Two, in particular, stand out:
How Can You Help?
Think about all the questions and potential Fly Ranch brings up. We now have a 3800 acre permanent home very close to the Mecca of Burning Man - the Black Rock Desert. Literally, just down the road.
The BMORG plans to take this slowly, and is taking inspiration and advice from multiple groups, like Esalen and the Long Now Foundation, with a focus on long-term thinking, but ultimately, the answers will come from all of us - the Burning Man community.
I have my own thoughts, but I'd really love to hear what you think. The Org seems serious about doing this with heavy community involvement, so let's take put that to the test. I'll funnel your feedback to them and do another post talking about the feedback I got, so please, share what you think.
I don't ask these rhetorically. Please, think about them and leave feedback either in the comments below, or in the reddit thread about it:
Below are some videos and photos I made of the landscape there, to give you a sense of what the portion of the property I visited feels like.
Those white dust clouds across the low mountains in the distance? Yep, that's Burning Man!
9/18/2016 01:24:09 pm
The eco system looks very fragile. The diversity is beautiful.
Well, keep in mind that I was only one a small portion of Fly Ranch. At 3800 acres, it's large, and another part of it did host 10,000 Burners for Burning Man 1997.
9/24/2016 03:58:03 am
My advice is to maintain the biodiversity of this fragile desert ecosystem in the manner of the first peoples of America that had an impeccable and holistic stewardship. Yes a place for artists and writers as well as stewardship, which is our responsibility and major ecological ethic in these times. There could be a collaboration with people that practice etheric stewardship as true spiritual scientists while reaching out to surrounding ecosystems to return the life force and biodiversity to desert landscapes…Consultation with other communities might be with Findhorn and others that are actively practicing a stewardship of consciousness, landscapes and nutrient dense and spiritual agriculture. Esalen and the other community that are mentioned would have been great to consult with back in the day of Gregory Bateson, Charlotte Selver and Dick Price and those who introduced the tried and true perennial wisdom teachings. There are new communities and initiatives springing up that embody New Earth principles, such as Findhorn while many of the old are more corporate and not so community or cooperation oriented.
9/16/2018 03:29:31 am
Good ideas. You might like the research here: https://journal.burningman.org/author/scirpus/.
9/18/2016 02:04:57 pm
Sounds like you're getting there with question 3. A fully permanent community seems to run into all kinds of problems - who gets to live there? How could the community support itself outside of those who are so wealthy they don't need to work? But what about a longer lasting/smaller year around community where people come and go for a week or two at a time? All the same rules apply to regular burning man - week-long fees/bring water/leave no trace/art/gifting, etc., just this way it opens up the experience to more bodies and those who can't make the trek at that time of year. It would have a different energy, surely, a tangential experience to the Burn at Black Rock. Maybe some administration would make it their year-round home. But the main purpose would almost be like a year-round BM experience. It would be amazing to roll up there for Christmas, maybe, or other times of the year...
9/18/2016 02:33:56 pm
We should hold the next GLC on the Ranch!!!
9/20/2016 12:09:14 pm
I love the idea of GLC there - SF is so expensive. We in Reno have been wondering how and where we can have our own Regional, and this might be the perfect spot...
9/18/2016 02:40:58 pm
Looks like a decompression point, similar to what we trying to find by Tahoe lake after the burn.
9/18/2016 09:33:50 pm
this could host a large scale maker space / teaching facility, serve as artist retreat, self sustainable living experiments, limited primitive camp spaces, perhaps preferring multi day stays and contribution of labor and skills instead of cash payment, etc etc.
9/19/2016 03:35:48 pm
I agree. This is pretty much what I was thinking. Host "burner summer camp" where we can go to learn skills like welding, carpentry, soldering, how to build a fancy as shade structure. All the classic burner crafts.
9/19/2016 04:30:21 am
Sounds like such a wonderful area that most of us will never get to see. Why not place all of the ultra fancy, plug and play camps out there and leave the rest of the playa to we real burners.
9/19/2016 08:35:39 am
I think the Fly Ranch should be a kind of mitigation site for Burning Man. Let's face it, no matter how much we try, Burning Man isn't really a very "Green" event because of all the hydrocarbons we expend there. The Fly Ranch could be managed to maximize its CO2 absorption and wildlife benefits.
9/19/2016 10:24:49 am
I propose a small visitor center (maybe as part of the friends of Black Rock !?!) as a start. I live in Gerlach and I met a lot of visitors from all parts of the world, but especially from Europe, that drove here to see Fly Geyser. Some hop the fence, but that's really not what anybody wants. Most drive away disappointed and not understanding why there is no access.
9/19/2016 11:43:01 am
I think Fly ranch should be, as La Villa Médicis in Roma, a place where painters, sculptors, writers , designers ( of all kinds) , architects, filmmakers ... artists and maybe scientists can do and try what they want.
9/19/2016 12:38:17 pm
It seems a given that 1) it can not replace BRC, and 2) it must be sustainable. It is obvious, as suggested by the Esalen reference, that it should support conferences and other explorations of the possible. It could support a retirement community of old burners, who would in turn support it. It also seems natural that it would support a fair number of people in transition, but these I don't believe could be permanent residents. I think this is a key issue, the BM culture will by its nature attract a fair number of people that believe they want to stick. However, in order to stay vital sticking needs to be discouraged.
9/19/2016 12:53:43 pm
Ever hear about Arcosanti? It's an amazing place and Burning Man has always reminded me of it to some degree and just thought it would be good as info. https://www.wired.com/2013/04/arcosanti-paolo-soleri/
9/19/2016 01:12:08 pm
Some sort of year-round village could be set up. Partly to alleviate pressure on the main event, but also to have a permanent meeting place for burners. Maybe people could apply for residencies and come for shorter stays being part of art workshops.
9/19/2016 01:43:57 pm
Art workshop studios
9/19/2016 02:03:22 pm
If Burning Man is a kind of initiation, then Fly Ranch could be an integration. It could be a place where the lessons of Burning Man can be shared, internalized, made more concrete. Artist residencies, retreats, a place to host dialogues, a place for regional organizers to come together to share knowledge. Open to all who have attended at least one Burning Man.
9/19/2016 02:07:06 pm
First, we should note that Fly is not a natural geyser, so that particular "ecosystem" around the spring is only about 50 years old.
9/19/2016 02:14:21 pm
Also, always acting in accordance with the permission of the land itself. If the birds don't respond well to massive sound systems, take heed. Etc.
9/19/2016 07:14:51 pm
Burner think tank. A place where all the worlds major problems are put on the table and great minds come and gift their ideas to solving them. Book time periods for certain problems. Minds from all fields and walks of life come and brainstorm in exchange for living there that week or month or whatever and being surrounded by everything that is the burn.
Do nothing let everything untouched!! create a self sustaining permanent city in 20 acres of land made with leftovers from BRC, cap the city population to 20000 doers, but only 2500 permanent citizens the other 17500 keep on take turns 3 months at the time or up to 3 years...
9/20/2016 03:06:54 pm
Let's move the 747 there permanently, and plant stories in the Mainstream media that Burning Man is OVER, and that Fly Ranch is where all the important people go now to get away from the poors. It can become the new bucket list destination for the Parasite Class and their black-bikini, indian headdress Mistresses of Merriment to be served and catered to in the manner to which they have become accustomed. A whole week of Default World celebrity, Luxury RVs and MOOPing! Then we get our city back. Win! Win!
Rebeka aka Belle Du Jour
9/20/2016 06:22:15 pm
I imagine great intentions will lead to great experiences and creations. So with that in mind, my hope for this experiment is it becomes a more permanent dusty culture that reflects and expands the temporary culture of BRC from where it all began. Namely,
10/4/2016 05:47:46 pm
What I wish for most, is that I could head back to Black Rock City, TODAY, with all of the other die-hard sick-of-this-default-shit burner radicals and get settled on Fly Ranch as my heart imagines our community could be. If we gave it a real effort to colonize and revolutionize the way we envision our lives, image what we could do for ourselves, and as a model for the world? I’m not sure it is time for that yet, but I do know that I am ready. Are you? Should we? This is a group decision, not just for that of one or two people.
10/21/2016 01:23:27 pm
So as a potential burner, I can't help but notice that one must "go thru the man" in order to "burn the man". What about a place that actually follows all the principles. How can a community of gifting really operate WITHOUT a default world where resources are obtained? Is the purpose to create a space without crown or ruler? For a permanent culture to exist, however, basic needs must be met. How that is done, I don't know.
6/23/2017 01:14:46 pm
I don't think its possible to separate completely, but it doesn't mean that it can't be done in the best way possible. Same way that the burn isn't completely decoupled from capitalism in the first place. Best we can do is probably the best we can do.
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I'm Dr. Yes. I run this site, lead a theme camp called Friendgasm, and make Burning Man videos. Just say yes, folks, and help keep Burning Man weird!