BLACK ROCK DESERT — Thousands of Burning Man enthusiasts were on the outside looking in Monday after a rare batch of heavy rain forced organizers to temporarily close entry to the counterculture event in the desert 90 miles north of Reno.
Standing water made a muddy mess Monday morning of the Black Rock Desert playa, where numerous vehicles were stuck and northbound traffic on State Highway 447 was being turned back toward Reno.
Organizers said the event would remain closed through Monday and possibly into Tuesday with a chance of isolated rain showers in the forecast overnight.
Last year, a record 68,000 people attended the event that runs through the Labor Day weekend.
Several hundred people who entered the gates during Sunday’s opening were being told to remain in place at their camps. Many who didn’t make it to event before the gates closed were descending on Pyramid Lake to set up camp about 30 miles northwest of Reno.
“We’re going to make the best of the situation,” Charlie Lucas, of Portland, Oregon, said.
The Nevada Highway Patrol issued a statement late Monday that urged participants to stay overnight at motels and hotels in Reno, Sparks and Fernley, and noted that Wal-Mart stores were offering the use of their parking lots for RVs overnight.
“We are requesting that participants do not try and travel out to the Burning Man area until notified that the roads will be open,” NHP Trooper Dan Lopez said, adding that “we are not sure” when that will be and will be determined by the weather through Tuesday morning.
By midday Monday, hundreds of people had gathered outside a tribal smoke shop just off U.S. Interstate 80 in Wadsworth east of Reno where they were buying camping permits at the lake that sits on the Pyramid Lake-Paiute Reservation.
Clerks at the smoke shop said they had no idea how many permits had been sold, only that they were “overwhelmed” and did not have time to talk.
“We’re going to make good of a bad situation,” Shaft Uddin of London said. “I hear Pyramid Lake is beautiful, and apparently there is going to be a big party.”
By Monday afternoon, yellow Volkswagen buses, countless recreation vehicles and at least one school bus painted to look like a cheetah with whiskers on the hood began packing campsites along the lake.
Close to a dozen of those first arrivals took off their clothes and entered the lake, the newspaper reported.
Nudity is allowed at Burning Man as part of the celebration of art and self-expression.
But within an hour, a park ranger at Pyramid Lake had asked the campers to put their clothes back on. “How can you not know that it is not OK to be naked in public?” the ranger asked.