BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. (AP) – Muddy roads that left tens of thousands of partygoers behind Stranded for days at a counterculture festival had dried up sufficiently by Monday afternoon to begin their exodus from the northern Nevada desert.
Burning Man organizers said they began draining traffic off the main road around 2pm local time – although they continued to urge revelers to postpone their exit to Tuesday to ease traffic. On Monday afternoon it was said that around 64,000 people remained on the festival site.
Organizers also urged attendees not to walk out of the Black Rock Desert, about 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of Reno, as others did over the weekend, including star DJ Diplo and comedian Chris Rock. They didn’t say why.
The festival had been closed to vehicles after more than 1.3 inches of rain fell on Friday. The road closures came shortly before “the man” was to be set on fire on Saturday night. The highlight of the event is traditionally the burning of the large wooden effigy in the form of a man and a wooden temple structure for the last two nights. However, the fires were pushed back to Monday night as authorities worked to reopen escape routes by the end of Labor Day weekend.
Mark Deutschendorf, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, said Monday was expected to remain mostly clear and dry around the festival site, although light rain showers could occur Tuesday morning.
“We’re a bit dirty and muddy, but the mood is good. The party’s still going,” said Scott London, a photographer based in Southern California, adding that the travel restrictions “offered a view of Burning Man that a lot of us don’t get to see.”
Held on a San Francisco beach in 1986, the annual gathering draws nearly 80,000 artists, musicians and activists for a mix of wilderness camping and avant-garde performances. disturbances are part of the recent history of the event: dust storms forced the organizers to temporarily close the entrances to the festival 2018and the event has twice been canceled altogether during the pandemic.
At least one death was reported, but organizers said the death of a man in his 40s was not weather related. The sheriff of nearby Pershing County said it was investigating but had not identified the man or the cause of death.
President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware Sunday that he was aware of the situation at Burning Man, including the death, and that the White House was in touch with local authorities.
The event is remote on the best of days and emphasizes self-sufficiency. Amid the flooding, revelers were told to save their food and water, and most remained huddled at the site.
However, some participants managed to walk several kilometers to the nearest town or to take a ride there.
Diplo, whose real name is Thomas Wesley Pentz, posted a video to Instagram Saturday night showing him and Rock in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. He said they walked six miles through the mud before getting a ride.
“I actually walked the curb for hours with my thumbs out,” Diplo wrote.
Cindy Bishop and three of her friends managed to leave the festival in their rented campervan at dawn Monday morning when Bishop said the main road was unguarded.
She said they were glad they made it after two days of driving to the exit and getting stuck multiple times.
But Bishop, who traveled from Boston for her second Burning Man, said spirits at the festival were still high after they left. Most people she spoke to said they planned to stay because of the ceremonial burnings.
“The spirit in there,” she said, “was really like, ‘We’re going to take care of each other and make the best of it.'”
Rebecca Barger, a photographer from Philadelphia, attended her first Burning Man on August 26 and was determined to see through to the end.
“Everyone has just adjusted, sharing RVs for sleeping and offering food and coffee,” Barger said. “I’ve danced for hours in foot-deep clay to incredible DJs.”
The event started on August 27th and was due to end on Monday when attendees packed up and tidied up.
Associated Press reporters Michael Casey in Boston, RJ Rico in Atlanta, Lea Skene in Baltimore, Juan Lozano in Houston, Julie Walker in New York, and Rio Yamat in Las Vegas contributed.