Fly Ranch: The Next Step in The Grand Adventure

And then I started crying. Not sobbing but just a slow and steady leak. I’m sure the preceding eight days of heat and dust and dehydration in a city full of friends and strangers and art and challenges had something to do with it. My partner in crime Aric looked at me quizzically and asked, “Are you really crying about Fly Ranch right now?”


Two days before this conversation I had the opportunity to visit Fly Ranch, the newest aspect of the Burning Man non-profit. A piece of land not too far from Black Rock City that feels worlds away from the dust and the desolation of the playa; Fly Ranch is an oasis. It is a naturally occurring wetland and has been described by some as Nevada’s strangest native wonder. Fly Geyser itself is other worldly, a drilling accident gone right, it spews 200 degree water into the air creating a mound of multi-colored mystique. The rest of the land is full of hot springs (over 20 ponds) and teeming with wildlife. It has been privately owned since the early 1900s and remains remarkably untouched, earning it a place as one of America’s great wildlands. That feeling of the wild is palpable but it is unlike the Black Rock Desert with it’s “I’m going to eat you alive” vibe. It’s the opposite of that. It’s a place that is bountiful and fertile. It feels protected and sacred like a different kind of home. It feels like Valhalla or Summerland, completely divine.

My experience there was some strange magic. I got my invite weeks before the event and immediately felt both excited and trepidatious. The geeky, bookworm 12 year old with glasses and headgear still occupies an alarmingly large part of my inner psyche and this opportunity inflamed all of my old anxieties. The invitation explicitly stated ‘no plus ones’ which meant me alone with the an elite group in a place I’d never been, and without my own transportation. Red flags went up quickly and a torrent of old insecurities flooded my head. “What if no one likes me? What if I’m the odd one out? What if….” Upon reflection this all seems ridiculous but at the moment it was the only thought pattern. I tried my best at self sabotage. I raged all night on our art car and passed out in the common area on futons amidst a fluff of dusty pillows. I awakened to our Dark N Stormy hip hop party and beelined for the bar. I drank and danced and hoped no one would remember the decree I had proclaimed earlier in the week that I would go to Fly Ranch as an ambassador of our community and come back with knowledge. As time grew closer to my departure my crew began to rally. They took the rum from my hand and gave me electrolytes, they pep talked and prodded. They attempted to help me locate my missing backpack. And eventually Aric biked me to First Camp and physically put me onto the van despite my pleading that he should accompany me. The door slid closed and suddenly I was in a cool air conditioned, closed, quiet space surrounded by people I didn’t know going to a somewhere not in Black Rock City wearing a loin cloth without my lost backpack or my phone. Adventure!  


I was surrounded by artists, makers, movers and shakers (my people!). I only fell once and just skinned my knee, not terribly embarrassing. I stood in front of the majesty of Fly Geyser. I watched wild mustang, burros, rabbits, birds and all sorts of animals in the flow of unadulterated nature (well except for those man made geysers). I watched Larry Harvey eat some dried mango. I talked to a lovely woman who has built too many temples to count. We ate snacks, we drank water, we all got naked and swam in the hot springs. Then we went home and my bike was no longer at First Camp (did not see that one coming). I walked back to camp quickly in the dying light of the Playa sun before I turned into a darktard and then I expounded on everyone in my path about the legend that is Fly Ranch.

Photo by Billy Lee

On Friday, we went to an open talk at Red Lighting about Fly and listened to seasoned inner circle vets describe the place. They spoke about a feeling of total peace and their boundless gratitude for the land. Then they asked the audience what we should do with this very special gem because Fly Ranch is for everyone but here’s the thing, it’s fragile. It’s ecosystem cannot handle 70,000 people and it might not even be able to withstand 100 individuals. It is teeming with life and water and vegetation and too many people could easily destroy the balance. The question that Burning Man wants all of us to mull over for the next year is what should we do with this very sensitive, glorious place.

Photo by Billy Lee

The recurring theme of the talks was education and art. These are things that BRC thrives on and needs, but how do we preserve this ethereal wonderland and share it with our community without destroying it? When we got back to camp after the talk we sat down to discuss it and I couldn’t stop myself from getting emotional. It was one of those things where you don’t know what’s happening until it happens. One minute I’m fine, the next I’m a teary eyed mess. I’ve spent the last few weeks attempting to puzzle out why I would have this kind of response from visiting a place. My conclusion is that there are many terrible things happening consistently in our world on a daily basis. As a society we are riddled with faults, partially why all of us come to BRC; to build something new and forget for a moment. We need to remember that Burning Man has it’s issues. The power of Fly Ranch is the purity you feel there, the all encompassing connection to nature. It’s like you’ve stepped back in time to a place where humans never existed and the natural order still reigns and you are able to dip into that flow and feel completely immersed in something incredibly pure. It’s like no other and it’s not ours. We have a responsibility as a people to do the right thing here and maybe that’s what I felt when I started to cry. This overwhelming sense that no matter what we decide as a community there is one thing that we must do. Protect it. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.” 


Photo by Duncan Rawlinson.

[If you’d like to participate in Fly Ranch please fill out this form on the Fly Ranch website.]

16 Responses to “Fly Ranch: The Next Step in The Grand Adventure”
  1. Tammy Lesueur

    I have the feeling I will never be invited and therefore will never see this beautiful place. I understand it is fragile and needs to be protected. It would be great if there was a way to share it and still protect it. But I fear it will be closed to all but the very special few.

  2. Edgar J Huffman

    A wonderful site for a remote land experience for teenagers as several Montessori programs have done.

  3. I know those tears. I know the edge that humanity walks, one side being that humans can be so destructive on this earth and the other where humans ‘get it’ for protecting, saving and being respectful of this earth. Visiting a place of beauty, solace and spirituality is humbling and awe inspiring at the same time. I hope a way can be found to share and protect this wonder-filled place called Fly Ranch. – lin BM 2006

  4. Prof Kenneth D Herbst

    Although I am sure I will never get to visit Fly Ranch, I hope that there will be an opportunity to see it before I die—Fly Ranch, the Virtual Tour–what an opportunity for all our great artists to bring this to another level of art form

  5. Thank you for this article. As much as almost every part of my being screams to me- you must go there, dip in this pool!- other parts of me scream: DO NOT LET IT BE DESTROYED, NOONE CAN GO THERE. And if that means no-one, other than scientists and people hired specifically to protect this land, including me, then so be it. But then who gets to be inspired by it? Who gets to breathe it in, and be touched by god inthis way?
    So here’s an idea, some sort of artists grant. Some sort of application process to go there and be inspired to create art. Artists makes their pitch as to why Fly Ranch and what they would like to contribute to community and the planet as a result of going there. And some sort of elected board grants visitation to a select few. Just thoughts… And always a scientist involved making sure the ecosystem is managing the new visitors…

  6. Garth T. Elliott

    I hope your tears are tears of joy and not of fear! In 1997 I was one of only a handful that worked for the Fly Ranch, besides me we had almost a dozen lifeguards to make the pools safe to Washoe County standards. The hot spring bathing was a highlight to those attending the event that year with thousands opting to make the short bus trip from the camp to the pools. During the event there re were no problems with anyone using the hot springs but after the event had ended 8-10 revelers thought it would be fun to dance along the edge of the pool closest to the geyser formation ( created since 1983) as it was fun because they could bounce up and down! They did before the bank gave way for a distance of 16 or so feet and three feet wide! Irreparable damage. Also of note just after the event long grassy tendrils a couple of feet long grew over the entire bottom of the big warm pool, I have no clue as to why! So if BMORG turns this wonder into a big corporate playground I hope carefully crafted plans are put into place, which did not happen with the rest of the ranch after its use and abuse after the 1997 burn! BTW: Google the ranch and see the ecological damage extant!

  7. What a lovely place and a must-preserve. So, I’d say the solution could be along the lines of. Not quite there yet, but it must be an idea-based one, e.g. an event for a specified amount of time (a week), where you apply with an idea, not with money. If I had any say in it, I’d increase the price of the Burning Man ticket to pay for this event of 50 people who apply with a world-changing idea. So, basically I’d see some kind of “TED event week” with innovation lectures, idea pitches and mingling meetups. Therefore, we invite the same amount of VC’s (50) and innovators in their field (50) and make this a better-world conference type of thing. Ideally, before the Burning Man event. So, everyone who either get’s an idea approved or supports one with VC, automatically get admittance to a Fly Ranch Camp at BRC.

  8. I was gratified to be at the meeting in the dome about this subject. I am a permacultralist and artist`designer..I am a creative dreamer type getting my art and dreams into the world. I would love to help puzzle over ‘what next’. I have been reading about Damanhur community . I think that this could be similar, but art in the beauty of this nature, on the land and also in it.

  9. Steve Rovig

    I have been to fly geyser a few times within the past 20 years. I’m a transplant to Reno and have met some of the “old guard” people that owned the property throughout the years and they allowed some of us to occupy it for a quick moment. I took a class through the local community class many years ago to educate myself about the Black Rock desert and again had the opportunity to learn about the fly ranch property. I have been out to Burning Man for 17 years and have learned to appreciate the desert and it’s vastness.

    Please don’t let this beautiful spot of land get run over by people. If possible, please allow a small amount of these same people to visit it and learn about it. Everything in moderation- this wonderful spot in the middle of nowhere will forever be available for my kids to appreciate one day.

  10. Dr. Shelley

    Thank you for sharing. I would love to be able to experience this magical place. Perhaps small group mini-bus-trips from BM for those that truly want to immerse themselves in the energy of the place…

  11. Prime Directive Alert!
    This is an area that needs non interference to reach it’s potential. If we Radically Accept this land-just as it is-and don’t try to tell it what it should be, and just let it express itself, it will teach us about Transformation more surely than any temporary experiment in living ever will. Let scientists be in charge of this area, an area like the hot vent towers in the Pacific Ocean, where small microorganisms are evolving to live in inhospitable surroundings. (For a fanciful example: “Genesis” project in the Star Trek movie) Fly Ranch is an ecological ‘Creation’ area that is still in process of becoming, and we will change it’s destiny forever if we interrupt it’s growth and development. Our communities Leave No Trace Principle is really put to the test if we band together to Gift this eden with our non- presence. Burning Man is all about Transformation, it would be amazing if the Stewards worked together with Conservators to protect area from the type of transformation that human contamination can wreak on a pristine piece of wilderness. There are plenty of places in the world to have convention centers, offices, burner retirement homes and workshops. This is a place where nature is clawing for a foothold-we have so much already, us humans, we can give this fledgling bit of earth our help. Let’s study, document, learn, but please don’t turn this into a place for humans. This could be a much bigger experiment than creating a city in a desert -this a an area of the earth that is Creating Itself…it we just let it.

  12. champagne

    Thanks for the article. Tears are probably the only rational response for someone who understands the terrible destructive capacity of the human mind. Trips to Fly Ranch could be a lottery experience, meted out randomly among tickets. Part of the experience would be a debrief to discuss the anthropocene age.


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