Thousands of Burning Man attendees readied to make their “exodus” on Monday as the counter-culture arts festival in the Nevada desert ends in a sea of drying mud instead of a party around its flaming effigy namesake.
Rain over the weekend turned the once hard-packed ground to pudding. One person died at the event in the Black Rock Desert, authorities said on Sunday, providing few details. An investigation is underway.
Organizers posted online that they expected to formally allow vehicles to leave at noon Monday local time, but some attendees told Reuters that a steady stream of vehicles have left since predawn, many struggling through the slop.
The exit is via an unpaved five-mile (8-km) dirt road out to the nearest highway. Photos shared on online sites showed hefty recreational vehicles sunk up to the tire rims in mud, with some using boards under the wheels to help get traction.
The festival site is located about 15 miles from the nearest town and 110 miles north of Reno.
Organizers asked people who could, to delay leaving until Tuesday morning to reduce the traffic.
For days, some 70,000 people were ordered to stay put and conserve food and water as officials closed the roads and exits, ordering all vehicles to stay put.
But the National Weather Service forecasters said on Monday that the rain was over.
“Yep, the rain cleared out of there,” said Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
“It’ll be sunny today with temperatures in the 70s [Fahrenheit].”
The weather service said the general area received between three-quarters of an inch to 1½ inches (1.9-3.8 cm) of rain since late Friday.
Some of the festival-goers ignored the order to stay put over the weekend and attempted to walk or drive out to the highway.
Others partied on in the rain.
Videos posted to social media showed costumed revelers – including a few children – sliding through the sticky mess, most of them covered from head to toe in wet earth.
“When you get pushed to extremes, that’s when the most fun happens,” said Brian Fraoli, 45, a veteran “burner” who works in finance in New York.
Fraoli said he had tried to drag his luggage through the mud and escape, but gave up and decided to relax and enjoy the experience. “Overall it was an amazing week and next time we will be more prepared,” he said.
Every year Burning Man brings tens of thousands of people to the Nevada desert to dance, make art and enjoy being part of a self-sufficient, temporary community of like-minded spirits. This year’s version opened on Aug. 27 and was scheduled to run through Monday.
It originated in 1986 as a small gathering on a San Francisco beach and is now attended by celebrities and social media influencers. A regular ticket costs $575.
The festival typically has a penultimate night send-off with the burning of a giant wooden effigy of a man, along with a fireworks show. That has not taken place this year, although organizers said it may still happen on Monday evening.