preparation sectional graphic


By Cap'n Shady

Before you head off to Burning Man, you should sit down with a map and look at where you are going just to familiarize yourself with the different routes that are available. Depending on the time of day you leave Los Angeles, the type of vehicle you are driving and the amount of stuff you'll need to purchase on the way, there are pros and cons to each route. You should consider all of these options, but make your decision on which route to take right at the moment you get in your vehicle.

In all honesty, you should take out a map and discover your own way to go. If you are driving all the way to Black Rock City from places near Los Angeles, you already have a hell of a drive ahead of you. Burning Man itself is such an incredible experience that you might as well go ahead and make the damn drive interesting. Regardless of the route, you are still looking at over ten hours of driving. Below I've outlined three different options for you:

Option One: Astroturf Highway

Interstate 5 North to Sacramento
Interstate 80 East to Reno, Nevada
From Reno, take the 80 east for approximately 30 miles.
Take the Wadsworth/Pyramid Lake exit #43 to Hwy 447.
Go north 1 mile to Wadsworth and turn left, staying on Hwy 447 for 75 miles to Empire
Continue 3 miles on Hwy 447 to Gerlach.


This route is primarily reserved for RV enthusiasts, truck drivers and tourists who depend on corporate owned and operated chain restaurants and hotels to get them across the country without incident. This is, by far, the most lackluster approach to Burning Man one could make. Just when you think this ride has sunk as low into the suck-pit as it possibly could, you drive by a gargantuan cattle ranch that, day or night, has such an overwhelming funk to it that you can smell it for miles before and after you drive by it. Interstate 5 just sucks, plain and simple. The only improvement comes when you finally get on I-80 and head into the Sierra Nevada mountains and see some wilderness, great views and, of course, the site of the infamous Donner party.

The biggest advantage of this route is that if you are trying to make decent time in getting to or from Burning Man, you can speed like crazy. Granted, there are cops, but that's a chance you'll have to take if you want to speed to Burning Man in the first place, isn't it? The only legitimate reason for taking this route is if you are leaving Los Angeles close to dusk. Interstate 5 has way more 24-hour resources available to you than any other route and hell, it's dark, so it's not like you'll be doing any sightseeing. The I-5 portion of the route is straight and flat and relatively safe - going through the mountains from Sacramento to Reno is a bit trickier. Be very careful! If you still need to purchase the bulk of your Burning Man supplies, this route is littered with Walmarts and Big K's and everything else you could want to find all your groceries, camping equipment and ice needs.

If you can, though, prepare in advance and leave in the early morning so that you can avoid this route at all costs. You have set off on a journey to the most avante-garde arts festival in the world, why go normal? Get weird from the get-go and go a weird way. Discover that desolation out there before it turns into urban sprawl, already!

Option Two: American Dream

Route 14 North to Suburbia
Route 395 North to Reno, Nevada
From Reno, take the 80 east for approximately 30 miles.
Take the Wadsworth/Pyramid Lake exit #43 to Hwy 447.
Go north 1 mile to Wadsworth and turn left, staying on Hwy 447 for 75 miles to Empire
Continue 3 miles on Hwy 447 to Gerlach.


This is a fantastic way to get to Burning Man if you want to go off the main roads, but not too far off. This is a great drive through the Mojave Desert and when you get into the Sierra Nevada mountains it becomes simply incredible, with breathtaking views all around. You are often in places quite rural and remote but there are still plenty of services and supermarkets and restaurants to keep you from going into convulsions or heavy breathing. This route requires a bit more planning: make sure you keep your tank full. This route takes you through the now-destroyed Owens Valley, destroyed because Los Angeles stole all its water.

One of my most favorite places to stop along the way is the Still Life Café, (which has now moved to Independence, CA). You will find an absolutely incredible, gourmet French restaurant that is literally in the middle of nowhere. There is a gas station across the street and a Jerky stand right next to it, but beyond that, you are at the base of great mountains, surrounded by incredibly beautiful desert and about to enjoy one of the best meals you could ever ask for. Many Burning Man people have stopped and eaten here before. Some have had to wait over two hours for their meal during the busy ski season, but my experience after Burning Man last year was just unbelievable. I stopped there for dinner just as the sun was setting behind the mountain. A meal with great food, wine and a beautiful sunset is one of the better ways you can reintroduce yourself to society. Do yourself a favor, though, and call ahead. The Still Life Café has strange hours and there's not much else nearby it to provide a meal (except the never-ending stream of Beef Jerky stands) if it is closed.

Outside Bishop near Independence, you will find a must-see attraction: the site of the Manzanar Relocation Center, one of the many Japanese-American internment camps (code for concentration camp) that dotted the West during World War II. Once you get out of your vehicle, there is a downright inhospitable spirit that haunts you. Simply put, this place humbles you. During World War II there were, at one time, over 10,000 Japanese Americans interned here. All that is left today is a few buildings and the foundations. After the war, the U.S. government sold all the buildings and hauled off all the lumber, most likely to try to erase the fact that this place ever existed. There are leaflets available for a self-guided tour of the facility. This location represents one of the darkest times in American history and shouldn't go unnoticed. This is an absolute requirement if you are on the 395 route. You will not leave this place the way you were when you arrived (I do, however, recommend going before Burning Man, not after, for obvious reasons).

Once you get near Mono Lake you'll pass through Lee Vining and Nicely's, a fantastic place with great pie (their menu has something for everyone). I specifically recommend this if you are on your way back from Burning Man, because nothing soothes the soul after departing from Black Rock City better than some fetching pie. Mmmm, pie.

In Bridgeport, you can stop at the Bridgeport Reservoir RV Park & Marina for a spell ... the proprietor, Jeffrey, will be happy to welcome you. He also offers horse boarding, should the need arise. Also, stop by the Jolly Kone there in Bridgeport ... Lynda will help you out with an ice cream to cool down, a burger to fill up, and potties to relieve yourself.

There are also some excellent hot springs in the Mono Lake area, but I'm going to let you discover those for yourself!

Option Three: Spooky Desert

Route 395 North to Bishop
US-6 North to Basalt
NV-360 to Tonopah Junction
US-95 North to Schurz
alt-US-95 North to Silver Springs, and onward to Fernley
under I-80, alt-95 becomes NV-427, which connects to 447 at Wadsworth.


This is for those who like things rural, desolate and relatively unspoiled by man. I have not taken this route personally, so I can't vouch for any of the information. I can vouch for the person who gave it to me, Nobody of Gigsville, but he can be a shifty fellow, and... This route requires that you stop at any gas station you see just so you never, EVER run out of gas. It doesn't have much in way of traditional tourist kinda crap, but it does offer the Benton Hot Springs. There are Indian tobacco shops in Schurz, plus some strange-ass Naval submarine research facilities (in the middle of the desert?) on this route.

This route doesn't really have the steep inclines and declines of the 395 or Interstate 80 through the Sierra Nevada mountains. It would probably be the better route to take if your vehicle can't take steep inclines. But remember to gas up whenever you can! This is truly remote and there are very few cars on these roads even during peak hours, so engine problems and the like could prove to be quite dangerous.

All in all, there's amazing and spooky landscape and military facilities to see and lots and lots of empty highway. You can do grocery shopping and the like in Yerington or Fernley, though it's nowhere near as extensive as Reno. Piper's Casino in Silver Springs is managed by a Gigsvillian, Camp Skynyrd's own Cuzzin Joshua. Stop in and have a drink with him and put a few quarters in the slot machine.

These are just a few locations and routes that are available to you. There are many amazing places to explore and check out while on your way from Los Angeles to Black Rock City. I encourage you to find your own way there. It will, at least, give you something to talk about when you get to Black Rock City, or back to Los Angeles.

about this photo