If you’re driving to Burning Man, you’ll likely travel through Empire and Gerlach, gateway to the Black Rock Desert, and center of the known universe.
Here is some basic info about these small and neighborly towns and resources and directions.
Gerlach is a small town filled with small wonders. Although established by the Western Pacific Railroad as late as 1905, the town’s historical significance dates to prehistory. For centuries early humans settled in this region, finding it plentiful in spring water, food and natural shelter. In more recent history, triangle-shaped Black Rock Mountain served as a compass point for pioneers en route to Oregon and California’s gold country. These hardy emigrants traveled from spring to spring, stopping in Gerlach along the Nobles Trail, or traveling to Soldier Meadows before passing through High Rock Canyon along the Applegate-Lassen Trail, where you can still find their names carved into barren rock as testimony to their ordeals.
Empire was established with the founding of the gypsum mine in 1923, and U.S. Gypsum owned and supported the town since 1946. 90% of the drywall produced in the United States came from materials mined here.
Since the Empire mine closed a few years ago, the economic impact has been enormous on both Empire and Gerlach, and the combined population of both towns has fallen nearly 80% to around 100. The railroad that passes through and tourism provide economic activity to the towns year-round. However, the economic impact of Burning Man has to helped keep both towns afloat, and many of the residents themselves have been to the event over its long history on the playa just to the north.
Gerlach, Empire and the surrounding environs are a great place to visit the rest of the year. A truly remarkable community and beautiful place. Check out the Friends of Black Rock High Rock for further info, and the legendary Bruno’s Country Club is the most popular spot in town year-round and serves as meeting place with hospitable conversation and information about the region and history.
However, Bruno’s (or any other place in town) is not the place to inquire about the Fly Geyser (which is closed year-round) or other hot springs in the region. Don’t ask. In fact, during Burning Man, much of the surrounding environs is closed, and there are some important things for everyone to be mindful about on their way to and from Burning Man:
Some Important Reminders Passing Through
- Respect that Gerlach and Empire are a very small rural and agricultural community with some conservative roots. Conduct yourself appropriately and with courtesy and you will be very welcome.
- During Burning Man, do not come to the event, Gerlach or Empire if you do not have a ticket. No tickets are sold at the event or in Gerlach or Empire.
- Respect all Closures – most of the playa and the hot springs in the region are closed during Burning Man. If you’re interested in visiting them the rest of the year, visit the Friends of Black Rock High Rock office in Gerlach (see info further below).
- Speed limit is 25 mph in Gerlach, and obey the speed limit in Empire and traffic directions in both towns.
- The road south and north of and through Gerlach/Empire is only one lane. If traffic is backed up, do not try to bypass it by veering into the other lane.
- Unless you are a customer at any of the businesses in Gerlach or Empire, keep moving through town.
- No general parking allowed throughout Gerlach and Empire and observe the No Parking signs.
- Respect all public and private property.
- No loitering.
- No hitchiking.
- No nudity – you must be fully clothed.
- No drugs.
- As pets are not allowed at Burning Man, you cannot leave them in Gerlach or Empire, so don’t bring them.
- The Gerlach Park is closed during Burning Man.
- Finally, Leave No Trace – do not leave it on the playa, and do not leave your garbage in business or citizens’ dumpsters, in their yards or along the side of the road. Go here for disposal locations in the region, while you’ll also likely see entrepreneurs on the side of the road with dumpsters charging for trash disposal.
Groceries, Water, Merchandise and Information
Empire Distributing General Store, Deli and Gas
Mile Marker 69 State Route 447 – 775-557-2311
Owned and operated by long-time Burners, they are very supportive of our community. Cash only but ATM is available. The year-round grocery store, and one of the last places to get gas. You can get all sorts of food, water, ice, booze and beer, sodas, coffee and espresso, firewood, cigarettes, toiletries, hats, clothing, glasses, goggles, tarps and other camping supplies, dust masks, batteries, and some auto supplies. They also have a deli with sandwiches, and you can get some Burning Man calendars and posters, and books and films on Burning Man. During Burning Man, outside food and merchandize vendors will also be set up.
Gerlach General Improvement District
330 Short Drive – 775-557-2601
8/22 – 8/24: 9am-6pm
8/26 – 8/28: 8am til midnight
8/29 – 8/30: 9am-8pm
The Gerlach GID (the local governing body of Gerlach) will be selling potable water to fill up RVs and water tanks of any size, with the funds going to support the town of Gerlach. Look out for directional signs just as you enter town on Main Street, the station is located in front of the town’s Community Center. Rates are 50 cents per gallon up to 100 gallons, 45 cents per gallon between 100 and 200 gallons, and 40 cents per gallon for above 200 gallons. Water container are also available (free water with purchase of container) 5 gallon @ $20, 7 gallon @ $25 and 15-gallon @ $45. Cash only, but ATM is onsite. Orders can be placed in advance and waiting for you upon your arrival.