Episode 25
Burning Man Live | Episode 25 | 11|18|2020

Dr Scirpus and the Majestic Fly Ranch

Guests: Dr Lisa Beers

Fly Ranch is in the middle of nowhere, and yet it’s the center of the universe for many bugs, birds, animals, and, uh, thermophiles.

Down the road from the dry lake bed that hosts Black Rock City, Fly Ranch is 6 square miles of hot springs, ecosystems, and a unique variety of life, from wildflowers to wild horses, antelope and mountain lions, eagles, and cicadas.

Stuart and Logan talk with Dr. Lisa Beers (aka Scirpus) about her work as the Burning Man Land Fellow for Fly Ranch, and all the life, death and artifacts on the 600 acres of the Fly Ranch.

Dr Scirpus explores the flora, fauna, and everything else she finds at “Fly.” When not smelling the sagebrush, she manages the Environmental Compliance team for the Burning Man event, and studies wetland ecology throughout the world.

In this charming conversation, Scirpus reminds us that fairy shrimp are real, and scorpions are real, and she lets Stuart believe that jackalopes are real, but not squirrelopes. Logan’s not buying it either. Platypuses, though? If you’ve never met one, how can you really know?

And you haven’t tasted mezcal until you’ve had a botanist tell you how bats pollinate the cactus.

Burning Man Journal: Scirpus




Medium: Beyond Burning Man – Writers Emerging at Fly Ranch – Reflection

Medium Burning Man Project 2020 Environmental Sustainability Report

Land Art Generator Initiative 2020 – Fly Ranch



SCIRPUS: Black Rock City occurs in the national conservation area and believe it or not, there are a lot of animals that use the playa when we’re not there.

STUART: Hello, Hello. Hello, my friends invisible and otherwise, welcome back to another episode of this crazy thing we call Burning Man Live. I still can’t get the Terry Gross voice. I’m Stuart Mangrum. I’m here today with my friend and colleague Cobra. Commander, Logan Mirto. Hey Logan.

LOGAN: Hey, how are you doing?

STUART: Excellent. It’s been a great day today. Despite all of the chaos and uncertainty and collapse around us, I’m in a good mood, mostly jazzed about today’s show.

LOGAN: Fantastic. Yeah. I mean, you got to hold onto what’s working, right? So here we are.

STUART: Right. So we did a show, I think back in, I think it was like episode eight or nine about Fly Ranch.

And we got a lot of comments actually on that. The thread of the comments was, “Tell us more. We want to know more about that place.” Burning Man Project bought Fly Ranch back in 2016, and you know, it’s not that we’ve been secretive about it, but I guess a lot of people in the general community are not aware of what’s there, what’s going on, what our future is.

So that’s what we’re going to get into today.

LOGAN: Sure. And even the people that know what it is like, so few people were able to go there for such a long time that it’s still a place. That’s got a bunch of mystery to it, even if it’s been on your radar for a long time.

STUART: Right. And there’s a lot of people in the world who believe it is just a crazy looking geyser. It’s like an acre around this psychedelic looking hot springs, right? And in fact, It’s a huge chunk of land. It’s 3,800 acres, which is just under six square miles with a lot of different ecosystems in it. So that lack of knowledge was one of the reasons why we created our land fellowship. Not long after we bought the property, there were a lot of ideas swirling around, around, you know, development and all that.

And there were some of us who said, “Wait a minute. Cool your jets. Let’s figure out what’s already there,” Right? Make sure we don’t screw the place up. So we created a land fellowship inspired in my case by, I’ve always been drawn to accounts of places, like have you ever read Edward Abbey’s desert solitaire?

LOGAN: Yeah. Ages ago when I was a teenager.

STUART: Yeah. We spent a whole year and documented all through the seasons, out in Natural Bridges or Canyons, somewhere out there in Utah, and books like Sand County Almanac, and The Peregrine, right? I wanted to get that notion of what the place is like all of its various places and all the way across the year.

So that land fellow is our guest today. Dr. Lisa Beers also known as Scirpus. She has a PhD in wetland ecology. She’s worked all over the world doing field work and wetlands. She’s been around the Burning Man world for a number of years, has worked as our environmental compliance manager, our liaison with the Bureau of Land Management on all things environmental.

And as I mentioned, Burning Man Project’s first and only land fellow, she had a chance to do a deep study of the property.

SCIRPUS: Happy to be here.

STUART: So glad you could join us. First of all, I just got to say, Scirpus is probably one of the more unusual playa names that I’ve ever heard. How did you get it? I know it’s a variety of grass, right? Of sedge. But how did you acquire that?

SCIRPUS: It actually is probably one of the nerdiest playa names that I’ve come across. So this is actually a wetland plant species. And first time I was working out at Burning Man, and we went to Frog Pond and I’m a botanist.

So I just start identifying plants. I can’t help myself. And so there’s surplus growing along the edge and just saying it out loud. And a friend of mine said, Oh, that’s your name? I’m like, “No, it’s not. It’s like the epitome of nerdom. I don’t want it.” But you know, you don’t get to choose your name, so I think there’s actually now only one scirpus in the world that you find in South Africa, just with genomics and such, they just changed the name. So I’m the one lone rare scirpus in Nevada.

STUART: Well, you wouldn’t want to be like bull rush. That would be a terrible playa name. Scirpus is pretty good though. You started coming out in 2006. Tell us a little bit about your history with Burning Man. What’s your origin story? Who talked you into going.

SCIRPUS: Oh, my good friend, Dave X just kind of took me on a magic carpet ride.

STUART: How did you meet him?

SCIRPUS: actually on one of those Christmas tree burns that happened on ocean beach. One of my friends just took me there. I didn’t really know anything about Burning Man at all. And then you said here, this is my friend, Dave.

STUART: Did the handoff. Okay.

SCIRPUS: It was like, all right, I’ve got enough time.

So I’m just going to volunteer for six weeks. Do the whole stint for DPW and worked with assigned team signed production, making signs installing, and tearing down, and that had shifted them to working with fuel. And then I’ve managed the field department for a number of years. I tinkered with golf carts for one season, and then with my current role as an environmental compliance manager and doing that for the past, this would have been my sixth year doing that.

LOGAN: As a DPW person first, that’s always one of my favorite things is when we get people on DPW that have no idea what’s coming for them, when the event is coming, they’re just working, doing their thing, contributing to whatever it is. And then the event hits everybody like a wave. It’s always fun to watch those experiences play out. I always pay special attention to those folks to see how they’re traversing, all that and how that goes. 

SCIRPUS: That’s great stuff. Yeah. Definitely being a redhead too. It’s not necessarily the environment that I’m adapted to, but right. Oh, I’m tough.

STUART: And you wear big hats, right?

SCIRPUS: Yes. Very big hats.

STUART: I think the big hat is the most essential piece of survival gear. Personally. I’ve got a giant poncho via style sombrero that I like to wear. It’s been enough shade for three people. If we stand closer together.

Let’s talk about Fly Ranch. People want to know more about this place, your work at Fly, the studies and the research that you’ve done there. Why is that important? Why should Burning Man be paying attention to that and creating a fellowship for it? What’s the end game with all of that research.

SCIRPUS: Well, I think it’s really important first and foremost, to know what it is that’s on your land. Have a sense of the biodiversity that’s there. If there’s any endangered species or any threatened species or anything that could be extremely impacted by any activities that could be occurring out there. So I think it’s important just to have that baseline from the get-go. There’s also been a growing desire to have sustainability in mind for absolutely everything that happens within the Burning Man Project and anything that comes out of it. And so there’s been a sustainability roadmap that’s been discussed quite frequently this year, over many different forums. You know, we, we don’t want to leave a trace with any of the activities that we do and especially so on a property that.

Burning Man owns. So say if we start to do events or some camp outs that are happening at, at Fly Ranch, we want to make sure that any impact that we have is mitigated that we do something that we either try to be carbon neutral or carbon negative if even as possible in the near term. But then also make sure that we’re not impacting the lands that we’re going to be using for many years to come, it’s important to be mindful of what it is that we have, how we can affect it and what we can do to improve the landscape that we’re working with out there,

STUART: Because it is habitat for a whole lot of life besides us, right?

SCIRPUS: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. It’s a big water source. And so of course, animals are going to be drawn to it and want to use it.

STUART: Now that you’ve led a lot of nature walks out there. Good news. I guess we just opened back up for nature walks.

SCIRPUS: Yeah, we have. So it’s going now and there’s smaller walks. There’s only about 10 people max that can go along, but at least get a chance to walk around the property.

But one aspect that I like about the nature walks is that we bring in a lot of Burning Man principles with it, like immediacy. There’s only a very small portion of the walk where you’re a lot to take your camera out. We want people to be present and look around and not just be staring at their screen.

I like that aspect and additions to all the practices of leave, no trace as well. It’s nice to show people the property and it ends up so that they get a chance to look at the Geyser. You know, that’s what everybody really wants to see, but we want to highlight some of the other aspects of the property that make it so unique.

STUART: Those walks are done in collaboration with friends of BlackRock. Highrock read the local conservation group.

SCIRPUS: Yeah, correct. They’re actually the main reason why this is even possible for us to have groups on the property. So it’s a collaboration. All of the walks are donation-based and we’ve got an interesting assortment of people that have come from all over the world.

Thanks time magazine for putting Clyde Geyser on the cover. One year

STUART: I freaked out when I saw that I was like, really? Cause that’s what we need is more people just jumping in and messing it up. Has it been damaged to the geyser from human activity or is it more just the natural self-destructing nature of the formation?

SCIRPUS: I think it’s a combination of both more of it just growing so large that now it’s starting to fall apart. There’s always evidence of people walking around it. You can see their footprints in the travertine at the base is pretty soft, but I’ve found ways of trying to erase it. But yeah, the Geyser’s grown so huge over the years that there’s some portions of it that don’t even have water on it anymore.

And so with the temperature changes, especially during the winter, it’s starting to fall apart and it’s changing the flow of the water in other areas. And so a big portion of it, it’s not as vibrant as it has been in past years, not getting the hot water. 

LOGAN: The guyser was bulldozed in the fifties, right? And then it’s been growing since then.

SCIRPUS: The origin for the main geyser is. I should actually put in a spoiler alert that it’s not actually a geyser. It’s an artesian spring because geysers usually have a period. You just study to it. You know, you think of old faithful, you know, it just shoots off, but this is technically a spring, but you’re whatever, we’re just going to use the same geyser.

STUART: Tell us more about why it looks so crazy. Like all those insane colors from the surface of Mars.

SCIRPUS: There’ve been a couple attempts for geothermal exploration on the property. The first one was in like and then this one was in and they found that it wasn’t enough to further explore. So they kept it either.

They did a botch cat job, or the pressure was so much that it just started spewing. And so over time, there’s a lot of travertine and different minerals in the water that just start to build this code. And there are microbes that love heat. They’re called thermophiles. Those are the ones that you see living on the geysers, and they can range in color from vibrant green to yellow, to like a red and then kind of a rust color.

The hotter, the water is more red and orange. It is. So you ended up getting this beautiful rainbow depending on water temperature. Very cool. And they’re actually the three of them that are on the property. So there’s the one from that we call the wizard is about feet tall. And it’s just spewing a little bit out of the top.

It’s still functioning, but not so much compared to the main one fly Geyser. And then there was another one that was first seen by Will Rogers. One of the cultural founders of Burning Man in the early nineties. That’s my favorite. It looks natural. It kind of looks like a volcano or like a witch’s brew.

There’s this water percolating not, and cone-shaped, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

STUART: What else lives in water that hot besides the thermophiles? Is there anything swimming around in those bulls?

SCIRPUS: Not really flag geysers, one of the main hot Springs that people like to soak in on the property. And it has a little ramp and such that makes it easier to access the water. And I can always tell if it’s warm enough for me to go into it if there’s no fish swimming in it. I know it’s hormonal.

STUART: I can’t imagine it being not warm enough. I’ve only been there when it was too hot. If you went in the wrong place. But like many, many Springs, you have to be careful about that, right? Like double hot, for instance, earned its name the hard way, right?

SCIRPUS: Yeah. Definitely. When I first started my fellowship, I thought it would be interesting to just try to figure out where all the hot Springs, where all the water sources. And then I found over a hundred of them ranging in size from like a dinner plate to as big as almost an acre.

And I started calling them hot holes for lack of a better term. And I just walked around with my GPS unit and my thermometer, and I could just be standing right next to a hot bowl. That was like degrees, but I. That was perfectly fine standing right next to it. That’s

LOGAN: There’s more than a hundred of them on the fly guys are property, like all are at well, I had no idea.

SCIRPUS: Yeah, there’s really no rhyme or reason to why some of them are hot and some of them are cold. I had mapped out all of the temperatures and color coded them just to see if there was any sort of spatial pattern in it. And I couldn’t find any sort of pattern, which I liked that aspect of it.

STUART: Let’s just zoom out a little bit, because as we were saying before, that part of the property is just a tiny fraction of it. And another, there’s a bunch of different zones within this gigantic, close to six square miles, for those of us who can’t go on a nature walk, I mean, if you could just sort of walk us around the different parts of the property and tell us what we might see.

SCIRPUS: Sure. I figured out that there are about five different habitats or types of ecosystems on the property? The most common one or the prettiest one to me is the sagebrush step. So that’s where you find the giant sagebrush. There’s a lot of rabbit brush, starting the eternal yellow. Now. That’s amazing. What a difference, a tiny bit of elevation makes on a property that the foot contour line pretty much bisects it and is really maybe about feet difference, like above and below that.

So you find the sagebrush steppe kind of in the highest area and you go down a little bit more and that’s where the greasewood is. That’s a plant that has a lot of spines on it, produces this big thicket, and that tends to grow where the flier type soil. It’s a little bit saltier. It’s a little harsher and the roots can go down to feet.

It’s pretty amazing how resourceful and how well adapted these plants are to the environment. And then you start going a little bit further down in elevation where it is getting much saltier and that’s where you find salt grass. The stickless piccata. If you actually break off a leaf and look at it, hold it up in the sun.

There’s self crystals on it because that’s one of the ways that this bad-ass plant is able to survive in a say line environment that it just uptakes the salt. And then just my favorite area on the property is the wetlands. There’s a ton of Scirpus. I’ll just plug.

STUART: Yeah. And that’s like a pretty large percentage of the property as wetland, right?

SCIRPUS: Yeah. And it’s actually some of the tallest of the species or one of the species common three square that when I used to do work in San Francisco Bay, it’s pretty common there, but it wouldn’t be more than like a couple feet tall, but then there was some that was like six or seven feet tall growing out of Fly Ranch, something, maybe it has something to do with the temperature of the water.

In these wetland areas. There’s a lot of milkweed. Milkweed is the main source of food for Monarch butterflies. And I was just walking along one day and there’s a couple of Monarch butterflies flew by. I’m like, of course there’s monarchs here. And I didn’t know that there’s just a migration over the Sierra Nevada mountain range between the Pacific coast and Nevada.

So there’s a small population of monarchs there at Fly Ranch for parts of the year. That was unique. Yeah, I guess

STUART: for a lot of migratory animals, that’s a stop on the long haul. Right. You usually have been from space and there’s not a lot of water for hundreds and hundreds of miles there. Right,

SCIRPUS: right. I’m pretty sure that the geothermal activity and the ponds that have been created through that have been around for a long time. I found a lot of projectile points and such specifically in the area where all the water is, which suggests that it was a main hunting ground. Throughout the hundreds, two dams were put in that basically made some reservoirs on the properties.

Collecting all the water there. And so it is a huge source of water for these migrating birds. I’ve never been a birder. I actually used to make fun of murders, but, but now my ways have been changed, and have joined the dark side. But in order for me to try to figure out what these bird species are like, I’m used to, when you go up to the plant, like touch it, you smell it.

And sometimes you taste it, but you can’t quite do that with birds, right? You just, they all probably feel the same. So I had installed what I called critter cams. Motion activated cameras along some of the reservoirs and other places to just try to figure out what these birds were and got some really amazing photos that they’ve taken, curated the photos. So I didn’t actually take them. The birds did that seem like tundra, swans and snow geese. There’s this one bird maybe about foot talk or greater yellow legs. It just stops off for a couple of days. As it’s flying between South America and Canada for reads, having the cameras on the property, you’re able to see who’s there because usually if I walk her out and I just scare them, I’m not really that graceful.

So I’m not, I’m not the best at identifying birds on the fly, on the Fly.

STUART: So to speak, on the fly.

LOGAN: That’s like a double pun, Stuart. 

STUART: Sorry. I just wouldn’t let it go. 

LOGAN: It’s too much.

STUART: Winters can be pretty harsh out there in my experience.

SCIRPUS: Oh, definitely. On the Western side of the properties, the granite mountain range, and that’s almost feet.

So you have this whole microclimate in the wallet by Valley or Fly Ranches. That’s a little bit different than say like Gerlach or the BlackRock desert. The wind seemed to be a hell of a lot stronger. I was staying in a double-wide and sometimes I thought that the house was going to blow over, the wind was just so strong.

LOGAN: The wind up there. It’s crazy. Especially in winter.

SCIRPUS: For sure. Yeah, definitely.

LOGAN: Yeah. There’ve been times through playa restoration where the wind is just the thing that’s driving everybody nuts. It’s not the monotony. It’s not walking in the endless dust. It’s the ever-present wind from morning to dusk. That is just like constant pressure that you’re working on. Relentless. 

STUART: Yep. Now I can understand migratory birds coming in when the weather’s nice. And then leaving. But how do critters adapt to just that super wide swing of temperatures and environmental conditions? What else lives out there and how do they make it through the winter?

SCIRPUS: About half of the bird species that I identified are year-round residents. So they just kind of hunker down. There’s some days you don’t hear anything at all, you don’t hear any sounds and I’m not quite sure why that is, but yeah, there’s the little sparrows and that’ll LARCs are there. All year long.

There’s a lot of predatory birds. There’s a breeding pair of golden needles that live in the mountain range right next door. And so they hunt on the property. You don’t really get a sense of how huge they are. And so they’re actually on the ground and you’re like, wow, that is a big bird and red tail Hawks and Swainston Hawks and kestrels.

Oh yeah, that’s a Kestrel, but there’s also a lot of mammals that are on the property too. I’m a botanist by training. So doing birds or animals was a little bit challenging, but there are about 20 horses that are on the property. They’re all wild horses. Maybe a couple of them were part of the Ranch at some point, because one of them has a horse, she’s still on them. So it leaves, you can tell with their footprints that are there.

STUART: He ran off and joined the horse circus.

SCIRPUS: Yeah. There’s two dominant males and overall pretty good interactions with them or no interactions. It was a little scary on two occasions where you get too close to the water source when they’re there, and they come running up and stomping and making all sorts of sounds and you just kind of stand there and look big and hope that they go away.

LOGAN: Wow. That’s exciting.

STUART: What have you spotted in your critter cams? What comes through at night?

SCIRPUS: Oh, my favorite was a mountain lion. Oh, yeah. The animals know that the cameras did there, which I think is pretty fascinating. And some of them, you just see, like, they go right up to the camera. There was a photo of a Bobcat where all you really see is this white blob.

And then the whiskers coming off to the side, it was just checking it out. And then with the mountain lion, you just see the silhouette as the sun setting ground to the sky with a mountain range and just the silhouette of the cat. That was pretty phenomenal.

STUART: But what do all those critters eat?

SCIRPUS: Jackrabbits, cottontails.

STUART: Jackalopes?

SCIRPUS: I wish.


SCIRPUS: I think they only live more, you know, like in Wyoming. That’s where you find the Jackalopes.

STUART: Um, probably a lot of mice and voles and all that stuff down in the high grasses.

SCIRPUS: Yeah. I didn’t have the capacity to try to do some live catching, like put some traps out just to see who was there, you know, but I haven’t seen the kangaroo rats.

And a cute little antelope, ground squirrels, I’ve gotten some cute photos of them from the critter cams.

STUART: Did you say antelope squirrel? Is that a squirrelope???

SCIRPUS: Oh boy.

STUART: Sorry. I couldn’t couldn’t help myself. You can tell what my spirit animal is. It’s definitely the jackalope. I’ve seen a lot of Ravens out there. They seem like they’re almost top of the food chain and that they’ll eat anything and pick up what’s left. Right.

SCIRPUS: I think it was in October and they all seem to congregate in the Russian olive trees that are next to Fly reservoir all at once.

They just started calling and just making the super ominous sound. And it felt like I wasn’t quite sure what was going on if it was me in the area or what it was, but it was like, or of them going all at the same time. It’s enough to make your hair stand up on your neck. Like what’s going on? What do you know that I don’t know? 

STUART: They make that weird, it’s more like a croak than a call, right? It sounds pretty spooky. That’s weird to see a bunch of them together. What do you call that? It’s not a parliament of Ravens. It’s not a murder of Ravens.

SCIRPUS: That it was murder. Maybe it’s murder, murder of crows.

STUART: One of our faithful researchers has reminded us that the group down for Ravens is I love this and unkindness of Ravens.

LOGAN: Apparently it’s an unkindness or conspiracy, which may have led into that feeling of foreboding that you were experiencing it they’re calling and grouping. No one has ever assumed. They mean, well, I guess in terms of naturalist, naming convention,

SCIRPUS: Yeah. There’s actually. A lot of Springs across the property, which I thought was kind of neat, kind of unexpected walking along. So it’s a lot of fresh water or cold Springs, probably. I don’t know, drilled as a result of all of the. Ranching activity that’s happened over the past years or so at one point, there were so many cattle on the property that they basically, they started to Beth.

There was a lot of death because it got overgrazed. And as a result of all the grazing and then for a little while, there was an alfalfa farming operation, close to where in when the Burning Man event was held on the property

STUART: Where the old ranch house was, right?

SCIRPUS: Yup. And Coyote definitely has some interesting stories to tell from that period.

STUART: He’s actually told one on this program. Yes. About having to clear the dead cattle out of the old ranch house. Still gives me nightmares for my visits out there. I think the eerie sound that I hear just about every time I go is when the coyotes get at it.

SCIRPUS: Yeah. There was one evening when I was walking around a beautiful evening, the sunset was gorgeous.

And then I just heard off to the left of me, a group, just starting to how old. And then in front of me, there was another pack. There was four distinct units of them all around me making calls and was like, okay, maybe it’s time for me to make my way back to the house. 

STUART: Triangulating on you or quadrangle waiting on you.

LOGAN: Yeah, that’s deep, primal, chilling stuff. I experienced that at the work grandchildren, my first times out there and just, I felt all of my deep ancestral blood just kind of raise all the hackles because yeah. That’s not what you want to hear when you’re outdoors.

SCIRPUS: Sure. Definitely it was in the spring going into the summer and I was walking near one of the reservoirs.

Trying to see what birds were coming in. Then all of a sudden I see something start to move, maybe about feet in front of me. And it was a coyote that was all crouched down in the sedges and I scared it and it just hopped up. And I happened to just have my camera out at the right time where it’s kind of looking at me and jumping up in the air and trying to run away.

It was just super unique. And I mean, I feel bad sometimes when I sneak up on animals, not even knowing that I’m doing so, but they’ve gotten scared too. And there was a female deer though, of a mule deer that had her full and I was super close to it. And didn’t even know the sound that she made. I didn’t even know that deer can make that sound. It scared the living daylights out of me, it was kind of like a huffing sound, but a little bit like a growl too, yeah, it was just. It was unique. She was definitely in mama mode.

LOGAN: And that’s all right.

SCIRPUS: Yeah. The animals that don’t seem to mind you being there, the pronghorn antelope, there was one in particular that just, it was, I think more curious about me than I was about it, and it would just kind of follow me around and look at me.

Pronghorn antelope, they look like they’re from another planet. They kind of have this alien look to them in their face. And it was just so unique just to be with it. You know, I spend most of my time out there walking, I hardly ever used the ATV that was offered to me to cruise the property. Cause I just found it was easier and better to see things just by walking and the animals notice it, you know, if you’re just a solo person or still entity, you don’t know quite how they perceive me, but it was hardly ever, ever with aggression, which is more curiosity or ambivalence.

STUART: The property also down towards that South end, close to the old ranch house, it also butts up against Paula pie flat, which is like kind of a miniature version of the playa black rock desert. Does anything live there or is it just a dead zone?

SCIRPUS: Well, there are the magical fairy shrimp. Oh, fairy shrimp are amazing.

Their eggs, technically they’re called cysts, can remain dormant or dry like up to years, just waiting for water to come. And they can complete their life cycle in about two weeks. And they usually spend about half of that time, mating, as long as there’s water, they keep on growing. So that there’s a couple of species of fairy shrimp that you find in this part of Nevada, one of them small, but another one that I saw, it was three inches long.

And that was when there was a Lake in the black rock desert for like months and months and months and months. Right. That was amazing. I didn’t, I kind of thought that very sure weren’t for real, cause I’d never actually seen them kind of like, I don’t think manatees are real, they’re like mythical, like uniforms because I’ve never seen them.

STUART: Platypus. They’’re just impossible.

LOGAN: It’s just made up animals. Yeah, that’s true.

SCIRPUS: But then when I actually saw it and had it in my hand, it’s like, Oh my gosh, you are real. It’s magical.

STUART: Three inches. Is that a fairy shrimp? I mean, it takes a lot of them to make a meal, but yeah.

SCIRPUS: And I don’t know what flavor would go best with it. Maybe a little bit hot.

STUART: Sorry. They’re protected anyway. Are they not a protected species or?

SCIRPUS: They’re not protected. They’re quite prevalent, but they are a food source for a lot of shorebirds or other birds. So…

STUART: Got it. I was wondering what all those migratory birds eat, what’s life like down at the soil level.

SCIRPUS: Oh, my goodness. There’s so much activity with the insects. I wish that I was more adept at identifying them, but one intriguing aspect. When I was there, when it was a super wet year, there was a huge number of cicadas that came out. And at first I just heard like one or two and I thought that was pretty neat.

But then at one point there were so many of them that I wished that I had earplugs. They were just so, so vocal. And I didn’t even know that we got cicadas here in Nevada. I thought of that more as like an East coast thing, or even in Arizona, there’s some cicadas, there’s a huge diversity of dragonflies and damselflies.

That you find around the wetland areas and there’s no, no lack of mosquitoes on the property either. So there’s plenty, plenty of food for them, for sure. But there are a lot of scorpions and I’ve been stung by them twice, unfortunately, by, through no fault of my own, just happening to be, they were either in my trailer or in a house that I was staying in.

So yeah. Scorpions are real.

STUART: Are they those little tiny ones that crawl onto your shoe or your boot while you’re sleeping?

SCIRPUS: We’re about two inches long. It smarted. It didn’t feel the best, but it was tolerable. And when I got the second sting, it activated. The area where I got the first sting. So I feel like I have some sort of scorpion venom in my system.

STUART: It’s talking. It’s talking to itself.

SCIRPUS: The first five months of my fellowship. I couldn’t even. Walk around on the playa area because there’s some remnant art pieces from the Burning Man event that were still there because they weren’t given enough time to clean up afterwards. And so I wanted to go out and see Pepys lingam or what remained of it or this weird blob that wasn’t quite sure what it was, but didn’t really want to leave an impact for walking on the wet playa. So I had to wait until the end of July, before I could actually walk on the fire and not leave tracks and go exploring on that part of the property.

STUART: Give it a few more years and that’ll be an archeological zone. We’ll have to stick it out and dig it up. What other interesting artifacts of the past have you run across out there on your, in your rambles?

Because I know this property has been used by humans for a very long time. You mentioned stone points. But also in modern times for the last century or so it’s been a working ranch and gosh knows what else. Apparently even the once was a flying school or like a flying space for early aircraft.

SCIRPUS: There was a small runway on the property and there is, uh, I don’t know if the airplane crashed or if it just something didn’t work and they just left it there, but there is a small airplane there. It has been really just assembled. You can hardly even tell that it’s the airplane Slade for one wing, but yeah, that’s pretty neat. Just to be wandering around. I had a hit from Bubble Gique. He was like, “Yeah, there’s an airplane in this general area. You should go check it out.” And like lo and behold, I see the shiny thing, go walking up to it.

STUART: What other surprising things have you found in your rambles across the property?

SCIRPUS: It’s a lot of very strange attempts that irrigation pipes that don’t, you don’t really know how they’re connecting to this or that, but, you know, people are trying desperately to grow something or have water for their cattle.

I came across a coyote that had recently passed away and it actually looked like it was just sleeping. That was one interesting thing that I tracked. Over the course of the winter and nobody, nothing bothered it. You know what they did, usually, if there’s a dead animal, it gets torn apart and there’s nothing left in it, but this, it looked like it was sleeping.

And then come may of the following year, the wind had blown all of the hair off. So it was still just a skeleton on the ground. I thought that was really unique. Just never thought it’d be tracking. Is that animal, is it

LOGAN: Tricky when you spend so much time out there in isolation and with nature to sort of. Like I know that in my longer stints in the black rock desert, you know, getting back to civilization can be very jarring and discombobulating and kind of readapting to society and culture and the pace and Katz. Did you find that challenging with your long stint out there to have to recalibrate on the regular as you were going back and forth?

SCIRPUS: Yeah, I found it quite challenging. I’m a bit of a lone Wolf by nature. So I like being alone. I like my privacy and exploring and such. And so it’s just, even when there was more activity on flier ranch, it’s kind of like, we’re why are you guys here? You know, get off my property. You got so used to being alone, not really knowing how to interact with people anymore.

You know, I was more comfortable with the birds. It seems like. Yeah. So it took a little bit of time after the fellowship just to feel grounded. But two days after my fellowship ended. My husband has put me on an airplane and we went to Wahaca in Mexico. So that was kind of nice.

LOGAN: Smart man.

SCIRPUS: Kind of break things up a little bit. My re-introduction to the world. 

LOGAN: That’s good. Yeah.

STUART: Speaking of Wahaca, could we grow agave?

SCIRPUS: I would love it if we could. That would be absolutely amazing. I think it’s not quite the right conditions to grow the agave

STUART: It probably does get a little cold in the winter for them and we don’t have it necessarily. I understand that different Ogilvy species have different pollinators, like some are pollinated by bats.

SCIRPUS: Yep. A lot of them like a lot of the ones that are used for making the scowl or at. Higher elevations and they’re kind of more sparsely distributed across the landscape. And some of them, they need the animals, the insects, and the bats to transport the seeds, other places, actually to function.

Yeah. I love learning about a Gadi, especially with what it produces to what humans make out of it.

STUART: I know you’re a lifelong learner and you’ve devoted some study to our friend Mezcal, as I have.

SCIRPUS: to increase our mezcabulary over time.

STUART: It’s like tequila is a form of a skull technically, but once you get deep into them in a skull country, it’s more like learning about wine. There are so many different styles and even batches can be radically different from each other. Right. Oh, yeah.

SCIRPUS: I’ve been blessed to have met people over time who have gone deep into the different States in Mexico, where the mezcal production occurs and you know, like the small batch it’s made for the community, it’s not necessarily made for mass consumption.

I liked that aspect of it. Sometimes it takes a plant years to get to a point where it’s at the right stage to turn into this scale. There’s a rarity about it. With the general world life cycle and community life cycle, and such that I like. I like that, the harshness of it, the scarcity of it. And it freaks me out.

When you go into a chain store, you know, one that’s kind of known for having discounted wines and alcohols and such. And I see a $ bottle of Mischelle Oh my God, this is not the way it should be going. And it should be, you should be studying a lot more for this because it’s worthy of it, if done properly.

So it makes me wonder about the source of it.

LOGAN: My mescal experience is fairly limited to the States that there was a mezcal bar in Austin that I would frequent and end up being fascinated by all the things that they put together to chase with it, like grasshopper salt, and just like unusual word combinations and things for me to put in my body along with well, and it was like, Oh, okay.

But I’ve always tried to be intrepid with my culinary stuff, so I would always do it. And then just be like, wow, I was, I’m not even going to look up what that was. That’s just, I’m just going to experience it and move on. 

STUART: Let’s just call them chop holiness and not say grasshopper. Tell us what you do on playa.

LOGAN: Black Rock City. 

SCIRPUS: So for the past five years, I’ve been managing environmental compliance for the Burning Man event. Basically I’m the liaison between the Burning Man Project and the BLM when it comes to all things environmental. So we’re making sure that we’re meeting our stipulation requirements for their special recreation permit.

So I mainly help too. Manage a huge team of volunteers that are comprised of the earth guardians and the black rock Rangers, and basically just cruising around in golf carts, looking for things that potentially could be a violation of our permit when it comes to environmental compliance. So this looks like you will cans that are on the ground or leaking trailers with gray water or black water, which is human waste.

But then also looking for human waste. We have a role called the Scooby pu that verses are held and fix up human waste.

STUART: There’s not a lot of that I hope.

SCIRPUS: I’ve had anywhere between and piles to pick up out

STUART: Of a population of though, over the course of a week, that’s still terrible. So you guys have kind of a hazardous materials crew. I imagine you have to follow hazmat protocols for all that stuff.

SCIRPUS: Yeah, more or less. Yeah. We’ve got our gloves and have our bags that we put it in a special dumpster that we put it in. But yeah, it was interesting last year. So most of the time, the calls that we get are from the Bureau of land management or BLM law enforcement.

Saying that there’s human waste somewhere. And they oftentimes done a pretty awful job of describing where it is. And so you are driving around for something as super tiny. So I had to talk to all of the law enforcement last year, about the proper way to call him. Human waste, nothing quite like seeing like a hundred law enforcement staring at you for a very intriguing topic.

STUART: Now other than those few bad actors, I know from experience that a lot of this is just accidental as people who don’t know how to manage their trailers or their RVs and that’s typically what happens right there, a gray water cap comes off or there, God forbid their blackwater cap comes open. There’s also the issue of motor oil too.

SCIRPUS: Yes. There’s been a couple attempts of trying to document the percentage of vehicles that are leaking oil onto the fire. And. Right at this stage. Now I can basically see an oil drip with my eyes closed. You know, it’s just, it is pretty prevalent and it’s unfortunate that it’s prevalent, but you know, we’ve got our systems in place to document where things are and pick it up and leave no trace.

STUART: What can we do to educate participants more on how to prevent that stuff from happening in the first place?

SCIRPUS: Oh, the biggest thing is to just to check your gear before you come out to test your systems before you even get out there and to. But just be self-sufficient a little bit and not be reliant.

STUART: This is an all volunteer crew. People put their hands up voluntarily to go clean up human waste. Is there any morale issue around?

SCIRPUS: Well, we do have a very small staff that does receive a stipend for working, and I guess you’d call that hazard pay for picking up the human waste, but it’s over a hundred volunteers with the Earth Guardians and the Black Rock Rangers.

And we have a relatively high return rate of people across years that they just, I mean, who doesn’t want to cruise around town, talking to people in a golf cart, it’s kind of a luxury to be able to have wheels and you get to meet actually a lot of people, even though you get tired of talking about. Your fuel cans being on the fire that ends up being about over incidences that we log a year about % of everything that we talk about is fuel on playa.

Hopefully people will get it, but there’s a lot of new people that come out and you just want to educate. Because the black rock desert is a pretty magical place. And fairy shrimp are real. They do live on the fire when it’s wet. And so we want to make sure that not only them, but other animals that are on the fire are poisoned.

STUART: It is important work and it’s pretty vital for our permitting process too, right?

SCIRPUS: Correct. Yup.

LOGAN: Have we done any development on the property out there, or is it pretty much still intact from how it was when we bought it? As far as I know we haven’t done any extended development plans, but is there anything up there at all or is it pretty much what it was when we bought it.

SCIRPUS: There haven’t been any changes really to the property since we bought it. And I like the fact that it’s been a slow process since Burning Man has purchased the property. I’m excited about the land art generator initiative. Right. Or the project that competition we’re using those submissions or the ideas that are coming in and actually building some prototypes related to either power, water, shelter, food, or regeneration.

And so using these different themes and the ideas that people come up with to actually build some prototypes and see if there’s something that we can build on the property that matches the landscape. You know, it’s not intrusive. It will withstand the environment. Because it can be as much as like a or a degree difference between the hot and cold temperature in a given day and over a hundred degrees, different seasonally in addition to all the winds and just the dryness of it.

So a harsh environment, there’s a reason why things haven’t really been built in Nevada on a large scale, because it is so harsh based off with some of these submissions and ideas and prototyping, some things using that as like a test of moving forward with sustainable regenerative. Operations on the property.

LOGAN: Yeah I found that really inspiring. Actually. It’s rare in capitalist culture as we live, you know, to see someone not, you know, immediately take something in to some sort of massive developmental shift and to have Burning Man come into this property and come into the space and really just take a long pause to assess and a long pause to kind of evaluate what.

Best potential use of it is how we can preserve what’s there and still help move it forward in ways that are not destructive, not harmful, but that are harmonious with the environment. That to me is really exciting. It’s good to hear that we’re still on that slow path because I think that’s a rare thing and it’s nice to see that in the world.

SCIRPUS: Yeah, definitely. And I’m not only grateful for my ability to have the fellowship or that even there was a land fellowship offered through the Verde moon project. Just to be able to take a moment, see what’s on the lands and never in a million years. Did I think that I could use my PhD in ecology for Burning Man? I could actually take my knowledge and apply it towards future ideas and operations.

LOGAN: Yeah, that’s really exciting. And I think that’s one more thing. Stretching what Burning Man means, right? That Burning Man’s not just black rock city. Burning Man has all of these things. And all of these initiatives have different aspects to them that this wide variety of expertise can play into, which is really exciting for a lot of folks. That’s great.

SCIRPUS: We set up primitive weather stations, basically just measuring temperature, humidity, and light, just to get a sense for how the amount of daylight changes over time. And then I had these little hobo loggers that are little temperature loggers, and I put them in a. A handful of the hot Springs, just to get a sense for how the water temperature changes over time and then how that relates to air temperature.

And it was just neat to plot it out. It was just neat to have all of this data, to look at the temperature, changes over time and just see that the main soaking pond it can get up to like degrees. And that’s like, that’s hot. That’s not what you want to go soaking in. I would have liked to have been able to look at water flows.

Like there’s a Creek that runs through the property at Rock Creek. That is the main water source for the wall. If I fly it when it does become a Lake. So I just wanted to see when it was flowing. So it wasn’t always there to look at it. And how fast, just to get a sense for the magnitude of water that comes in

STUART: And where does all this data live or, and is there any plan to make any of it more widely available to the public?

SCIRPUS: As part of the LAGI Project, my species list, that’s all available that people can look at and the temperature data and the light data are available, but we haven’t published any of it. Technically, I don’t quite know what sort of story I’d be able to tell just with that general observational data.

It’s a good ground point. Got a baseline assessment that can be used to build off of for future projects. I would love to see a small but robust science community at Fly Ranch. Studying the animals or the geothermal patterns and such, you know, tickets to actual, to have more scientists coming in because it’s rare.

So have people come on private property, wow. Scientists have hurdles with that. That’s usually the most interesting things they’re behind fences. And so to be able to have access, like, especially, I know that there’s a group that studies milkweed and just trying to get a sense for how big the stands are throughout Nevada.

And to be able to share the property with them so that they could look at that and get an assessment update there, their models, and such would be amazing to me.

STUART: Do you see any possibility for a citizen science for like people who go out and do nature walks to take pictures, log anything?

SCIRPUS: Oh definitely. I know there’s a couple of big bird observation days that happened globally. I forget if that’s the Audubon society that hosts those. But I think it would be neat to have people that are more skilled than me at identifying birds to just do like a BioBlitz of sorts.

STUART: That sounds fun. Let’s go back to conservation and reclamation.

I know we picked up a ton of garbage and relics of the past, out there. What else should be done or shouldn’t be done. I’m curious about some of the invasive species out there, like the Russian olives and all that stuff. How do you… Is there such a thing as an invasive species? Is it really a problem?

SCIRPUS: I’ve actually had some pretty interesting conversations with some people that were on campouts at Fly Ranch about what does it really mean to be invasive or non-native. And are we just trying to put terms on things like natural processes that we’re just expediting, but there’s some species that are non native on the property that are just kind of there, like the Russian olive isn’t really massively expanding.

Assault Cedar’s there, but it’s not massively expanding, but there are others like cheat grass and Russian knapweed that are just absolutely everywhere. And once they get into the community, It’s hard to extricate them, especially with the Russian knapweed. And it releases some chemicals into the ground, which prohibits growth of other plant species around there.

So it just, these monitor specific stance just come in and take over entire landscapes. And a lot of the invasives have come in because of ranching, cattle and horses are one of the main spreaders of seeds. Any type of seed through these environments. And so it’s, it’s, there’s hardly any part of the property.

That’s been untouched by these non native plants. Also with the cheatgrass, it amplifies fires that happen. So instead of fires being localized, it just creates this fuel source that helps the fire spread from brush to brush. And it actually promotes the growth of the cheat grass after it’s burned.

So it’s kind of like this loop where it’s more fires, more cheatgrass. There was a fire on the property in 2010 and it took out a huge swath of sagebrush and sagebrush hasn’t come back yet. But the cheatgrass is crazy.

LOGAN: Yeah. It’s interesting to think about how, of course, we contribute to invasive species doing their thing, right? What would you were just mentioning about, are we just observing a phenomenon that is totally natural when things like that, just come in and dominate a landscape is. That’s a great question. And one that I don’t know if I’m capable of even contributing to, but it’s, it’s something that I’m sure that you have a great window on when you’re spending an extended amount of time in a space like that, where you can just grok the landscape and see how it is fairing against itself. If you will.

SCIRPUS: Yeah. We had some conversations with some local ranchers about what it would be like to bring in, say goats to forage in certain areas. That one, um, I’m spacing on her name, but she said that like the, with the Russian knapweed, it’s like % nitrogen. Which is pretty high, it’s greater than what you would find in alfalfa so that when she has her goats foraging on Russian knapweed, you look at the meats and it’s marbled.

Like there’s actually, it didn’t actually look like goat meat when she was showing it to people. So there are ways that we could try to decrease the spread or mitigate it a little bit. So you do that. I think that would be kind of neat to have goats on the property. I mean, we already have cattle on the property.

So as long as we’re having some sort of artificial grazing going on, why not have it be a little bit more beneficial to,

STUART: Okay, so we can’t make a mezcal galleria, but we could make a goat cheese factory, is what you’re saying.

LOGAN: That’s what I’m hearing. 

SCIRPUS: Yep. We’ll just have to import the mezcal to have with our goat cheese. 


SCIRPUS: I’m excited that the property is open again to the public for the nature walks to be able to share some more information and give people not only looking at our property, but the surrounding all of national conservation areas and such throughout. And I think it’s important in this time to focus on our open lands or open spaces and protecting them.

Even if we’re just bringing people up because they really just want to see the Geyser, hoping that they’re learning some more things about the property. And that’s the really nice thing about collaborating with the friends of BlackRock Highrock is that they have this knowledge of the surrounding landscape; they’re stewards of the land.

And it probably have a little bit more activity on it than the BLM does, who is technically a stewards of the land. So it’s neat to be bringing people out and sharing what it is that’s out here in rural Nevada and how important it is that we keep it open, reduce development and such, protect water rights, all of that good stuff.

But it’s a nice little window into our landscape. Come to the Fly Ranch. It’s pretty magical and amazing to be able to get to know this property and to be able to share the knowledge that I. And garnered with other people in the staff and then also the community at large

STUART: Outstanding, Lisa Beers. Thank you so much for joining us, Scirpus. 

LOGAN: It’s really painting that picture of a Fly for us. That is a fantastic spot. And I’m really grateful that you were able to come on and talk to us about the time that you spent out there.

SCIRPUS: Thank you.

STUART: All right. That is about our show today. Thanks for listening.

Burning Man Live is a production of the Philosophical Center of Burning Man Project. Our web address is LIVE.BurningMan.org. Our email is live@ and you can follow us on all the socials at burningmanlive. And in case you didn’t happen to write it down, you can make a quite possibly tax deductible donation to Burning Man Project at donate.burningman.org. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on. 

Big appreciations to our Technical Producer and Story Editor, Michael Vav, our producers, Andie Grace and Logan Mirto, and our mysterious promotions manager, Darryl Van Rhey, and our super friends, Tanner Boeger, Devin from the Internet, and Jay Kanizzle. 

That’s it for now, friends.

Thanks Larry.