BLACK ROCK CITY, Nevada (Reuters) -Burning Man organizers reopened the road leading out of the remote Nevada desert festival on Monday, allowing tens of thousands of attendees to escape after they had been trapped for days by mud.
But many of the 64,000 people who remained on site as of Monday may choose to stay one more night and watch the festival’s giant namesake effigy go up in flames Monday night, one day past schedule.
Unexpected summer rain turned the weeklong, annual counterculture arts festival into a muddy nightmare.
The site in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert sits atop the former Lake Lahontan, which the U.S. Geological Society describes as a deep lake that existed as recently as 15,000 years ago. It is about 15 miles (25 km) from the nearest town and 110 miles (177 km) north of Reno.
For days, up to 70,000 people were ordered to stay put and conserve food and water as officials closed the roads, requiring vehicles to stay put.
One person died at the event, officials said on Sunday, providing few details. An investigation was under way.
Event organizers urged drivers to take it slow on Monday and consider delaying their departure until Tuesday to reduce traffic. Even before the road opened, some attendees told Reuters a steady stream of vehicles had left since pre-dawn, many struggling through the slop.
The way out is a 5-mile (8-km) dirt road to the nearest highway. Photos shared online showed hefty recreational vehicles sunk up to the tire rims in mud, with some using boards under the wheels to help get traction.
The temporary airport serving the festival was reopened on Monday, according to the X account Burning Man Traffic, with all outgoing flights destined for Reno, Nevada. Flights to Burbank, near Los Angeles, and Oakland were set to resume on Tuesday. Black Rock City Municipal Airport appears in the desert for 13 days each year around festival time, using two runways on the dry lake bed, and then disappears, according to its website.
National Weather Service forecasters said on Monday the rain was over, after reporting the area received from three-quarters of an inch to 1.5 inches (1.9 to 3.8 cm) of rain since late Friday.
Some festival-goers ignored the order to stay put 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. Originating in 1986 as a small gathering on a San Francisco beach, the weeklong festival 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. Originally set for Sunday night, it was rescheduled for Monday night at 9 p.m. PDT (0400 GMT on Tuesday), organizers said.
(Reporting by Matt McKnight and Anna Tong at Black Rock City, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Nick Zieminski)