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Knowing Nevada: The rural incubator of the Fly Ranch

The Fly Geyser has remained active since the late 1960's and sits on the northern end of the Fly Ranch property.{ }
The Fly Geyser has remained active since the late 1960's and sits on the northern end of the Fly Ranch property.
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When you input the town of Gerlach, NV into your GPS, you may not be surprised it's one of only a few rural towns in the northern-most part of Washoe County. After a two-hour drive from Reno, the town of Gerlach is your last stop before heading a few miles north to the infamous Black Rock Desert; also known as the home of Burning Man.

It's common for most broadcast journalists to skip lugging a camera gear, a satellite truck, or even walking into the gates of Black Rock city. So, not being able to fully cover or document Burning Man, the road up north took us to an area at mile marker 18 along Highway-34. As you approach that mile marker, at the edge of a dirt road sits three large blocks that look like Uncle Goose's ABC blocks. They spell out F-L-Y. This leads you to the entrance of the Fly Ranch.

After 20 years of seeking to own this property property, the Burning Man project was able to purchase the 3,800 acre Fly Ranch property.

"Burning man is reaching beyond the annual event of Black Rock and we are now using this area to explore year-round projects," says Stacey Wittek, Executive Director of Friends of Black Rock - High Rock.

Before we were introduced to Wittek, we drove onto the property to find several large open tents and folks gathering for breakfast. A group called Burners Without Borders, a group that focused on creative engineering behind Burning Man's infrastructure which is then used at catastrophic events such as Hurriances' Harvey and Katrina, were settling in for a week of solitude and gathering.

The operations manager, Zac Crivello, of Fly Ranch welcomed the group with open arms with hopes they would explore and appreciate the rural incubator that is the Fly Ranch.

Crivello then showed us around the acreage of the ranch. He mentions that they are working to create more permanent infrastructure on this property; which contradicts the 'leaving no trace' rule for the ten principles of Burning Man. From a pirate ship, to a wooden home suspended into the air by "chicken legs", the fellows of the Fly Ranch have a goal to turn this stretch of land into an incubator for discovery, art, and renewable projects for science purposes.

Crivello then introduces us to Dr. Lisa Beers, a biologist and botanist by profession, who spent a year-and-a-half on the property living in trailer. She wasn't just camping here either. She studied the area and found various invasive species, over 90 types of migratory birds, and she focused her efforts on the crown jewel of the estate...

This strange and unique looking rock is known as the Fly Geyser. As natural as it may look, this formation is actually man-made. This 'elysian well', as Dr. Beers calls it, was the result of mining efforts in search of geothermal energy in the 1960's. This well was drilled deep into the Earth and exploded with 200 degree water spouts which caused this calcium carbonate rock to grow right out of Earth's surface.

"The color is unique and unusual," says Dr. Beers. "It's actually bacteria. Those greens, reds, and dark shades of purple are bits of bacteria from the Earth that continue to come out of the spouts. It's a type of algae that we don't recommend touching since the spring still continues to rise in temperature throughout the day."

Dr. Beers points to two other geyser in the area, one is called 'Wizard' and the other one is a little geyser. All of these are from geothermal drilling.

Now, the big question on everyone's mind, when they see this man-made bedrock, is if they can access the area. Lucky for you, they hold nature walks that are device free and the fee goes directly to expanding the ranch.

"In terms of expansion, we are creating a community that serves a better purpose," says Wittek.

This initiative is to create a foundational infrastructure of Fly Ranch. Since Burning Man's motto features an 'everything is temporary' belief, the fellows of 'the Fly' want to use this space to create an intentional community that focuses on protecting human habitation, learning, artworks in nature, and 'perma-cultural' systems for food & organic products.

Both Crviello and Wittek mention in January of 2020, they plan to hold a design challenge to teams that will build prototypes on site to see what fits in Fly Ranch's unique infrastructure.

To sum up our time at Fly Ranch and the Fly Geyser, it's essentially a way for others to experience Burning Man's mission year-round rather than wait until the beginning of September each year to soak-in the creative, wild, and wondrous world that is the Black Rock City.

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Knowing Nevada is a historical heritage series that highlights some of the interesting, unknown, and known, tales about the state of Nevada. This series is researched and put together by our own native Nevadan, Miles Buergin. If you have any suggestions for our next Knowing Nevada, please e-mail Miles at:

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