Friday, February 4, 2011

Winter Black Rock

We'll start this story mid-stream.

On the way back Saturday night, Ethel turns to me and says, "Well, I guess we won't be out here again until Burning Man." I agreed at first and then disagreed, pointing out that -all- of our trips out there are spur-of-the-moment-wild-hair-up-the-ass trips, and that we most certainly wouldn't be out there again until the next time we were out there.

Now that we've set the tone properly, we can rejoin the story at the beginning.

So the snow is awful in the mountains, leaving our days off full of uncertainty about what to do. Sometime around Wednesday or Thursday, our friend Josh suggested a trip to the Black Rock for one of the weekend days. He assembled a small crew, supplies were gathered, and we met at 3:45 AM Saturday.


You see, Josh and I were both keen to make it a photo trip, and a setting like the Black Rock is an excellent excuse to be there for sunrise. Everybody's plans had conspired to keep us in Reno Friday night and get us back to Reno Saturday night, so it was sunrise Saturday or bust. The other four voyagers consented to get up early so that the two of us could get our rocks off at sunrise. Bless them.

So, yes, we met at 3:45 AM and pushed out of Reno shortly thereafter, Josh piloting the Subie with three sleeping passengers and me piloting the TDI with one sleeping passenger. "Yeah babe, I'm going to stay awake and keep you company," she promised, while simultaneously reclining the seatback to its stop and curling into a little ball facing away from me.

We pulled off the highway onto the playa (tentatively, as we were still unsure of the playa's condition) at about 5:45AM, and the sky was just beginning to show a bit of light in the distant east. The crescent moon had risen less than two hours prior, and its feeble light was enough to cast the entire playa in an eerie moonshine.


The playa is a different landscape in the winter; largely undisturbed, it gathers precipitation and then disperses it, leaving a cracked but very smooth surface. This unearthly smoothness between the cracks allows any light source to cast that sheen.

As light from the approaching dawn began to dominate light from the moon, planets, and stars, Josh and I began scrambling for photos. The light was changing too fast to keep up with; new landscapes evinced themselves by the minute, and I was very aware that I was little more than a spectator to a highly orchestrated show.

Unleashed fire

Finally, the fire on the horizon gave way to that massive bundle of thermonuclear goodness. The sun burst forth from the clouds and instantly changed the landscape yet again. This kept Josh and me pretty busy, but it at least added some much-needed warmth for the others, who were likely sick and tired of our redundant grunting every time the sky did something cool.

The globe reveals itself

Moonscape part 1

Moonscape part 2

After the sunrise had done its thing, we took stock of where we were and the condition of the playa nearby. While our first spot was a bit damp, there was a huge dry area less than half a mile away, so we relocated there and scattered our gear even further. Camp chairs and coolers appeared, as did a frisbee and a couple golf clubs. Oh yeah, and the ice climbing gear. Cue the impossibly ridiculous staged photo session.

Josh sets a piece of pro

The surface of the playa up close is something to behold. It varies from hard-pack crackle-sheen to sticky mud to hazes of pure alkali crystals to micro-eroded landscapes. For being so homogeneous from a material standpoint, its various incarnations are absolutely fascinating.


Crackly sheen

As the sun sped upwards from the horizon, the color palette changed yet again, but it finally stabilized enough for the warmth to outweigh the light show, so the cameras got put away and the frisbee appeared for a pretty lengthy session. As did the golf clubs. I most certainly didn't litter out there, but that stupid little ball will roll for days!

Tough guy

Playa river

As the short winter day wore on, we continued our various wanderings, including a group eyes-closed for 5 minutes walk. A study in sensory deprivation with particularly no consequences (not a thing out there to run into or trip over), by the end we were far more aware of what was underfoot and the sounds that each variety of playa surface made.

Moonscape part 3

Finally, it was time for more staged silliness, so Maggie and Josh went skate skiing in the mud.

Playing in the mud

Barrett plays paparazzo

Which way to the mountains?

The sun was starting to approach the horizon, and the light started getting awesome again, so Josh and I got giddy again and started charging around like idiots.

Moonscape part 4

Stitched with the tilt-shift

Josh as playa voyager

Quite suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated a distant band of mountains, including the namesake Black Rock. We got to watch a cloudy afternoon become sunset become glowing twilight.

Sliver of sunset far away

Western cloud show

Eastern dusk

Darkening horizon

Last light on the crackles

Satisfied with our efforts to occupy the day with goodness, we loaded up and made tracks for Reno. We were only on the playa for 12 hours, but what a spectacular 12 hours it was. And I'm still quite certain that we won't be out there again time.



Chris said...


That f2 is one sweet piece of glass. I want, I want, I want.

Eliot said...

Thank you sir!

Unknown said...

great shots my friend. you make the black rock look astounding ..... well done. and a hell of an ice climbing photo !

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