Black Rock Desert
The Black Rock Desert is a semi-arid region (in the Great Basin shrub steppe eco-region), of lava beds and playa, or alkali flats, situated in the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area, a silt playa 100 miles (160 km) north of Reno, Nevada that encompasses more than 300,000 acres (120,000 ha) of land and contains more than 120 miles (200 km) of historic trails. It is in the northern Nevada section of the Great Basin with a lakebed that is a dry remnant of Pleistocene Lake Lahontan. The average annual precipitation (years 1971-2000) at Gerlach, Nevada (extreme south-west of the desert) is 7.90 inches (200 mm). The Great Basin, named for the geography in which water is unable to flow out and remains in the basin, is a rugged land serrated by hundreds of mountain ranges, dried by wind and sun, with spectacular skies and scenic landscapes. The region is notable for its paleogeologic features, as an area of 19th-century Emigrant Trails to California, as a venue for rocketry, and as an alternative to the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah, for setting land speed records (Mach 1.02 in 1997). It is also the location for the annual Burning Man festival.
The Black Rock Desert is part of the National Conservation Area (NCA), a unit of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). The NCA is located in northwest Nevada, and was established by legislation in 2000. It is a unique combination of desert playa, narrow canyons, and mountainous areas.
Humans have been in Black Rock Desert since approximately 11,000 BC. In 1300 BC the area was settled by the Paiute people. The large black rock formation was used as a landmark by the Paiute and later emigrants crossing the area. The landmark is a conical outcrop composed of interbedded Permian marine limestone and volcanic rocks. At its base is a large hot spring and grassy meadow, which was an important place for those crossing the desert headed for California and Oregon. In 1843, John Fremont and his party were the first white men to cross the desert, and his trail was used by over half the 22,000 gold seekers headed to California after 1849. In 1867, Hardin City, a short-lived silver mill town was established (now a ghost town).