Black Rock Desert

There’s a great new book out on the history of the ethereal Black Rock Desert – the  jewel of the Great Basin and the most remote locale in the contiguous United States, and it covers the period from the primordial geologic upheavals thru to the first western settlers and on through the many human interactions with this singular landscape up until 1990. Author Christopher Brooks has been cruising about the playa and surrounding mountains since his good buddy Don Asher introduced him to this otherworldly region in the late 1980’s. Christopher’s book titled simply Black Rock Desert is published as part of the Images of America series from the wonderful local histor(ies) book series Arcadia Publishing.


Christopher Brooks out on the Great Playa of the Black Rock. photo by Tansy Brooks

Here’s the “official” bio from the publishers:                                    Author Bio: Author Christopher Brooks first visited the Black Rock Desert in the late 1980s, when he was struck by the uniqueness of the environment and the friendliness of Gerlach residents. The images in this book were gathered from the special collections at the University of Nevada, Reno Library and the Nevada Historical Society, as well as from professional photographers and artists.

Christophers love of the Black Rock Desert is in no doubt to anyone aware of his attempts to rein in the growth of the Burning Man event that over the years has caused damage to this remote environment. Despite the earnest attempts of the many BM staffers and volunteers to remediate the damage due to hundreds of thousands of people visiting this remote wilderness area, it is simply impossible for this many people to “leave no trace.”


Wedding Chapel on Guru Road, part of a mile long multiple year installation by Gerlach resident DeWayne “Doobie” Williams. Christopher Brooks covers this singular folk art wonder and other pre- Burning Man art installations on and around the Black Rock Playa in his book. photo by Peter Goin

I know Christopher from crewing together with America’s premier transgressive machine art ensemble Survival Research Labs where he is highly regarded as a builder/artist. We worked together on a fab SRL show last year in LA


A short stretch of Guru Road. photo by Peter Goin.

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Nevada Governor James G. Scrugham hanging with the ever suave Ronald Colman during the filming of “The Winning of Barbara Worth” in 1926. photo Nev. Hist. Society

Christopher’s wonderful book covers early geology (up to 300 million years ago!) as well as the earliest known period of human occupation of this area. Among many other human endeavors, he covers the early days of filmmaking on the Black Rock. Actors from Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper in the 1920’s to Drew Barrymore in the 80’s have weathered the rigors of the playa for their craft.

Artists with big visions have also played and created out there before Burning Man made it’s playa debut in 1990.

John and Mary Bogard of Planet X on the nearby Smoke Creek desert collaborated with Berkeley artist Mel (Function) Lyons in creating the largest croquet game ever on the playa as well as several wind related public events. Photographer Doug Keister created several play tableaus which he then photographed through out the 1980’s.

Please check out Christopher’s great new book on this amazing and surreal place. From the pineers of the Applegate-Lassen trail conestoga wagon-trains to the world land speed record runs of the 1950’s, – 90’s, the Black Rock Desert has inspired extreme human efforts and sometimes with other-wordly results. Thanks Christopher!

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photo and tableau by Douglas Keister

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Croquet X Machina by John Bogard & Mel Lyons. photo by Karen Fiene