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The playa floor is great site to get a taste of the vast openness of the Black Rock playa. Although this is a desert, water had a substantial impact on this environment. You can see the remnants of ancient Lake Lahontan’s shoreline, which 13,000 years ago covered this area with 500 feet of water. The rain on the valley floor is less than six inches a year; considering the playa’s evaporation rate is eight times the precipitation rate, it’s no wonder such a large body of water evaporated.
Lahontan’s lake bed was made up of gravel, but as the lake evaporated fine sediments settled to the bottom, sediment now covers the ancient gravel surface over 10,000 feet deep at the thickest point. The sporadic Quinn River floods the East Arm of the playa during the wet season with a small amount of water and fine sediments. During the dry season, the water evaporates leaving behind more dissolved mineral salts.
The fine clay silt of the playa is highly alkaline and un-vegetated due to this evaporation, which has concentrated salts and minerals into a soil chemistry that prevents the growth of plant life. Emigrants described the dry bed as a “mud lake”, in the early 20th century the term playa came into use, which is Spanish for beach.
There are many ways to enjoy this high desert beach including conservation events, hiking, rocketry, land sailing, Burning Man, and other partner organization events. However you choose to spend your time in the Black Rock Desert please remember to Tread Lightly! by taking care of our environment while you enjoy it. One way to Tread Lightly! is by traveling responsibly, that includes knowing when it is safe to drive on the playa – if the playa is wet it is not safe to travel on!
The Black Rock Desert is part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. Many organizations come together to help conserve this exceptional natural place including the BLM, Friends of Black Rock High Rock, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, and Nevada Outdoor School.
E-mail NOSRocks the answers to these questions. Plus, if you would like to share a photo from your geocaching adventure add it to your log – we’d love to see it!
Take a closer look at the playa surface. How big are the grains of soil? What evidence or water do you see here? Poor a little bit of water on the playa surface, how does it react? Why do you think it’s not safe to travel on the playa when it is wet?
(2008). Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area: Map and Visitor Information. [Brochure]. Nevada: Bureau of Land Management.
Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area: The Black Rock Playa. [Brochure]. Nevada: Bureau of Land Management.
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