Fishbowler

I make art in strange places and blog about it.

Tag Archives: Black Rock Desert

Crossing The Playa To Watch Rocks Fall From Space

Do You Think I’m Sexy?
Rod Stewart and the playa go hand in hand for me, particularly “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” When I was married we’d camp on the playa with other couples and friends and we’d party on this white tabletop desert for the weekend. This is not your average kind of camping but burners get it. Glamour camping is also called ‘glamping’ and this pastime involves fur and glitter and disco sounds pumped thru large speakers. It’s all about the fabulous. It’s all about a landscape of minimal distraction. The funky white bass carries across the ground in an interesting way. There’s a denseness, a soaking in and you start to think of the silt. How thick is it below these sexy people roller skating to Rod Stewart?

Cattle Clock
From Iveson Ranch driving down to Gerlach or the playa, it’s a short rural drive. It’s 12 miles to the edge of the playa, 27 to Gerlach. Half an hour is very short driving time in open country like this. It’s 2 hours to Reno. Be mindful of livestock and wild horses standing on the road, much more dangerous than hitchhikers.

We don’t have to leave the ranch much other than the grocery getters every couple weeks. JB the bossman calls those rocket runs into Reno & back. I think I was here for an entire month before I ever exited the gates. Often I feel like a head of cattle grazing on the ranch, spanning time. I did get in to Reno the other day for some shopping. I’ve been here since the beginning of July, a month and a half now. I was also here for the month of May. I feel like there’s no where better for me to be. My mind grazes here.

You take Sundays off here only after you’ve gotten stuff done. Today’s Sunday, this mural is feeling fairly done. Art is a different kind of thing, a different kind of time. I sit around alot, getting away from it and it’s done when I feel like it. I’m still going to work on it this afternoon, after my shower but before it starts getting cooler and into sunset, maybe crank up the generator and work after dark too. These murals are two sided. They’re steel cabins. This afternoon I’ll be painting on the East side, the shaded side. I’m painting horses.

Crossing The Playa To Watch Rocks Fall From Space
Black Rock Desert is the flattest expanse on Earth. It’s a dry lake bed at the core of what used to be an ancient inland sea that covered the entire top half of Nevada–a state that takes over 10 hours to drive from top to bottom. It’s a good desert to admire space from.

The plan was to take an art car 12 miles to the playa from the ranch to experience the Perseid meteor shower. Five or six art cars here are being worked on currently as we ramp up to Burning Man week. This one was red and called The Imperial, a Chinese Junk fashioned art car which seats 30 on two levels. It would be slow driving.

Neither of these things happened. Neither art car excursion nor meteor viewing came to fruition. The meteor shower’s best viewing wasn’t to start until after 3am, it was early, so we took fire dancers. This was a very good idea to bring entertainment. They brought themselves really, in a red Camaro from Oregon and we were a hit.

In a borrowed diesel, with 3 adults and a child, I drove us to the playa in the dark of night, which was relatively light. From the ranch 4 or 5 vehicles went out. I love bringing people to the Black Rock Desert for the first time. I remember my first time. It’s a landscape you drive more like a boat since, after all, it is a lake. We had a half moon to light our way.

So this party was a group of maybe 100 people and the Burning Man royalty were there in attendance and being pampered with margaritas. These were some founders of the event. You know it’s 30 years old, Burning Man? These are some people who are famous the world over for what they created. Burning Man has permeated creative cultures everywhere on the globe and enjoys international fame.

Burners will tell you it’s more than a party. It’s a movement. 60,000 fur adorned people can’t be wrong–and that’s just this year’s crowd. This is as significant as the hippy movement. When I told one of the fire dancers that Burning Man royalty was his audience for the night, he got excited, eyes lit up and he asked “Are they aware that we don’t have tickets yet?”

Not Much Tanning at Night

Brazen Bronze
I’ve been working on my tan, working on caring less about it. I’m becoming brazen about my bronze. I plan to stop needing sunblock. If my skin can be weened off of it then I’ll be resilient and I’m on my way to becoming the uncontested Grizzly Adams of self sufficiency. I’ve needed less each day and haven’t touched sunblock in a week now. One day it will be impossible for me to become sun burned–that’s the idea. They’ll think I’m aboriginal.

Working here in the heat of the day is so absurd it’s almost unbearable. I have to wear black latex gloves so enamel paint doesn’t creep up under my fingernails. Glistening sweat pores from under these gloves and trickles down my wrists. Am I spoiled? I dunno but hey, I can work at night, alone, in silence, with the lonely breeze of refreshment. Nothing will be visible to compete with the horses I’m brushing on to this surface in red and blue. I’m all alone and in the best way possible at night, it’s only me. Me and the bugs. So just us.

My cabin is a 40 foot container actually ear marked for Eddie. I’ve been residing in his cabin during this stay and he’s not in a hurry to displace me. The guys have hooked up the water in this cabin first and I have a shower to myself. After six years coming here I’m the envy of camp.

Smack My Brush Up
I smack my brushes on the wall for splatters and they hate me for it. Paint brushes have tiny nails that hold them together which loosen up because they suffer at my abuse. Repairs are needed. I took the time today to replace screws in my brushes. I’m kinda proud of the whole thing, the abuse, the repairs–it’s work hard play hard. You should see me dancing around flingin’ paint.

It was to be the night I’d go full vampire. I want to paint late into the night with spotlights to see by. Bugs would convene, yes. My laptop assisted me in making a soundtrack which is 10 hours worth of music. It consists of 177 songs and I can’t wait to dig in. I’ve been talking about night painting sessions since before I got here. My tendency has always been for the night owl preference. Early wake ups suit me when I’m here but I’d prefer all-nighters for getting artwork done. My sleep schedule will take a bit of time to switch over. Years ago when i was just out of high school I had a performance motorcycle that I’d work on all night. Night working has been good to me. I’m a night crawler.

There’s a big blue jet parked right beside me. It’s called Playa One with a big ol’ official looking seal on the door. The wings fold out for people to dance on with spinnie glowey lights. Yes, it’s a Burning Man thing. This crew has a couple other art cars parked here in the dirt for maintenance as I paint on container cabins. Six cabins line this yard to eventually house workers during their stay here. This dirt is used to being trampled down by horses.  It’s a re-purposed stable at the West end of the inner ranch where the home front is. No vegetation is here, only dust, tons of dust. The horse patties have  returned to dried up biblical dust.

The weather is crisp and calm, just right. There’s a wind blowing cool air over me. I keep talking about sleeping out here. Seriously. One’s filled with pillows. My cabin gets pretty hot and never cools down. Sleeping out here on an art car might be just the thing I need. The stars are so luminescent it’s like a soup that you can dip into with your spoon–unlimited depth. New moon is the best night of the month to soak up the milk of the Milky Way.

These container cabins are 40 feet long, each side gets adorned with horses and so far I’m up to like 20 horses in total but some are very small and without detail so they almost don’t count. It’s blue brown and red basically. The short cabins are 20 feet long and those get rented to go out onto the playa for Burning Man which happens about a month from now. The cabin I’m currently working on will be a field office for JB, the owner of this ranch. It’s got the best view to the west. This is number 9.

No Dice
There was no gas available for me. I didn’t realize the gas cans piled were empty. There’s gas on the ranch in a big tank or two but I don’t have access to those. I can string a cord out from an outlet. This ranch does have power that’s generated by the big diesel genny. Also an array of solar panels generates energy for the ranch. My midnight lights will take power. Energy is rationed here.

The first night I ran out of gas. The second night I decided I could just plug in, skip the gas can fiasco. The second night I had my electrical cords all ready to go and I saw a flashlight out there in the dark by my painting. JB had walked out and he told me that we don’t have the power to spare. OK. I guess that’s that.

I had to cancel my mission but I’m happy to have it all set up and ready to go for another night and trust me, it’s on. This will happen. Choose your battles, as they say. On the ranch we get started on things that might not happen until the next day. The night was not a total failure because I now know what to expect.

Playing Sherpa

Navigating these scrambling rabbit paths leads my mind to my childhood when I’d get into one-kid adventures surveying the forest lands like a scout or mini white sherpa. Later I got motorized with a red and chrome Honda 50.

Here the dirt is dry and it’s not even dirt, it’s sand. It ain’t mud. Trails that haven’t been blown away are evident still, but the lack of human intervention out here is the freshest air. I’ve been trying to see as the animal sees. I’ve been trying to stop my mind from forming words. Writing essays and silent minded hiking don’t mix. Now I know.

My boots wind me down a couple slopes to a mass of low willows filling this low folded area wall to wall. It’s a low gulch here. The glut of life accumulates here and feeds the mouths of a whole panoply of species from the micro scale up to the species like bobcats that would have us for dinner if they had to. That’s extremely rare though, just so you know. The deer live here untouched, unbothered by human aggressions and passions and if we watch them closely we may even find evidence of frolicking.

Moisture runs the show. Vegetation is here in this crevice between mountains because the creek flows through with reservoirs. Water, my friend. Even the shape of the ground here was eroded by water in its various phases and amounts. Water, ice, snow and steam work to mold the ground of our lands.

Quiet wind cools my writing on this modern papyrus with fine point gel pen at this poetic moment. These winds have carried away souls for centuries and probably poems too. People have lived here where I write for a long time. A few have died here I’m sure. It’s a natural cleansing cycle. The rhythm rings echoes of death. Layers of the dead bring more layers of life and the desert doesn’t try to hide much in its dried mulch.

There are remnants of historic encampments around here just like I’d see in Goldfield, pots and pans and the various exciting trinkits decomposing gracefully. I wonder if they were mining for gold too. Maybe hunting, I really don’t know but the ‘leave no trace’ ethic didn’t take with these guys. I don’t mind because it all rusts away to make for astoundingly glamorous photos.

They should call this the front 40. Maybe they do. Hiway 34 is gravel and runs through here from Gerlach, twenty some miles away. This area of the property butts up to that.

It’s an unexpected wilderness serving as the dumping point for ancient rivers and shoreline of an ancient high elevation sea. The desert leaves traces apparent for generations. The depth cut in is dramatic here with sharp erosion edges at 45° angles and it becomes wholly apparent that it’s only mounds of sand waiting to change. I’m standing along the border between flattened and ridged. The Granites father this family of hills along the Haulapai flats. Fly geyser bubbles a few miles away and past that the might Black Rock desert. A passionate land.

Horse stables surround the houses of this ranch and beyond the fences are low ridges that sweep into winding formations, gracefully photogenic but unapologetically woeful toward any rubber wheels. Like the rest of the western half of this continent, It’s all volcanic here. Yesterday a kid broke his collarbone riding motocross. It’s dude ranch 2016 style.

Two stunning horses were here on visit, belonging to a wife of a biker is what I’m guessing. Both were a deep smooth brown. One horse was statuesque. A giant. Art car people come and go too. There’s also a family reunion gathered here now so it’s alot of people on the grounds. They’ve all brought enjoyable energy.

Mountain bikers pass slowly down a path as I write this. At a distance they remind me of the Mormons in the suburbs. This is kinda’ funny. I was lost in a Calvin and Hobbes fantasy wearing bobcat skinned sarong brought abruptly back to 12 geared reality in the last frame. I’m not sure they’re wearing the ties but their shorts and shoes look uniform. They are of the dirt biker clan who meets here yearly but today seen roaming more silently. A quick ride before they leave have to leave.

Life at the Ranch Part 1 (with photos)

National Weather Service is broadcast everywhere. “60 mile an hour winds and it’s about 16 miles north of Gerlach.” We deduced that JB’s warning us about this now meant the wind would be picking up in about 10 minutes here at the ranch and we’d better all get our stuff tied down for the afternoon. It had been perfectly calm and sunny until that moment. He was hoping it was wrong but like a good clock, the information was accurate. Out here the weather is not just a subject for small talk.

The Black Rock Desert hosts the world famous Burning Man, in which 50,000 people come to camp and party. This alkali lake bed is the biggest expanse of flatness on Earth. Iveson Ranch is about 7 miles from the edge of it in a lush canyon. Burners always seem to be here.

I’m here because storage units  are being converted into living spaces. What I’m painting on these storage boxes with this enamel paint is acid woodgrain®. It’s alot of paint and the colors are from cream sickle to candy. I’m learning to line them sharply and draw shapes out more. Sharp edges but first I’ll build up some texture layers.

Burners are an interesting breed. They’re modern day hippies, often going by names like Pixie or Ocean, but the new twist is that they wear utility pouches, headlamps and goggles. They’re usually work oriented people occupied by creative projects that revolve around partying. The good times endeavor does not diminish the fact that the work is serious and complex requiring organization and money. There are also desert rats here, some guys that mine gold but know construction.There’s a big white bus that looks like a ship called the Serpent Princess parked just near my painted boxes and they’ve been playing the best music while constructing a dance floor above the roof of it. This is the funnest summer camp ever!

I’ve been 4 times to the burn, which makes me a burner I guess. But I’d never call myself that. When asked if I’m a burner I usually say no. I feel like a tourist next to these guys but I’ve helped build and maintain more than one camp. A sign camp once. Another time I camp I helped build was called Simple Camp, named right on the spot, though it wasn’t so simple. sprawling areas of shade. I wore a plaid skirt and when people said “nice kilt” I would reply “God dammit It’s not a kilt, it’s a skirt!”

The wind came so I put lids on my paints and secured brushes and rags. We broke down my table and latched the doors of the barn. I had to weather the storm out so right now I’m relaxing in our accommodations.

The walls are orange in here which is mild mannered in relation to the outside of this unit. I painted the outside in hot colors. This was number 3 or so. It’s nice to be able to stay in one of these. We’ve got 3 beds, 3 windows and a door and this is quite a comfortable place to stay. It’s a luxurious way to camp really. We’re surrounded by steel. This is glamping.

The view stretches past the pastures for 3 ridges to the West, all continually varied in color. JB fixes these storage units up with nice livable interiors for burners or ranch hands to stay in. We don’t need air conditioning but it’s hooked up in here. I can’t imagine what oceans this thing has crossed in a past life, now it lives here in this desert. You hear of these things falling off ships like giant dominoes. They’re not. They’re substantial.

My dad is staying here this week with me. He came to visit in town so we both came up here for this job. He always fixes stuff and builds and makes improvements to his surroundings like Bob Villa. This works out extremely well here. The ranch needs people like him. He’s been helping alot. He’s not the only carpenter here, but he is the best carpenter here. My dad can beat up your dad!

There are two deer 20 yards from me right now thru my window by the fruit trees. This canyon is to be a natural preserve so there’s a no shooting policy here. It’s a haven for wildlife and this is one reason it’s a special place. A mountain lion was spotted here last week. It was drinking from the little pond in front. It was a little mountain lion (the size of a St. Bernard) and they tell me that means that momma’s close by.

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