Gerlach, Nevada is one of the state’s tiniest towns, but also one of the biggest on history and natural wonders. Gerlach is the gateway to the intriguing and mysterious Black Rock Desert, which is home to famous Fly Geyser, numerous natural hot springs, 1.2 million acres of wilderness, and, of course, Burning Man. No matter when you visit Gerlach, the town itself and the unrivaled desert landscape beyond are sure to quench the wanderlust in your soul.
Welcome to Gerlach: “Center of the Known Universe”
Gerlach, NV serves as the basecamp for adventures in the Black Rock Desert, as well as the annual experimental arts and culture gathering that is Burning Man. The town itself is as proudly funky as it is friendly, with several local establishments both enticing travelers off the road and gearing them up for excursions to the wilderness beyond. Especially to the fabled Black Rock Desert “Playa,” the nearly 200-square-mile seabed remnant of prehistoric Lake Lahontan, pretty much devoid of man-made structures or features of any kind, and is considered by many to be among the vastest, flattest stretches of ground in the entire world.
History of Gerlach, Nevada
The town of Gerlach was founded near the turn of the 20th century when the Western Pacific Railroad built a route across the state. However, humans have enjoyed the region’s natural shelter and bountiful spring water for millennia. Emigrants traveling to California’s gold mining camps, meanwhile, zeroed in on Black Rock Mountain as a landmark to find their way along the Applegate-Lassen Trail. The neighboring community of Empire was founded in 1923 and became a company town for more than six decades after U.S. Gypsum corporation purchased it in 1948.
Both Gerlach and Empire remained sleepy, remote Nevada communities for generations, until Burning Man, the famous counterculture arts gathering, relocated to the Black Rock Desert Playa from San Francisco in the 1990s. Today, Gerlach serves as a host community of sorts to the event.
Two of Gerlach’s historical structures include the Gerlach Water Tower, which was constructed in 1909 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Bruno’s Country Club, founded in 1952 by Italian immigrant Bruno Selmi, who operated the popular local restaurant, watering hole, and motel for more than 50 years. Despite Selmi’s passing in 2017 at age 94, the business remains a major fixture for visitors and residents alike.
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Things To Do In Gerlach
Most visitors to Gerlach Nevada come for the town’s access to the Black Rock Desert. Hard-core self-sustained dry campers enjoy setting up shop on the edges of the Playa and day-tripping to rockhounding sites, OHV trails, and natural hot springs, including Black Rock, Double, and Soldier Meadows Hot Springs. Among the Black Rock Desert’s many wonders are ancient petroglyph sites, an abandoned geode mine, and Basque structures like ovens and shepherd’s stacks scattered throughout the region.
Off-roaders, equestrians, and mountain bike enthusiasts can venture off the flat Playa for a trip along the rugged 14-mile High Rock Canyon 4×4 trail, to make slow progress past ghost town remnants, pronghorn antelope stomping grounds, and stunning geological features, like black lava flows—telltales of the tectonic forces that shaped this area millions of years ago.
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Or visit stunning, kaleidoscopic, Nat Geo cover-featured Fly Geyser—sparked by man, but crafted by nature—on the historic Fly Ranch on a guided tour with Friends of Black Rock-High Rock to discover the ranch’s fragile wetland ecosystem, the magnificent geyser itself, and to view various art pieces that debuted at Burning Man, the managing organization of which now owns the land.
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Fans of folk art owe themselves a cruise down Guru Road. Words of wisdom and hand-carved whimsy line this mile-long road to reflection, along with several larger art pieces, including a weather station, Aphrodite, a tribute to Elvis, and the Desert Broadcast System—all the legacy of Gerlach local DeWayne “Doobie” Williams, who built the area up between 1978 and 1992.
Meanwhile, Planet X Pottery, at the toe of the Granite Mountains, is a working pottery and art studio “from another dimension,” where, since 1974, John and Rachel Bogard have offered exquisite ceramics and paintings in their sprawling Emigrant Trail ranch home galleries, selling beautiful art inspired by their splendiferous surroundings.
Food & Drink in Gerlach
Gerlach Nevada boasts a few classic “Sagebrush Saloons” that have existed for decades, catering to locals, hunters, Black Rock Desert adventurers, and (of course) burners. Generations have filled their bellies with homemade ravioli washed down by a stiff Picon Punch at Bruno’s Country Club. Kick off a long day’s adventure with freshly brewed coffee and locally baked goods at the Miners Club, or end them with strong cocktails on the same stools. For late-night action after a hot—or very cold—day jump into Joe’s Gerlach Club.
The Empire Store, several miles south of Gerlach, is a good place for campers to stock up on supplies or grab a quick lunch from the full deli. If setting out for an extended foray, supermarkets back in Fernley and Reno have you covered.
Gerlach, Nevada Lodging
Many visitors to Gerlach come prepared for camping out on the Playa and beyond. However, Bruno’s Country Club, Motel & RV Park is the go-to option for lodging in Gerlach NV. Another nearby option to hang your hat for the night is Iveson Ranch, an off-the-grid historic Nevada homestead that offers rustic cabins along with RV and tent camping in a natural western setting. For a more far-flung adventure—especially for visitors to Massacre Rim Dark Sky Sanctuary—spend the night at the Rockin’ TD Ranch or Old Yella Dog Ranch in the ghost town of Vya, located about 85 miles northwest of Gerlach.
Events in Gerlach, Nevada
Burning Man is, of course, Gerlach Nevada’s premier draw, event-wise. More than 70,000 burners from around the world converge on the Black Rock Desert each week leading up to Labor Day weekend to shake off the shackles of civilization and celebrate truly incredible and unique art, dance to pounding electronic music, and revel in the joys of unfettered freedom and self expression at the pop-up metropolis of Black Rock City—which, for one week each year, becomes one of Nevada’s top ten populated places.
However, Burning Man isn’t the only reason to visit Gerlach. The prolific Perseid Meteor Shower bursts through Gerlach’s nearly incomparably dark and serene night skies each August. Meanwhile, numerous amateur rocket enthusiast organizations make regular sojourns to the Playa to fly high-powered rocketry, including amazing night launches, taking advantage of the wide, flat terrain and wide-open visibility. And to really dive into all that the area has to offer, check out the Black Rock Rendezvous, held by Friends of Black Rock-High Rock each May, to experience geology walks, history talks, and more.
Whether you’re setting your own land speed record on the playa, soakin’ up the stars at Soldier Meadows, or simply poundin’ Picons at Bruno’s, tag your shots with #TravelNevada so we can follow—and maybe even share—your adventure.