Black Rock Mountain Only (White) Desert Survival Notes

AeroPAC launches in the best place in the world to fly rockets, the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada. The place where we fly is a dry lakebed referred to as the Playa. It is a spectacular natural wonder, the largest flat piece of land on earth. Black Rock has been the site for both world land speed records and for most TRA rocket altitude records. It is both beautiful and spiritual, but can also be hostile. Black Rock is about 100 miles north of Reno Nevada with an altitude just under 4,000ft MSL. It's very empty country, just about the only town nearby is the town of Gerlach. 

While normally dry in the summer, the Playa is a lakebed that often becomes wet during the winter. A wet winter can result in a shallow lake that hangs around well into the flying season as it did in 2006. Wet Playa is impassible and getting stuck in a wet section could result in a very expensive tow that is dispatched from Reno. The thin layer of water in the winter flattens and glazes the Playa providing a good driving surface. Conversely, a dry winter can result in the formation of dunes and substantial blowing dust during the following summer as it did in 2007.

The lakebed is basically mud: dried and very flat. You can drive almost anywhere at 80mph, but lookout for those hummocks. The top half inch is a fine dust and when it rains this turns to a horrible clinging mud. It will fill the wheel wells of your car or trap you by letting your car dig its own grave. During the summer, rainstorms don't last long and the lake surface dries quickly. The best thing to do is to stay put and ride it out, especially if you have a street car. If there's a lightning storm, stay in your car, it's the safest place to be.

Summer weather is usually hot with calm mornings and afternoon winds, early evening gusts and occasional heavy wind. These winds can gust to the point where tents and shades blow away make sure to tie them down well (rebar works much better than normal tent pegs), sometimes the wind gets so bad you just have to hide in your car until the wind dies down. Mornings are more likely to be calm so plan to get your launching done then. Winter weather involves snow and heavy winds, we don't go there then.

Nothing lives in the center of the lake. Some insects do blow in from time to time. If you camp at the cove there are rattle-snakes, ants and scorpions to look out for, but we haven't heard of anyone being bitten.

Our launches here are cooperative events where we all pitch in to help each other fly rockets in the desert. Observe the rules and watch how some of the folks who have been here before survive in the desert.



Black Rock is a desert and it can get very hot during summer days and very cold during Spring and Fall nights. Temperatures can range from freezing to 125 F at the launch site. High winds and blowing dust are not uncommon.

  • Prepare for all weather conditions.
  • Bring water.
  • Bring more water, don't forget about the ice.
  • Bring some shade. Wind may come up, so be prepared to take it down.
  • Maybe we forgot: don't forget water.
  • Don't run out of gas. Obviously there's none available on the lakebed and the gas stations at Gerlach and Empire are not open late.
  • FRS radios work well around camp and there range is increased by on-site repeaters.
  • Cell phones don't work at Black Rock and radio transmission over the playa seems to be limited - satellite phones do work but are expensive
  • DO NOT BRING FIREWORKS: They are illegal in both counties spanned by the Black Rock Desert.


  • Stay at Bruno's (775) 557-2220, the only motel in Gerlach, with only simple clean rooms. Register at the bar just down the street and do book ahead. We try to organize our launches so that we don't collide with other users but Bruno's is usually fully booked weeks before a launch.
  • Stay in Fernley or Reno, but it's a long drive. Motels in Fernley include: Fernley Super 8 (775) 525-5555, the Truck-Inn Motel and Casino (775) 351-1000 and the Best Western (775) 575-6776.
  • Camp out. The BLM allows us to camp out on the lakebed, or at the Cove near the launch site. They ask us to not camp at any other places along the 'shore'. All garbage must be packed out and you must use the Porta Potties we are required to provide. There is often a strong wind in the late afternoon and/or early evening (it usually passes after an hour or two).
  • Take an RV. They can be rented in Reno and can be driven onto the lake bed without problem (but be careful if it rains). Please park your RV at the ends of the rope line or in the second row, so as not to block the view of the flight line.


AeroPAC does not provide trash receptacles. You must pack out everything you bring in, including any waste produced by your pet.



Always be considerate of others.

  • Turn all generators off at 11:00 PM.
  • Try not to arrive loudly at night when others are sleeping.


High winds are a fact of life at Black Rock, find ways to deal with them.

  • Secure southern side of Easy-ups and tents with screw stakes and tie-downs.
  • Lower or take down Easy-ups and tents if you are leaving the area.
  • Bring weights for plastic bags, paper towel rolls, and secure your trash bags.
  • Be prepared for high wind in the afternoon or at night.
  • Wind is not an excuse for letting trash and gear blow across the Playa.


Kids are our future, we encourage their attendance at all Certified Launches.

  • Accompany them to the pads and help teach them launch safety.
  • Remind them often of potential danger and explain how to react.
  • In particular, remind them of the importance of "heads-up" and siren alerts.


AeroPAC officially discourages bringing pets to our launches.

  • Pets must be on a leash at all times.
  • If you bring pets, camp beyond the end of the rope line.
  • Collect and pack out any pet waste.


Always be aware of what is going on around you.

  • Stand for any announced Heads-up flights. You can't get out of a chair fast enough to evade a 300 mph rocket.
  • Know where you are during flight operations. East end, West end, etc.
  • If you hear a siren or "Heads-up" alert, look directly overhead. Make sure the space overhead is clear before looking around for the rocket. If you still don't see the problem, look for people pointing at it. If you do see it, point at it with your arm fully extended so others can benefit from your awareness.


AeroPAC provides an unparalleled array of launch equipment to support your rocket flight. Treat it with respect.

  • Make your igniter connections where they will not be damaged by motor exhaust.
  • You are not likely to return and collect your own igniter wires, so collect the ones you find there when you come to the pad.
  • Report (or better yet, repair) any broken items you find at the pad. Spare igniter cords and relay boxes are available at the LCO table.
  • Be prepared to clean rods or rails at the pad.
  • Touch clips together checking for sparks before connecting your igniter.
  • Pick up any debris you find in the pad area.
  • If driving to the pads, leave from the east end of the camp and drive slowly.


We recover in a vast open area that virtually insures that you will find your rocket.

  • Start your recovery expedition from the east end of the camp and let someone know you are leaving and where you are headed.
  • Drive slowly when leaving and entering camp. Everyone in camp may not have been so excited about that great flight that they want to eat your dust.
  • If you find someone else's rocket, fold the chute, mark the location, but do not retrieve the rocket. The owner may already be out searching. If you find rocket parts or other debris on the Playa, please do pick it up. If it's more than just trash, take it back to the RSO table. If it's trash, put it in your trash bag.

Motor vehicles

Motorcycles, dirt bikes, Go-peds and ATVs are permitted. Please operate them carefully and be considerate of others. Operate them behind our encampment and never in front of the rope line. Don't forget that you are attending a rocket launch and YOU are still responsible for paying attention to rocket activity.


Bicycles are a great way to get around camp. Do not ride them near the rope line or on our launch field where they may damage our cables. Official exceptions may be granted for the efficient deployment of photographic equipment.


Campfires are a great place to congregate on cool nights. Fires must be raised above the Playa surface and many people use washing machine tubs as fire baskets. Ashes must be packed out.

Leave no trace

This is an official BLM policy, which is supported by AeroPAC. Nothing, including cigarette butts, wire strippings, pet waste, igniter wires or rocket parts is to be left on the Playa. You may leave only clean water when you take down your camp. Help out by collecting any debris that you find during your stay.


These are provided for your convenience. Nothing but human waste and single-ply toilet tissue is to be deposited in them. AeroPAC is fined for any bottles, cans or other trash left in them. We always need volunteers to haul them in and out.


Exploring the Playa

The Playa is a great place to explore, but tell someone where you are going and when you will return. It is a lonely place if you get stuck or break-down and hiking off the lakebed is rarely a good plan.

Crossing the train tracks on the east side of the Playa can be dangerous!

There are hot springs around the edge of the lakebed. Be careful as some of them are too hot to be safe and both animals and people have fallen in and died.

Playa serpents, dunes or hummocks can show up unexpectedly when you're driving and give you a nasty surprise. Be alert for them.

Playa Serpents

Look out for transient 'dunes' on the Blackrock playa!

Mike Bilbo from the BLM forwarded us the following note from Sue Weeks about hazards out on the playa, please look out for these especially when driving at night they are hard to see untill you are almost upon them - these sound as if they are much larger that those we've seen in previous years - not something to hit at 80mph. Despite being called 'dunes' they are NOT soft sand, they are raised structures of hardened mud. They are 'transient' because they move around from year to year as the playa floods and drys again - we often see smaller ones if we come in from the first playa entrance.

Mike says:

"Landsailers call them 'reefs.' Sue Weeks calls them 'playa serpents.' Makes sense both ways. Most of them are hard, are cementing/cemented in place. Average height so far is about 1 to 1.5 feet. They are similar to the ones that formed at the LSR pit stations in '97, but different in their length, attitude and form or style. Two images from Sue Weeks are attached.
Of interest, on accessing the playa by way of Cholona and then beeline navigating to a ridgeline feature above and behind 1st Access/3-Mile, I totally missed these features in heading to the volunteer training this past weekend (Friday evening), but on returning Sunday night to Cholona via the easterly trackway, I got nailed by one just south of Coyote Spring. I was going about 35, looking for them and with high beam, the dune still came up too fast. It was a pretty good hit but the 3/4-ton truck weathered it alright."

Photos by Mike Bilbo.

be safe, survive