One of my favorite experiences this year was the nature tour I took outside the festival. I knew it would be a good one when we were getting on the funky old bus and the tour guide said, “Don’t disturb the bag in the front seat of the bus, there’s a live bat in there.” We drove 17 miles across the playa while a Bureau of Land Management expert talked all about the geology, environment, history, and wildlife of the area. I learned a few things:
– It’s the largest dry lake bed in the U.S., and one of the biggest in the world.
– The lake was once 500 feet deep.
– The area was once a thriving ecological niche for sequoia trees and mastodons.
– There are hot springs in the area that are hot enough to kill you and actually did kill a woman in 2000.
– People whose hobby is shooting off extremely large home-made rockets use this area as a launching pad.
– It’s also used for a variety of real rocket launches and land speed record attempts.
– There’s gold in them thar hills around the Black Rock Desert, but illegal to mine there.
– You can go driving around this area on your own any time you want but you better bring 4-wheel drive, rebar spikes and a winch, extra food and water, extra spare tires, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a satellite phone, a Swiss army knife, keg of beer, dynamite, and a band-aid.
I saw a most excellent full moon rise over the distant hills. I saw a black widow spider, horned toad lizards (I think I got the name right), miscellaneous bugs, a few birds, and bats. Our guide had a bat that had been captured in someone’s tent and he released it into the wild. The free bat climbed into a dark place beneath a large bush/tree. I met a fellow skeptologist on the bus (Hi Jon!) and we are scheming some sort of skeptic themed camp next year.
Brave little bat.