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If you clicked on the pretty picture thinking, “What in the world?” you’re not alone. I had no idea what Fly Geyser was either before I was told I going there. It only took a quick Google search for my mouth to drop. This place is UNREAL.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t already seen a million Instagram photos of this foreign looking rainbow phenomenon that was my second question too. Until recently (spring of 2018), the geyser was on private land, which the public wasn’t allowed to access. Burning Man purchased the property in 2016 and is finally sharing the wonder with everyone on a ranger-led guided nature tour.
Now that the secret’s out, you’ll want to book a tour immediately because it is THAT COOL (and pretty special to be one of the first people to experience it).
What is Fly Ranch?
A sprawling 3,800-acre property about 15-30 minutes outside the Black Rock Desert. It is still private, but since Burning Man purchased it, their vision is to make it a place for visitors to experience the ethos of the festival year-round. The area subscribes to the 10 principles, and beyond the Fly Geyser tours, will serve as an incubator for other programs in. They’re currently toying with other potential projects such as photography tours, hot springs swims, and overnight visits. It’s all in a state of flux, operating under trial and error, and very Mad Max. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Fly Ranch.
What is Fly Geyser?
A happy accident in which man and nature collide. Created in 1964 after a geothermal power company drilled a test well, the groundwater was left uncapped or improperly plugged. It’s a common misconception that the geyser is manmade, but the only manmade thing about it is the hole they drilled. Over the years, calcium carbonate deposits began to shoot up and mold into the crazy blobs you see today, which is why it looks like it’s growing. Resting on a travertine mound, the red and green color comes from thermophilic algae, much like the rainbow pools you see at Yellowstone National Park. At least, I think that’s what Bill Nye would say.
It doesn’t look all that impressive from the parking lot. Its smaller in-person and looks like a lumpy brown shape off in the distance. If “that’s it?” is running through your head, just wait until you get up close. If I hadn’t taken these photos myself I wouldn’t even believe it was real. It’s the stuff Dr. Seuss wrote about… and truly one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.
How Can I Visit Fly Geyser?
You can’t visit Fly Geyser on your own. The only way to see it is on one of the 3-hour guided nature walks, which can be reserved here. There is a suggested donation of $40 and tours are capped at about 20-people so it’s still fairly private. The main thing to know is they advocate for “device-free” experiences so you are in the moment and not attached to your phone (I had special media privileges to get some of these shots).
You’re allowed to take pictures at the end (once you reach Fly Geyser), but respect the rules, the sacred space, and try to be as present as possible. Tours meet at Friends of Black Rock High Rock in Gerlach, where they’ll brief you and escort you to the property.
What’s the Hike Like?
Easy and flat. It’s more like a 1.5 mile-long nature walk. While you’re “hiking” to Fly Geyser, it’s not the only highlight. You’re also passing hot and cold pools, two other geysers, wetlands, a mini Playa with a Pier (one of the Burning Man art installations with hopefully more to come), an old farmhouse, and plenty of flora and fauna (if you’re lucky, you may even see wild horses). It’s recommended to dress in layers (you’re still in the desert), wear close-toed shoes, and pack sunscreen and bug spray (the ticks were rampant in the high grasses).
What Else Can I Do Around There?
Fly Geyser is just one stop on the Burner Byway from Reno to the Black Rock Desert, but there are plenty of adventures to be had in the area. You can hot springs hop, horseback ride, rent ATVs, hike, bike, or camp. Land sailing on the Playa is another popular activity if you know someone with the gear and equipment.
How Can You Get More Involved?
If you’re super into the Burning Man philosophy and intrigued by Fly Ranch, you can become a “geyser guardian,” the fun name for their volunteer tour guides. They’re especially looking for people with wilderness first aid training who are interested in environmental stewardship. In addition to warm fuzzies, you’ll get special access privileges and be the first to know about their future programs. Learn more about that here.
Where Should You Stay?
Fly Geyser is doable as a day trip (it’s two hours each way from Reno), but if you’d rather spend the night there are a few options.
Soldier Meadows Ranch is a small hot springs b&b and campsite you can rent if you know about it — there’s no website, but they do have a phone number.
Iverson Ranch is a rustic dude ranch you can rent that also offers primitive campsites on their property.
Black Rock Bungalow is another vacation rental in Gerlach, but almost always sold out.
Or get your kicks camping on the Playa (but remember to bring everything you need from water to shelter).
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