The Black Rock Desert
AERO-PAC 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. See our Getting to Black Rock page for directions.
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.
DO NOT BRING FIREWORKS: They are illegal in both counties spanned by the Black Rock Desert.
Aero-Pac 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.
High winds are a fact of life at Black Rock, find ways to deal with them.
Kids are our future, we encourage their attendance at all Certified Launches.
Aero-Pac officially discourages bringing pets to our launches.
Always be aware of what is going on around you.
Aero-Pac provides an unparalleled array of launch equipment to support your rocket flight. Treat it with respect.
We recover in a vast open area that virtually insures that you will find your rocket.
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 Aero-Pac. 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. Aero-Pac is fined for any bottles, cans or other trash left in them. We always need volunteers to haul them in and out.
(Bureau of Land Management)
The Black Rock Desert is administered by the Winnemucca Field Office of the BLM and we operate our launches under the terms of a permit they issue. They often have staff members at our launches both to provide information and to enforce their regulations. They will also enforce Aero-Pac regulations.
We recommend you take full advantage of their information services and avoid their enforcement services. They have a lot of local experience and are happy to share it. Here's a copy of a BLM publication about the Blackrock Area as well as their Leave No Trace policy.
In an effort to preserve historical conditions on the Emigrant Trail, BLM has posting new regulations for travel in that area. Motor vehicles must remain on designated roads and may not travel across dunes and open areas at the north end of the Playa.
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!
Playa serpents, dunes or hummocks can show up unexpectedly when you're driving and give you a nasty surprise. Be alert for them. More info.
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.