Desert on fire

The annual Burning Man event’s eco-friendly merits are questionable

The actual spot where James Marshall discovered gold. Way cooler than Burning Man, right?

The actual spot where James Marshall discovered gold. Way cooler than Burning Man, right?

Many Sacramentans will make their way to Nevada this week—if they’re not already there or en route—for the annual Burning Man gathering. And while this contingent is an artistic, creative and adventurous bunch, it’s also an eco-friendly crowd. There’s a website explaining Burning Man’s eco missions (
) that discusses the event impact not just on the desert, but also beyond the playa.

They say Burning Man is a Leave No Trace event, but you wouldn’t know it while you’re there. Cigarette butts, beer cans, plastic water bottles, charred remnants of fire-centric artwork—all of this litters the playa during the festival by people who haven’t taken to heart the anti-MOOP (Matter Out of Place) philosophy other Burners share. Despite its wide-reaching artistic and recreational merits, for many, Burning Man is a big party where you make a mess and worry about cleaning it all up later.

The Earth Guardians, Black Rock City LLC, Friends of Black Rock High Rock and other volunteers meticulously clean the playa once the party is over—this must be done for the festival to get its permit each year—but there is trash the wind gets to before they do over the course of the week.

“There’s no way you can bring 50,000 people out to the desert and not have an impact,” says Brian Beffort, associate director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness. “There’s just no way. If it’s not the fires and the smoke and all of the petrol driving out there, it’s thousands of people peeing on the playa in the middle of the night, plus the impact on the playa itself.”

But Beffort also says Burning Man’s organizers have in fact picked an ideal spot to minimize the environmental impact. “[And] they do a great job cleaning up,” he adds. “I think there are some benefits to offset the impacts—just helping people gain an appreciation for Leave No Trace. It’s not perfect, but they’re trying.”

But there is more to Labor Day than Burning Man, especially here in California. There are obvious places, like Folsom Lake and Discovery Park, but the idea is to get away from the crowds and hassle. For those seeking a cleaner, cheaper, more serene outdoor experience within a day’s drive of Sacramento, here are five alternatives:

1. Effie Yeaw Natural Area Loop Trail: This 1-mile, hourlong hike is an easy dirt trail for beginners. Located near downtown at Ancil Hoffman County Park, you can find out more about this rec area at

2. Locke: Exploring the old Delta town of Locke is a treat—but don’t forget the two-hour Delta Meadows River Park there-and-back hike. The trailhead is east of the old town, near the boat dock at Chuck Tison Memorial Park, and is but a 30-minute car ride from downtown.

3. Rancho Seco: If Labor Day weekend comes with cool weather and skies dressed with clouds, head southeast to Howard Ranch Trail, at Rancho Seco Park. This three-hour hike is maintained by SMUD; no dogs allowed.

4. Yuba River: Miles of river running past campgrounds, rental cabins and stunning High Sierra scenery, and full of great swimming holes. Along Highway 49 near Grass Valley.

5. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park: This is where the mother hit the lode, decades ago, but walking the nearly 4-mile loop is not just a great trip back in time, you also might strike it rich—with 19th-century foothill knowledge.