2nd longest valley in Nevada
The Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada spans approximately 100 miles in length across northern Washoe and Humboldt Counties. When defining the word "Black Rock," we have to weed out several possible definitions. People often use the word "Black Rock" to define just the playa, but the widest definition consists of the Black Rock Desert watershed itself -- one that covers 11,600 square miles.
The defining watershed includes a massive region that consists of the Black Rock playa itself, the largest desert playa in North America, along with the Quinn River, the Smoke Creek Desert, Massacre Lake, Thousand Creek, Virgin Valley, and all of the watersheds of northwestern Nevada, northeastern California, and southeastern Oregon. This very remote region is often referred to as the "northwest corner." Per surveys by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Black Rock region is the most remote place in the lower 48 states, averaging a population density of less than 0.1 people per square mile.
The Black Rock Desert is shaped like a "Y" and separated into two arms by the Black Rock Range. The playa itself spans for about 1,000 square miles from the town of Gerlach to the Jackson Mountains. The playa provides the outlet for the intermittent Quinn River - the largest river in the region, along with several other small watercourses flowing in from the neighboring Granite and Jackson Mountains. In recent years, the Black Rock has fallen under protection by the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA), with a remaining seventy percent of the lake playa protected under wilderness status. Thus, access to the playa can only be done on foot. The Black Rock NCA was established in 2000, combining a unique mix of desert playa, natural hot springs, narrow canyons, and forested mountains.
Of course, a mention of the Black Rock is undone without its famous venues. Chosen as an alternative to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, an Englishmen set the world land speed record on the playa, reaching Mach 1.02 (703 mph) in 1997. Every Labor Day week, the Black Rock Desert plays hosts to the annual Burning Man Festival, an art-life celebration that attracts more than 50,000 people every year.