Fly Geyser Opens To Public For First Time In Two Decades

Apr 6, 2018

The infamous Fly Geyser, situated on private land north of Gerlach, has been closed to the public for nearly two decades. But now, the land's new owners – the Burning Man Project – are opening the geyser for public viewing. Reno Public Radio's Bree Zender took a trip southwest of the Black Rock Desert, to find out more about it. 

After living all across the American West, let's just say I've seen my share of geysers. I'm at the Fly Geyser now, which is about a 25 minutes' drive north of Gerlach. And I've seen some big geysers for sure, but this geyser is probably the weirdest thing I've seen in my life—not just in geyser terms... The weirdest thing I've ever seen.

It's about 25 or 30 feet tall, spewing boiling water out of the top of its spout on to the ground, flowing downward in candy-colored rivers, in a Wizard-of-Oz-like fashion. And it gets even more odd considering this thing isn't exactly natural.

You see, it was formed by humans trying to drill a well. Combine that with the relatively thin crust of earth we have in the Northern Nevada desert and hot water deposits and you get something like this...

"A well was drilled underneath what is now the Fly Geyser in 1964. And that one has been flowing really steadily since then," said Zac Cirivello. He's one of the few people assigned by the Burning Man organization to find sustainable and unique purposes for the Fly Ranch property.

The first thing Burning Man plans to do with the land is to provide guided nature walks for groups of about twenty people.

"You know, we need to be mindful of where we walk. We are going to be taking a lot of game trails," Cirivello said. "Trails that already exist. We don't want to carve new roads or seriously impair things."

Since purchasing the ranch in 2016, Burning Man has been researching the land so they can guide visitors in an environmentally sound way. There's also an added level of danger as some of the pools of water top 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carolina Muñoz Saez -- formerly at UC Berkeley --- was one of the researchers who studied the geyser. I spoke to her via Skype from her native Chile. "I took some water samples to analyze the origin of the water," Muñoz Saez said.

Muñoz Saez said the inside of Fly Geyser is lined with quartz. And quite a bit of it. Quartz takes a very long time to develop, so it’s more common in much older geysers, like in the 10,000 year old range.

"For example in Yellowstone, we found a little amount of quartz," Muñoz Saez said.

Not so typical for an accidental geyser created roughly 60 year ago. She said it's because this particular area has a really unique feature. "[It's got] a really high amount of silica," said Muñoz Saez.

That combination of the heat from the water and the silica make the quartz and the cone around the geyser grow much more quickly, in a way that Muñoz Saez said isn't comparable with any other geyser she's studied.

There are also a number of smaller geysers, hot springs and even wetlands scattered across the property.

Burning Man's Zac Cirivello said the organization wants to capitalize on the property's various landscapes while drawing inspiration from the National Park and retreat centers.

"And while those are all models to be able to pull inspiration from, and aspects and learn lessons from, I don't think Fly Ranch is going to become any one of those things," Cirivello said. "It will become something that's unique to the nature and the community makeup of Burning Man."

And while the Burning Man Project is focusing on nature walks, it's still in the process of trying to figure out what purpose this property can serve.

"To me on a personal level, the geyser represents constant change," Cirivello said. "It represents a sense of being literally connected deep into the earth. I wouldn't have thought something like this could exist until I saw it. And so it begs the question, what else is possible that we haven't necessarily considered?"

For now, the public will be able to see the property in person only on weekends, but plans are in the works to expand group tours into the week.