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A Short History of Mark's Island

by Doug Keister

In the early 1980’s a group of friends from the San Francisco Bay Area began making trips to the Black Rock Desert in the northeastern corner of Nevada. Here’s how it started. Some of them had been going to Pyramid Lake -- about 35 miles east of Reno -- for many years. One of the group, Doug (DB) Boilesen ventured another 60 miles or so north, to the Black Rock Desert after hearing about it from another, Nevada-based friend. DB reported back to the group that the Black Rock was new territory to be explored.

Over the years members of the group did just that. Although the desert explorers made frequent forays onto the vast Playa surface, campsites were always established on the edge or the "shore" of the Playa. The usual activities during the long "dead zone" (the hottest hours between 11:00AM and 3:00PM) consisted of various games of skill and cunning. Rock throwing, temperature guessing, guessing the arrival time of various guests and lawn chair throwing were among the favorites.

During one particular cranium burning "dead zone" one of the members of the camp, Mark Davis, announced his own activity. Davis said he wanted to walk across the Playa in the midday sun. He said the other attendees should wait 90 minutes, then get in their cars, find him, and see how far he had gone. The contest was trying to figure out how far he had gone. It is this writer’s recollection that Doug Keister won the contest when he guessed 3.75 miles. Lawrence Brown, Doug Boilesen and Michael Yates also remember winning. After the allotted time the contestants piled into their vehicles in the search for Mark Davis.

After criss-crossing the sun baked terrain Mark was found, but not on the Playa itself, exactly. He had found a place where a "mud mound" emerged from the Playa. The new discovery was christened by all as "Mark’s Island". Later inspection showed that there were two other mud mounds nearby. The Mark’s Island archipelago consists of Mark’s Island, L.B.’s Island and Desiree Isle. Another, smaller mud protrusion, Sal Mound, is undeveloped and has not acquired formal island status.

As the years went by the campers began using Mark’s Island regularly as a base camp. The island became the site of the clubhouse for Lucifer’s Anvil Golf Course (home of the yearly Black Rock Self Invitational Golf Tournament) and was the staging area for the shooting of Black Rock: Portraits on the Playa, a unique book of photographs.

In 1998, the Bureau of Land Management, upon learning that Mark’s Island had been at one time a Paiute Indian burial site as well as a World War II practice bombing target, banned camping on or near the island. So the base camp site for the various group activities was moved to nearby L.B.’s Island. Mark’s Island has been restored to a former and nearly pristine state, looking just as it did when Mark stumbled upon it.

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