Burning Man

Trip Start May 06, 2010
Trip End Oct 14, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Sunday, September 5, 2010

Since I didn't finish my EL wire costume I stopped in Reno on my way to Burning Man to pick up some costumes.  For those unfamiliar with Burning Man, it's really hard to describe.  It's a temporary city of around 50,000 people called Black Rock City set up in the Black Rock Desert.  The desert is an old lake bed that is now an alkaline salt pan commonly refereed to as the playa.  It is the second-largest flat area in the Northern Hemisphere.  Nothing can be bought or sold in Black Rock City with the exception of ice and coffee sold by the event organizers.  You have to come prepared for a week of dealing with sun, wide temperature swings, wind and alkaline dust.  You have to bring everything you'll need and you' also have to pack it out.  The playa has to be returned to it's original condition at the end of the event so nothing can be left behind.  There are portable toilets but there are no other services provided.

I managed to find some appropriate playa wear and then headed for Gerlach, the town closest to the spot in the desert where Burning Man is held.  After reaching Gerlach I continued north.  I expected a lot of traffic but it was clear to the turnoff into the desert and beyond.

For a while.  Then I hit an enormous traffic jam.  It turns out it had rained earlier in the day and the entrance was closed for several hours since it's nearly impossible to drive on the playa when it's wet.  I arrived at 11:15pm, which turned out to be just about the worst possible time.  I waited in line for around three hours to get to Will Call.  It was another hour to pick up my ticket, then another hour to get back into the line heading for the gates and then another hour to get through the gates.  I eventually made it to where I was supposed to meet some other people around 5:30am.  Since everyone was asleep I wasn't sure where I should park so I just found an empty spot and settled in for a few hours.  I slept in the car so it would be easy for me to move later.

The heat in the desert woke me up fairly early.  I went over to the "A Shack of Sit" camp, the people I planned on joining, and was directed to an appropriate parking spot.  After spending a little time meeting some of my other camp-mates I headed out to explore Black Rock City.  It's fairly large but I was lucky to come across one of the "yellow bikes" that are available for anyone to use.

The town has a number of curved roads in a 240-degree arc with a large, wooden sculpture of a man at the center.  Roads also radiate out from the man.  Locations are given by clock position with the man being 12:00 and by the name of the ring road.  The town is roughly a mile in diameter, making a bike nice to have.  The areas around the interior of the arc, along some of the spokes and a few other areas as well are allocated to "theme camps".  About the only rule for a theme camp is that it must be participatory.  There were theme camps that gave out food, drinks, massages, bad advice or just a place to sit in the shade, which is what my camp, A Shack of Sit, provided.  One offered bicycle repair and supplied the yellow bikes.  Some provided live entertainment.  They can be extremely elaborate.  There are some with 40,000-watt sound systems, huge banks of speakers, enormous video displays and elaborate lighting.

There's an emphasis on artistic expression at Burning Man.  In addition to that shown by the theme camps there are large areas of the playa where people display some of their art works.  This area also includes the man, a structure called the Temple and a collection of buildings called Metropolis, which is the theme this year.  These structures are built by the event organizers and are all burned before the end of the event.  The most impressive of the sculptures was one by Marco Cochrane called Bliss Dance.  It's a 40-foot tall statue of a woman.  The outer skin is stainless steel.  There are lights both inside and around the sculpture so it can be light either internally, externally or both in a wide range of colors making for a really impressive nighttime show.

The artistic expression extends to the costumes.  They range from no clothes at all to extremely intricate.  About the only restrictions are that feathers, plants and glitter aren't allowed since they'd lead to things getting left on the playa.

The only vehicles allowed to drive around the playa are bicycles and the "mutant vehicles".  These can range from a golf cart with some added decorations to enormous vehicles that can hold over 100 people.  They might be made to look like an insect, boat, dinosaur or animal.  Some are made by adding temporary decorations to street-legal vehicles while others are built just for the playa and have to be trailered there.

The playa really comes alive at night.  The mutant vehicles, bicycles, camps and people are all decorated with lights.  The city is a sea of blinking LEDs, flashing lasers, EL wire and tape, video displays and flames. 

I spent Tuesday through Friday evening wandering around the city.  Friday night was when they burned Metropolis, which was the furthest from the camps of the three structures to be burned.  Immediately after the burn the winds picked up and visibility dropped to 25 yards or less.  You had to navigate by listening for the loud theme camps to find your way back. 

I spent Saturday wandering around until the man was burned in the evening..  Again, the winds picked up just after the burn.  I tried navigating by the loud theme camps again.  I got confused by some of the loud mutant vehicles and found myself far away from where I intended to go but eventually made it back to my camp.

The atmosphere was different Sunday morning.  While the event lasts until Monday, many people were already packing up to leave.  I decided to do the same.  I left around noon.  The traffic leaving was nearly as bad as it was arriving.  It took me several hours to reach Gerlach.

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chas on

>found myself far away from where I intended to go but eventually made it back to my camp

GPS ring a bell?

wheresgordon on

I had one with me (actually, I had three with me but only one suitable for handheld use) but I never thought about carrying it around. It's only a problem navigating when the winds pick up and visibility drops and, besides, Black Rock City isn't such a bad place to get lost in. You never know what you might find.

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