Burning Man: It’s Not for the Faint Hearted

Burning Man’s roots go back 27 years to the burning of an 8 foot tall statue on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Today’s man stands some 40 feet tall and rests on a 60 foot pedestal. The wooden man and his fiery demise symbolizes the annual event that takes place in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

Finally I have lucked out and scored a ticket to Burning Man. Now I have to scurry about and get ready. The event is three weeks away; it is serious countdown time. This means my usual blog is going on vacation. For the next three weeks, my posts will be all about Burning Man. I am going to reblog some of my most popular Burning Man blogs and include many of my favorite photos.

Afterwards I promise full coverage on what the 2012 event was like. You are invited along!

I discovered my passion for deconstructing pumpkins in 1992 and came to accept Halloween as an adult holiday. I still had a major hurdle, though; I refused to wear a costume. Even as a kid I resisted dressing up for Halloween. Somehow it seemed un-cool.

Five trips to Burning Man have changed my mind. If you are one of those folks who can’t wait to morph into Count Dracula or Suzy Siren, you might want to visit this annual event.

Burning Man is close to Libertarian in its rules. You are, however, highly encouraged to wear a costume. These range from the simple, such as this guy wearing a neck piece and a bowler, to the more fanciful such as the woman with high shoes and a bikini bottom. Expect some nudity.


But be warned: Black Rock City, the home of Burning Man, is not for the faint hearted.

Temperatures can rise to over 115 during the day and drop to freezing at night in this instant city located in a remote section of the northern Nevada desert. Dust storms whip across the Playa creating zero visibility and coating everything with a fine layer of dust. Eyes, ears, lungs, clothes, tents, vehicles, cameras and laptops become instant victims in this environment. Cleaning up afterwards is a weeklong process, so serious that some RV companies refuse to rent to Burning Man bound celebrants.

A huge dust storm makes its way across the Playa creating close to zero visibility along the way. (Photo by Don Green.)

Just when you believe you have mastered the heat and dust, it rains and you find two inches of mud caked on the bottom of your shoes or bike tires.

None of this seems to deter participants. They come in the thousands to this happening, which runs for a week including Labor Day. Burners, as they like to be known, come from all over the world to see and be seen, to party and perform, to enjoy and create art. And they get there in almost every conceivable mode of transportation including ancient busses, trucks, autos, bicycles, airplanes and over 3000 RVs – all loaded down with the paraphernalia necessary for a week of desert survival.

Overnight, a community of 50 thousand plus rises out of the desert, making Black Rock City the fourth largest city in Nevada for its one week of existence. Burners arrive to a well laid out semi-circular street system, some 450 port-a-potties, a Center Camp Café, the 40-foot tall Burning Man statue (perched on a 60-foot plus base) and little else. Everything they need must be brought with them.

This year a city of 60,000 people will appear and disappear in the Nevada Desert during Burning Man. This photo illustrates what it looks like early in the week. There are still spaces. My van Quivera, is in the foreground. (Photo by Ken Lake)

Center Camp is one of the few structures Burners find set up when they arrive. Here it is operating full tilt as shown by the hundreds of bikes (BM’s primary mode of travel), which are parked outside.

With the exception of coffee, tea, lemonade and ice, nothing can be bought or sold. There is zero commercialization.

As for what the event is, it can be almost anything an individual wants it to be. The only requirements are that you pay the entrance fee and follow a few basic rules.

I asked my friends to describe the event. Their answers included 1) Las Vegas glitter with a new age twist, 2) Haight Ashbury, Woodstock and Mardi Gras rolled into one, 3) a medieval fair dropped into an ancient Greek Bacchanal, and 4) a frat party with avant-garde art.

I view Burning Man as one of the greatest shows on earth. It ranges from the whimsical, as represented by this rabbit, to more serious themes.

My own take is that Burning Man may very well be the greatest show on Earth, a modern-day ‘Hippy Happening’ of gargantuan proportion. New age idealism combines with personal liberation, art, exhibitionism, holistic healing, self-discovery, environmental awareness and partying. Step aside Barnum and Bailey.

The event reaches back 27 years when an eight-foot version of the ‘Man’ was first burned on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Legend has it that Larry Harvey, the creator of Burning Man, was mourning a lost love.

Revisionist thinking suggests something deeper was involved, a search for meaning and unity in our Post-Modern world. And there is an element of that at Burning Man. Certainly much of the art is reflective of Post-Modern thought. There is also an underlying Utopian fervor among the BM true believers that the event can create positive change in the world.

Next Burning Man Blog: Beware of Large Bears with Tuning Forks

When I think Burning Man I think art. This colossal woman appears to be celebrating the event.


12 thoughts on “Burning Man: It’s Not for the Faint Hearted

  1. How exciting!! I’ve always wanted to go — I’ve had one friend in particular who’s been to several Burning Man festivities. I can’t wait to see the pictures! The people, the art!

    • It is an experience you never forget. This year the tickets were hard to get. Who knows about the future. Next year pack up your husband and include it in your trip out west. (grin)

  2. I am counting on lots of photos and your blogs to keep me up to date on this year’s BM! I will be there in spirit……

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