I’ve Been Through the Desert on a Horse with No Name… Burning Man 2017: Part 2

A bike is critical to traveling around the Playa and through Black Rock City. Distances are substantial, as this photo demonstrates. I took this photo from the Man. Looking the other direction would provide a similar scene.


When I made my second trip to Burning Man in 2005, my friend Ken Lake brought along stick horses— the type that are popular with five-year-olds— to put on our bikes. They served as decorations and a way of quickly telling our bikes apart from the tens of thousands of others that reside in Black Rock City. If you pinched their ears, they went clippity clop, clippity clop, neigh, snort. Naturally, we had to name them.  Horse with No Name popped into my mind. I would be riding through the desert on my horse-bike, and I’ve always liked the song written by Dewey Bunnell. There’s more. Bunnell was inspired to create the haunting music by memories of his childhood travels through Arizona and New Mexico, a Salvador Dali painting of the desert, and a strange horse depicted by M.C. Escher. The fact that I am a fan of the Southwest, surreal art, and Escher was frosting on the cake.

Ken Lake, on the left, showed up with stick horses in 2005. Here, he and Don Green try out our new horses before attaching them to our bikes.

Horse with No Name is something of a contrarian and likes to see what is being him.

The seven squares miles covered by the event requires a bicycle, so I’ve been riding Horse with No Name on my trips to Burning Man ever since. I suspect I’ve put on several hundred miles during my 11 trips into the desert. The bikes have changed, and the stick horses have changed, but the name has remained.

As I’ve noted before, my primary reason for going is to see the art. It’s located everywhere. Even with a bike, it’s difficult to see it all— and I always miss pieces. This year, I had to skip the first four days because of forest fires threatening our home. I only had three days to cover what I normally do in seven. I was on the bike a lot. My tail was complaining loudly by Sunday. (For those of you who have been following the saga of the burning forest, we are out of the woods, so to speak. Level 1, 2, and 3 evacuation notices have been dropped.)

The art at Burning Man ranged from this 70 foot tall Flower Tree Temple…

To this very realistic looking tree that provided shade from the desert sun during the day and was beautifully lit up by night.

There are other things to do at Burning Man besides look at art, of course. For example, you can party 24/7 for a week if that’s your thing. Bars ‘gifting’ free booze are located on almost every corner. You can also dance the night away, or day. I saw people dancing country along the 6th street route I followed into Center Camp, and I could have gone elsewhere to learn to Tango, had I been so inclined. The most common music, however, is the type that goes thump, thump, thump in the night, industrial strength stuff. World renown DJs come to Burning Man to play it for free. The music will keep you awake if you allow it. I have a very loud, battery operated fan that serves as a wonderful noise maker in addition to keeping me cool, however. Let it thump away. (The secret of sleeping through the desert heat, BTW, is to wear a wet T-shirt and let evaporation do its thing. It also works for daytime naps. The fan speeds up the evaporation and makes it cooler.)

I thought that this mutant vehicle was an excellent example of what a Burner might look like after partying straight for seven days!

Always one of my favorite mutant vehicles, this large dragon was back again in 2017. Large speakers and industrial strength music guaranteed that people would be dancing around it whenever it stopped. Dancing is a 24/7 activity.

For those who wanted a slightly more challenging form of exercise, there was a marathon. Here a runner gets a high-five as he runs under the Man.

For the first time ever this year, the Man was enclosed in a structure.

Dozens of classes are offered for those who want to learn something new. They range from the ecology of the Black Rock Desert to sensuous massage: BYOM. (Bring your own mate.) You can also take a class in bondage. I’m normally too busy to be tied up for an hour, however. (grin) Many classes come with an Eastern/New Age twist such as meditation and Yoga: BYOM applies here as well. (Bring your own mat.)

Camp Mystic offers ongoing classes in Eastern thought.

There is entertainment galore. Twirling fire is big at Burning Man. As is creating magic with hula hoops. If you want to see something truly sensuous, watch a talented hula hooper. The Center Camp Café always has something going on, both planned and impromptu. One moment you might be listening to a lecture on physics and the next surrounded by several hundred large rabbits, or at least people wearing rabbit ears. But you can be anywhere in Black Rock City or out in the Playa and find entertainment.

The Center Camp Cafe is always a center of activity at Burning Man. This year it was set off by a rainbow arch.

A story teller and a violinist were performing under the green tree shown above.The story teller was reciting a love story that could have come right out of Scheherazade. She would tell a part of the story in what I thought was Arabic or Persian and then translate it into English, accompanied by the violin.

People watching is always big. Some folks develop elaborate costumes and almost everyone makes some effort to look different, even if it’s only putting on a tie-dye T-shirt. Scantily clad is a Burning Man trademark. While total nudity is rare, topless is not uncommon, for women as well as men.  I think of it as eye-candy. Staring is rude but appreciative glances are okay. You’d have to wear blinders not to notice and be a robot to not enjoy the views.

A costumed trio lines up for a photo at the Temple of Flowers.

A major reason people give for going to Burning Man is to share the experience with friends. Over the years I’ve always been accompanied by folks who are close to me, people who have joined me on backpacking and bicycling adventures as well as in fighting for environmental and health related causes. Some of them have been friends for decades. This year was an exception. Only one, Don Green, could make the event, and he bailed on Wednesday, the day I was driving in from Oregon. I was left alone. Not that I am overly worried about being alone. Remember I took off backpacking on two wilderness trips this summer by myself. Still, it felt a bit strange. Fortunately, a group from Nevada City, California camped next to my van and befriended me.

My Nevada City friends: Blaine, Ashley, Baley and Miriam.

“Curt, you have to join us for dinner,” Baley insisted. “We have way more food than we can possibly eat.” Blaine had already stuffed me with watermelon in the morning. Miriam had shown up with fresh pineapple and cookies in the afternoon and stayed to chat for an hour. Both her parents were Italian but she had been raised in Tahiti and Fiji. Now she was living in Brazil. She’d come to the US to trim marijuana buds for Blaine, who is a pot grower— a now legitimate profession in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. (Half of the traditional farmers along our road in the Applegate Valley have added marijuana as a crop, including the guy who had a large Trump sign on his property.)

They were cooking up a batch of ribs, tri-tip and sausages. Given that I had a hotdog waiting for me in the van, I quickly joined them! “You need to eat salad, too,” Ashley admonished me. She wanted to assure Peggy that I was eating my veggies in her absence. I gave each one a copy of my book on my Peace Corps experience in Africa as a thank you.

A final photo: The women line up with me next to my van.







46 thoughts on “I’ve Been Through the Desert on a Horse with No Name… Burning Man 2017: Part 2

  1. You might have only had 3 days but it sounds like a pretty special 3 days. BM as usual astounds and amazes. This is a great set of photos – probably the closest I’ll get to seeing the real thing. I am gob-smacked by the tree!
    How do you power the fan and other things? I did the same trick on hot nights in Oz before the time AC became de rigeur in suburban homes.

    • D batteries, Alison. I carry lots of them. 🙂
      My van has air-conditioning if I want to use the generator. But it tends to suck in some of the dust.
      I kept very busy the whole time, Alison! I was even out riding around for four hours one night! But the night photos were worth it.
      Usually I tried to limit my daytime forays from early morning to around noon when the dust starts kicking up. I’d use my afternoons for reading, napping and visiting with my neighbors. –Curt

    • Nah… 🙂 The Nevada City people were good folks. “Just how old are you, Curt?” they wanted to know. One said, “You are just like my favorite uncle.” Seeing me alone out there, several people invited me over. It’s not at all uncommon at Burning Man. And there are always hugs to go around. 🙂 –Curt

  2. That final picture sorta says it all: you make friends everywhere you go! And what a place to go! I’d love seeing Burning Man through your eyes — from the statues to the mutant vehicles to the people dressed in various garb. You’ve got it all. Now, how’re ya gonna pipe in that thump, thump, thump music in your blog?

    • Thanks, Rusha. Making friends at Burning Man is always easy to do.
      I need to go out and do videos of some of the music venues, Rusha. 🙂 Actually, I do capture some but the quality isn’t usually up to snuff. I do have a mutant vehicle video that I am going to post this time that I think is a lot of fun. –Curt

  3. Peggy must have been reassured when she learned how well fed and taken care of you’ve been 🙂
    Your new friends seem really cool. Glad you had so much fun.
    Also I LOVE the song you use for your blog post’s title. Since it’s a slow song I managed to copy the lyrics and could sing it when I lived in France.

    • I talked with Peggy each night on the phone (a first for Burning Man since there hasn’t been much of a signal, if any, in the past.) She was the one that insisted I give the Nevada City crew my books as a thank you.
      Fun to learn you sang the song in France. It climbed into my memory banks the first time I heard it. Apparently it did quite well in Europe. –Curt

  4. Haha I Join in the remarks about that last photo. Looks like you have some fans! As I have said before I do enjoy these glimpses into Burning Man. The horse with no name cracks me up. I think I want one for my bike.

    • Laughing. I was their ‘grandfather’ image, Sue. The ‘horses’ really do work with helping us to find our bikes. If you’ve ever ‘misplaced’ your car in a parking lot, imagine misplacing your bike among a thousand or so other bikes, or tens of thousands on the night of the burn. 🙂 –Curt

    • Noise makers, I’m convinced Andrew, are one of the world’s greatest inventions. I never leave home without one. 🙂 Once a noise, even a small one, enters my brain, it is there to stay. I’m fortunate to live in a very quiet area. Other than a deer thumping its way across our deck on occasion and a few cars passing at night, there is almost no noise. I’m spoiled. –Curt

      • We live on a busy road and I am used to traffic noise, the only time I notice it is if I wake in the night and there is none. The silence is deafening. Moving house soon to somewhere a little less busy.

      • When we travel in our van, campgrounds are often near major freeways, or railroad tracks. I can block out traffic noise, Andrew, but a train whistling in the night next to our camp… No way.

  5. I have a friend in Oklahoma who named her old pickup The Horse With No Name. Her desert was more metaphorical, but still… I love that tree even more now that I’ve contemplated it for a couple of more days. I suppose the fact that I like the tree and the distant mountains in the first photo the best says something about my own preferences, but I’m surely glad you enjoyed your trip — and I’m especially glad to read that those Level 1,2, and 3 warnings are down.

  6. Curt, I’ve read this slowly, savouring yours words and photos…trying to imagine the experience! Some of the statues are colossal and I love the fake tree and the dragon! The atmosphere must be electric – and that’s without the music! My son is into DJ music and I know he would so enjoy this line-up (I’ll show him when he’s back from his first day of work!!) What a lovely group to include you in their fold and try to feed you healthily! You all look like you’re having a great time…brilliant post of a most surreal quais-apocalyptic festival -I feel I want to join in with some dancing!! 😀😀

    • Electric is a good word, Annika. It can be almost magical. And is, if you allow it. The only way to truly experience is to go. And this isn’t to say that Burning Man doesn’t have a darker side, all the drugs and alcohol that some people choose to imbibe almost guarantees it. But for me, the experience has been so positive that it has drawn me back again and again. The kindness of the Nevada City group is a good example. –Curt

  7. I’ve never understood the attraction to Burning Man. I lived in the SF bay area for several decades, and the people I knew who attended were young and had no responsibilities. Once they matured, at Burning Man time they’d look in the far distance with desire on their faces, but the inability to return because of having kids now, etc. Your post gave me an entirely different perspective of Burning Man. Sounds enticing and entertaining and fascinating.

    • One of the interesting things about Burning Man this year, Pamela, was that I saw more families than I ever have before, including a number of young children. It felt strange to be riding across the Playa at night and hear “Mommy!” My thought was that the parents had been going for several years before they had children and truly wanted their kids to experience the event. Would I take my grandkids there? Don’t think so. But it would be something like they had never experienced before. And they would never forget it. Maybe with really great parenting skills…
      As for the event, it is many things. There are many parts of it I have no desire to experience, but I don’t have to. I love the art and find the whole thing a bit magical. Thanks for commenting. –Curt

      • Wouldn’t that be funny if the burning man event ended up being a family affair? I know in the very beginning it began as going”against the man’ (as in corporate wealthy man). Now-I’m told-it’s not cheap to get a ticket to go and most poor people would not be able to afford it. Go figure. 😉 But I do love the magical part of it. But I also would not ever bring my grandchildren!

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