Being ‘out on the edge’ at Black Rock City can mean many things. For example, you might take a class in quantum theory. There are a number of serious scientists at Burning Man and they are eager to share their knowledge, to introduce you to the world of Schrodinger’s cat and ‘spooky action at a distance,’ as Einstein described quantum entanglement. Science doesn’t get much edgier.
But I mean ‘being on the edge’ literally. I am talking about the far-out border of Burning Man where only a plastic fence separates you from the seemingly infinite desert, out where the pounding beat of industrial music and crowds are a distant memory, out where the buffalo roam. Except I’ve never found any buffalo. I have, however, discovered many weird things over the years ranging from bizarre cats to strange aliens. Heading out there is a must for me. And Horse with No Name is always raring to go. “Clippity clop, clippity clop, neigh, neigh, snort, snort!” (Remember, that’s the sound he makes when you pinch his ear.)
This year, I found the amusing border sign I placed at the top of this post, the gorgeous Flower Tower, a giant Victrola, a speak-easy/den of inequity, and range cattle— the latter two are something you expect to find in rural Nevada. But first, the sign. I was assuming I’d find a fair amount of Anti-Trump stuff at Burning Man. It isn’t like a lot of the President’s supporters attend the event. But the sign was the only thing I saw. (Admittedly, I missed a lot of Burning Man.) I speculated that, one, Burners were trying to escape from the world of pro and anti-Trump with its endless media barrage, or, two, BMORG wasn’t eager to twist any tails in Washington due to the fact that the event is held on federal property. Permits are always iffy at best, even though the organization pays dearly for the privilege of using the land.
I do think Washington could learn a lesson from the fence, however. Nobody, but nobody gets in or out. It appears to be much more effective than anything the US has built or might spend billions on building along the US/Mexico border. I crossed over it once as a test. Within seconds, a BMORG vehicle was charging down on me. I quickly retreated and was long gone when the vehicle arrived. Horse with No Name can run really fast with the proper motivation. Maybe the President should hire Burning Man to run his border security…
Now, on to the den of inequity. Boy, doesn’t that sound biblical? Bordello, brothel, and cat house seem a lot less damning. And who can forget The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas? Prostitution, as you may know, is legal in Nevada. There are several brothels found out on the state’s lonely highways. Peggy and I have passed by most of them on our jaunts through Nevada. One of the most famous, the Mustang Ranch, is located just outside of Reno on I-80. Thousands of Burners go by it annually. If you know where to look, you can see the trailers lined up— and a large parking lot. I first heard of the Ranch back in the 70s when Joe Conforte, its owner at the time, was a leading Reno businessman. He was serving as chair of the city’s annual Valentine’s Day Ball, which was dedicated to raising funds to fight heart disease. As I recall, the Heart Association got a bit embarrassed over that one. Conforte fled to Brazil in 1991, barely escaping ahead of the G-men. He never did like paying taxes.
The Black Rock Blind Tiger’s rickety speak-easy/brothel at Burning Man was located next to the fence. A group out of Austin, Texas was responsible for building it. When I stopped by, Burners were charging around looking for clues that were supposed to give them entrance to the Prohibition era speak-easy. I was reminded of the Ella Fitzgerald song, Hernando’s Hideaway. “Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe.”
As for the “Playful Pussy Tiger House,” it was closed. What else could the Madame expect? You are not allowed to sell anything at Burning Man. It’s a gifting economy. I wandered around and took photos. I even managed to persuade a Burner to pose for me in a large bathtub.
Enough on the shady side of the fence, however. Let’s move from the sinful to the sublime, from our slightly titillated look at the world’s oldest profession to the lovely Flower Tower. I featured a photo in Part 2 of this series. The Tower is another creation from the incredibly fertile imagination of Kevin Clark and his talented group of artists at Reared in Steel located in Petaluma, California. Two of the groups earlier Burning Man works— Redemption Rhino and Medusa— are among my all-time favorite art pieces at the event.
The Flower Tower was described as a cathedral devoted to happiness. Reaching 70-feet into the air, it was covered with thousands of colorful metal flowers, each made by hand and each unique. Like so much Burning Man art, it looked quite different at night than it did during the day. It was even supposed to shoot flames out from its steeple at night, but I missed that.
I grew up in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Our house had a basement, sort of. It was more like a crawl space with a dirt floor. It served as our attic, however, and was filled with ‘treasures.’ And black widows. More than once I imagined one crawling up my leg and charged out, ripping my pants off as I went. This story isn’t about the scary spiders and naked little boys, however, it’s about a Victrola phonograph we found there that came with a horn for a speaker and records that were etched on cylinders. It was an antique even in the 40s. I suspect it had been my mother’s when she had been a teenager. I’d love to have it now.
So, it was fun for me find the large Victrola out in the Far-Playa with its magnificent horn. The 30-foot tall structure was made of wood and steel by artists at the American Steel Studios in Oakland. And the music was marvelous… straight out of the early 1900s: blue grass, country, jazz and blues. I could picture my mother twirling away. Once again, I was reminded of the creativity of Burning Man artists. I was also reminded of a different era, back before music was digital, back before you could fit a thousand songs on the I-pod that I am listening to now with its Blue-tooth Bose speakers. John Coltrane and his jazzy Blue Train is helping me write.
Some Nevada ranchers consider it a God-given right to run their cattle on public lands, for free. Just ask Clive Bundy, who had an armed standoff with federal agents over the government’s expectations that he would pay the $1 million in back fees he owed for running his cattle on BLM lands for 17 years. You and I subsidize his profits with our taxes. Be that as it may, I expect to find cattle chowing down on public land. I found them up in the Sierras when I was backpacking this summer and I found them on the open range when I was driving from Cedarville to Gerlach on my way to Burning Man. I didn’t however, expect to find them out on the Playa. I’ll conclude today’s post with a couple of photos of the Sierra and Black Rock City bovines.
NEXT POST: In my effort to keep you entertained and provide variety, I’ll introduce you to some of this year’s mutant vehicles where rapid transit becomes rabid transit. Stay tuned.
37 thoughts on “On the Far-Out Edge of Black Rock City… Burning Man 2017: Part 5”
thanks for the mind expanding post, curt
Glad you enjoyed it Michael. You never know what you are going to find at Burning Man, but it is never boring. –Curt
Medusa is splendid. They all take on a whole other look and feel by night.
It almost feels like two different worlds, AC. I took more night photos this time so I will be featuring quite a few. –Curt
Wow – great! Thank you for bringing these images to our attention 🙂
Thanks, Lana. I always enjoy sharing the great art and creativity that you find at Burning Man. It’s why I keep going back! –Curt
That fence is probably about all Mexico can afford – despite all our turista money being spent there. The Flower Tower is utterly remarkable at night and of course I adore the shady side of town – too bad those prohibition G-men closed the place down!! 🙂
I was thinking, half way seriously, G, if you could take the money that is being proposed for the fence and use it to pay people to monitor the border like Burning Man monitors its fence, you could hire a heck of a lot of out of work people ! The Tower was beautiful. I was really sorry I didn’t get to see it shooting off fire from the steeple. Wait until you see the mutant vehicle that was shooting off flames next to it, however. The speak easy/bordello was really well done. I laughed at the Prohibition sign… Not to likely at Burning Man! Thanks. –Curt
You KNOW I’ve got Burning Man on my bucket list!!
Curt I find myself speechless after your Burning Man posts. Sort of open mouthed and gaping about going what the ….? The Mexican sign cracked me up. Impressive security obviously but truthfully who would want to wander out into the middle of nowhere. Glad Horse with No Name can bolt like lightening.
He’s a good horse… 🙂 Good question about who would wander out into the middle of nowhere, Sue. There have been times when I have been caught in a close to zero visibility dust storm that I’ve been very glad the fence is there! Coming in is a different story. I suspect lots of folks would like to get around the $500 to $1000 tickets if there were a convenient way… –Curt
Nice touch at the end with cows in the shade of trees and with green grasses. Great post again, Curt.
Thanks, Gerard. And you bet I could hear the bells on those cattle at night, every night! The bells are actually different, and I’ve read that the cowboys learn to recognize the specific cattle by the sound. Thanks. –Curt
Thanks so much for taking me to Burning Man. Love the fence. The Flower Tower reminds me of Sagrada Familia.
My pleasure, Peggy. And I think the folks from Petaluma would love the comparison. –Curt
Ha ha the fence 🙂 Cheap and efficient.
The piano in the desert is really cool. And the history of the Nevada’s brothels reminds me of what my husband told me as he drove back from Massachusetts to California in the aftermaths of 9/11. He had been driving through pitch-dark Utah and was very sleepy when suddenly he spotted lights in the distance. These lights, he said, were like a mirage since they seemed close but yet unreachable. Until he understood it was Las Vegas. After stern cranberry-juiced Utah it felt like paradise to him. Together on the lonely Nevada highways we’ve also spotted the low-key trailers and jaunts with their evocative names.
We don’t have a Victrola phonograph at home but I wish since these phonographs are gorgeous. We have a very old record player built from scratch by my husband’s grandfather and integrated in a nice piece of furniture. We also have several of his radios, also built by himself. They take a little bit of space but are lovely and make for instant conversation whenever someone stops by.
I bet all your stories about Burning Man create even bigger interest.
What a neat story about your husband’s grandfather, Evelyne. The record player and radios would be real treasures. It’s great you have them.
As for Las Vegas, it’s the very definition of ‘the bright lights of the city.’ Even in the old days. And given that there is nothing, but nothing around (if you don’t count military installations and possibly a UFO or two (grin)), there are no other lights. On a moonless night it is close to black. The ‘Houses’ along the road do provide for an amusing break. I have always loved the solitude of the desert and the dramatic landscapes, however.
Sometimes I’ve found these familial treasures a bit too present, but I grew to love them and I’ve always found a place for them wherever we’ve lived.
Vegas is not my favorite place to be, but I absolutely find beauty in the desolation of the desert. These abandoned cars and broken trailers, structures that were once homes to someone, and the Houses along the empty roads have stories to tell, for sure.
Vegas isn’t for everyone. Neither is the isolation of the desert. 🙂 But I’m with you in loving the desolation and the beauty of the desert, and in always being curious about the stories behind the old, abandoned structures. –Curt
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Love the flower tower at night. Love the victrola. Love the playa cows. And the penny bears in the last post. Thanks for keeping us, ahem, posted, on the latest at BM.
It’s important to keep up to date! (grin) Thanks as always for following along, Alison. –Curt
I especially like the Medusa. In the UK there is a city called Milton Keynes which is ‘sort of’ famous for concrete cows – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete_Cows.
In Spain prostitutes make a pitch by the side of the road, my grandchildren asked what they were doing so we made up a story and told them they were selling strawberries!
Concrete cows sound fun. I’ve been several places where colorful cow sculptures are featured, Andrew. Someday, your grandchildren will laugh about the strawberries! 🙂 –Curt
I laughed when they asked if we could stop to buy some. I promised them an ice cream instead!
When all else fails, divert!
What an awesome post! Love your burning spirit, Curt. Maybe I’ll see you there someday!
Would be nice, Kelly. Maybe we should do a camp for travel bloggers. Wonder if WP would sponsor us? –Curt
Captures the creativity, Curt … if you’ll forgive the alliteration!
Alliteration is good! Thanks, Dave. –Curt
Wow, Curt. These pictures and these descriptions have convinced me that I need to go to Burning Man — at least once in my life. Soon, too. (In case I want to go several times.) 😉
Good! It’s a life experience for sure… –Curt
Curt, I never fail to get wowed by the creative works on show! 😀 The Victrola is beautiful and my favourite here and touching to read about your mother. What happens to all these afterwards? Interesting that it is a giving only event…hard to imagine! Wow, I’m impressed with the guards on the fence and the speed they reached you…definitely a lesson there!
More and more Burning Man art is showing up in communities and even in museums. Some is meant to be burned at the site.
The only things you can buy are coffee and tea at the Center Camp Cafe, ice, and RV pumping services. You are required to be self sufficient, and people are always handing you things for free, from drinks to jewelry.
Yeah, Annika, like don’t climb over the fence. 🙂 –Curt
More great sights and sites at Burning Man! I’m impressed at the infinite creativity. And the people — like the man playing the piano just out in the desert!!! Also, pretty wowed by the creatures — Redemption Rhino, Medusa, even the little no-name cows covered in Playa Dust. A feast for the eyes, for sure.
There is unending variety. I ride around on my bike in awe. Never know what will be next, Rusha. 🙂 Many artists come back each year with new works, however, and I am beginning to recognize their styles. –Curt