The Beautiful Temples of Black Rock City… A Burning Man Experience

This is the Temple of Promise from Burning Man 2015, a simple and beautiful structure designed to capture the early morning sun.


This is the second in my series of introducing new followers to the type of posts they can expect to find on my blog. Since I’ve been going to Burning Man since 2004, there are numerous posts on the annual event that takes place annually in the Nevada desert. Over the years, my primary focus has been on the art, but I touch on all aspects of the event. Here, I take a look at the beautiful temples that are built each year and then burned at the end of the event. If you would like to see more of my posts on this unique extravaganza, go to mu Burning Man category on the right, click on it, and scroll down. Enjoy!

Census figures from Burning Man show that 71% of the participants claim to have no formal religious affiliation. Given this, it might seem strange that a temple is one of the major structures built in Black Rock City each year. But there is another factor at work here; over 50% of Burners claim that they are spiritual. While they may not adhere to any particular religious doctrine, they believe that they are part of a whole that is beyond any individual’s existence. Or, at least, that’s how I interpret being spiritual. It’s how I feel.

Whatever Burners believe, there is no doubt that visiting the temple can be a spiritual experience. In addition to being a place of beauty, as I hope the photos in this post show, the Temple is a place where 10,000’s of messages are left honoring loved ones who have passed on, asking forgiveness and expressing thanks. At the end of the week, the Temple is burned and the messages drift off into the air or, the Heavens if you prefer, giving a sense of peace to those who have left them.

Part of a larger structure, this temple was built in 2007 and was known as the Temple of Forgiveness.

This was the 2008 Temple. (Photo by Ken Lake.)

The curving wood on top of the Fire of Fires Temple reflected flames shooting into the sky. Note the intricate detail on the side panels.

A close up.

The Fire of Fires Temple at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

The Temple of Flux represented the constant change we experience in life. It can be seen as waves or as sand dunes. This photo was taken from the Man. The Center Camp Cafe, the Man, and the Temple are always in a direct line. The buildings on the other side represented a city.

Tom likes to get up early in the morning for his photography. He captured this photo of the Temple of Juno at sunrise. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Here’s another. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

A later photo by me showing detail of the Temple of Juno.

The Temple of Whollyness resembled a Pyramid.

This large stone structure was inside the Temple of Whollyness.

The Temple of Grace was built for the 2014 Burning Man.

I liked this shot I caught of its spire under butter milk skies.

The Temple of Grace at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

Another photo of the Temple of Promise. I had taken Tom’s advice and rolled out early to capture these photos.

As the sun came up, Burners grabbed each other’s hands and formed a large circle around the Temple. The act was totally spontaneous.

A black and white I created.

Inside the Temple.

As I mentioned, thousands of messages are placed on the walls. By Saturday, there is little room to write on left within reach.

I found this message left behind honoring Uno Hogan quite touching. I think you will as well. It is quite typical of messages found in the temple.

And this message humorous but sincerely meant!

The Temples are always burned on Sunday night, the last night at Burning Man, in a solemn and moving ceremony with the thousands of messages sent skyward. This is the Temple of Juno.

A note on the photographers: All photos that I include in the Burning Man blogs are taken by Peggy, me, or members of the Horse Bone Tribe— all close friends who have traveled and adventured with us down through the years.


Monday: Back to Bandon on the coast of Oregon.

Wednesday: I begin my story of how Bone was found.

Friday: I continue my exploration of the unique and beautiful structures at Burning Man.


32 thoughts on “The Beautiful Temples of Black Rock City… A Burning Man Experience

  1. I love the idea of messages being left there to honor loved ones who’ve passed. I can see why it would have such a spiritual feel to it.

    On a side note, did I hear the Burning Man site is under water? I thought I read something recently to that effect.

    • It’s special.
      You are right on the “lake,” Carrie. There was a photo of someone kayaking out on the Playa! I assume it will dry out. Once it was a huge inland sea, however. Maybe global warming will return it to its natural state. 🙂 –Curt

  2. Amazing structures. Really wonderful images.
    “While they may not adhere to any particular religious doctrine, they believe that they are part of a whole that is beyond any individual’s existence. Or, at least, that’s how I interpret being spiritual. It’s how I feel.”
    Yes, I completely relate.

    • I would put it more in the category of groups like the Mardi Gras crewe, Ray. Several of then were designed by David Best. A number of people volunteer to work on them year after year. People can sign up to help. More volunteers are always needed. –Curt

  3. I think the temples are my favourite of all the structures at BM. And of the temples my favourites are the Temple of Promise, and the Fire of Fires Temple. Your photos are wonderful Curt, especially those of the Temple of Promise.

  4. Wonderful images, as ever, and your description of spirituality takes some beating … ‘While they may not adhere to any particular religious doctrine, they believe that they are part of a whole that is beyond any individual’s existence.’ Why go for ‘off the peg’ when you can get ‘bespoke’ … ?

    • Me too, Gerard. The event has encouraged a burst of creative energy that has benefited the art world considerably. I am excited to return this year and see what’s new. –Curt

  5. Oh my gosh. These sculptures are breathtaking! They really stir something in me about the connection between humans and their surroundings. I have got to go to Burning Man one of these years. Though to be honest, I am enjoying it just as much vicariously through your posts as I might there.

    • While the temples would be unique and beautiful anywhere, Juliann, the desert backdrop definitely helps them stand out, as it does the other art at Burning Man.
      I’m pleased that my posts on the event give a feel for what it is like, but they can never match being there. 🙂 –Curt

  6. I zoomed in to the messages photo, so that I could take a closer look and read some of them. One message was a person’s lament about being terrified, and there were other messages scrawled around it. I assume they are messages of support and encouragement. People on this earth are good, and bad, and complex and simple and devious and generous and kind. Your post strengthens my determination to believe that the beauty of humanity outweighs the ugliness.

    And poor Uno, so loved. His friends’ messages made me cry. A fitting way to say goodbye, I think, to mix his ashes with the rest and spread them across the playa.

    • It would be easy to make a book out of the messages. Getting permission might be a different issue. I think the Temples represent some of the best instincts of humanity, Crystal. And I want to imagine that the spirit of Uno purred when he read the message. –Curt

  7. These temples are astonishing — so much work only to be up in flames in a matter of days, I guess. I like Tom’s early-morning perspectives. But all these are remarkable for various reasons. Who constructs these? Is it the organizers of Burning Man? Individual benefactors? Corporations? This takes a lot of thought and probably money.

    • There is a ‘Temple crew’ of dedicated volunteers that work on the temples, Rusha. Architects, carpenters, structural engineers, and lots of folks who step up to do the grunt work are responsible for building. Funding comes from multiple sources but I think that Burning Man puts in a sizable chunk of the funding. –Curt

  8. Amazing photos! The temples are huge, but at the same time so intricate and beautiful. It is a bit pity that they have to burn down such pieces of art at the end of the festival 🙂

    • Thanks, Len. The temples are beautiful. Burning them down seems sad but is an important ceremony given the messages that people leave. Actually it is quite beautiful, not rowdy like burning the Man down. –Curt

  9. Curt, I’ve loved reading your Burning Man posts over the years and this is a fascinating study of one element of the occasion, the temple. It’s interesting to see the variety, ingenuity, beauty of them all. I’m touched both by the notes left inside and the spontaneous holding of hands. A great post and fantastic photos … they give a real sense of the event … the closest I’ll ever get!

  10. Curt as you know your Burning Man posts are a favorite with me.Fascinating to see the temple over the years. Can I ask who builds the temple each year? The details especially in some is extraordinary. I can imagine the spiritual experience of those bringing messages to be sent upward. Very powerful.

    • Different people take responsibility for the temples, Sue, with three or more major architect/builders. A crew of volunteers work each year on putting the temple up, and many of these people work on the temple year after year. –Curt

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