DMV… Burning Man’s Department of Mutant Vehicles: Part 2

One of Burning Man's more unique mutant vehicles from my perspective is this traveling eye.

One of Burning Man’s more unique mutant vehicles from my perspective is this traveling eye. The only thing remotely like a normal vehicle are the tires peeking out from below. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

 

“A Mutant Vehicle is a unique, motorized creation that shows little or no resemblance to their original form, or to any standard street vehicle. Mutant Vehicles are radically, stunningly, (usually) permanently, and safely modified from their base vehicle. Sometimes the whole vehicle is made from scratch.

Mutant Vehicles may include such non-standard motorized forms such as furniture, other non-street vehicles such as a boat or train, animals, or just about anything imaginable.” —Taken from Burning Man’s website.

 

Eye of mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

The eye up close, checking you out! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Animals are a favorite theme for mutant vehicles. This polar bear would have fit right in on Valentines Day.

Animals are a favorite theme for mutant vehicles. This polar bear would have fit right in on Valentines Day. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Polar Bear mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

A side view of the friendly polar bear. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Burning Man takes its mutant vehicles seriously— partially because they are an integral part of the Burning Man experience and partially because safety is a critical issue.  These often-large vehicles must maneuver through and around thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians both during the day and at night.

The permitting process is extensive. To start with, both government agencies and Burning Man place limits on the number of mutant vehicles. Far more people want to bring vehicles than can be accommodated. Participants must meet stringent requirements to bring their creations to Black Rock City. (Go here to learn about requirements.)

The Department of Mutant vehicles is responsible for overseeing the permitting, inspection and operation of Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man.

The Department of Mutant Vehicles is responsible for overseeing the permitting, inspection and operation of Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man.

Headquarters for the Deparment of Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man.

Headquarters! All mutant vehicles must stop here to pick up their licenses to operate at Burning Man and have a safety inspection.

The first requirement is that the vehicle must in no way resemble the initial car, truck, golf cart, etc. (Boats seem to be an exception, but hey, they are ‘floating’ across the desert.) Beyond this, the organization states, “the mutation should aim to provide a level of ‘radical visual stimuli’ or ‘wow factor’ for the other participants of Black Rock City.”

A covered wagon mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

A covered wagon had us running for our cameras. I’d say that there was a ‘wow’ factor.

Conestoga Wagon mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

Another view. The Black Rock Desert would have seen similar vehicles (albeit smaller and attached to oxen) in the 1860s along the Applegate cutoff to the Oregon Trail that ran through the area. This photo was taken in front to our camp.

Cat car mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

The cat car is another perennial favorite of mine at Burning Man that has a definite ‘wow’ factor.

A side view of the cat car mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

A side view. It takes a lot of guts to have pure white upholstery at Burning Man!

Close up of head of cat car mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

And a close up of the kitty’s head.

Interactivity is also considered critical. Giving rides to Burners and providing entertainment are two ways of accomplishing this. For example, one year I saw a fire-breathing mutant vehicle that featured an opera singer standing on top. When she hit her high notes, the vehicle would send flames shooting into the air.

Safety involves many of the things you would expect including good brakes and safe accommodations for passengers. Think of 40 people (some who have spent a fair amount of time visiting Burning Man’s free bars) dancing on top of a vehicle as it drives through the desert night. Falling off is a real possibility. Railings are critical.

Orange bus mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

There are serious railings on this orange bus mutant vehicle. Note the intricate carving of the wood.

Orange mutant vehicle bus side view.

A side view of the bus. I suspect one would land with quite a bump coming off the slide.

Mutant vehicle with beak at Burning Man.

This guy with his boxer-beak and tail feathers also has a well-built railing.

Tail feathers on a mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

The tail feathers.

Vehicles that want to travel at night must have adequate lighting on all sides of the vehicle. But the requirements go further. Lighting is also expected to contribute to the “wow” factor. Many mutant vehicles are more spectacular at night than they are during the day. One of my all-time favorites is a large, travelling vase.

Mutant vehicle that looks like a vase at Burning Man.

This large vase mutant vehicle normally lives in camp during the day.

Vase mutant vehicle at Burning Man with mountain backdrop.

Another day-time shot. This one with a mountain backdrop.

The mutant vehicle vase at night. This was on the night when the Man is burned and vehicles form a large circle around the Man.

The vase at night. Mutant vehicles form a large circle around the Man on Saturday night when he is burned. The flower is part of another mutant vehicle.

Vase mutant vehicle lit up at night at Burning Man.

A different views with different colors.

I caught this shot as the vase left a wedding in Black Rock City we had attended.

I caught this shot as the vase left a wedding in Black Rock City.

As you might imagine, vehicles that feature fire art and shoot flames into the air, must also meet strict requirements. The types of tanks, fuel lines, daily safety checks, and emergency shut off valves are all included. But the effort is worth the extra care when you consider the results. Imagine meeting up with El Pulpo Mechanico as it roams across the playa with all eight arms flaming.

El Pulpo Mechanical as he flames his way through the Burning Man night.

El Pulpo Mechanical as he flames his way through the Burning Man night.

Burning Man mutant vehicle designed to shoot flames into the air.

The ‘weapon’ on top of this Mad-Max look-a-like shoots flames as well.

Dragon head on mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

A front view…

Close up of dragon headed mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

And a close up.

And finally, there are sound requirements. Nothing is more irritating than a mutant vehicle with humongous speakers making its way through your neighborhood in Black Rock City while blasting out music at 2:00 AM. Burning Man notes that there has been an “increase in the number of vehicles with sound systems that would normally be designed for an arena or stadium.” No kidding. Having those systems pointing at you is like deaf city. Fortunately, the loudest systems tend to be restricted to the outer areas of the city where Burners can go deaf to their hearts-content.

Check out the number of speakers on this mutant vehicle. They are the reason it is assigned a position way out at the edge of Black Rock City in the Playa.

Check out the number of speakers on this mutant vehicle! They are the reason it is assigned a position way out at the edge of Black Rock City in the Playa. There is almost always a crowd of people dancing around and on this vehicle, including up on the heart.

And just for fun, I will close today with this googly-eyed, low-tech frog.

Frog mutant vehicle at Burning Man.

 

NEXT BLOGS:

Monday: The airplane that crash landed on the Hudson River in New York City.

Wednesday: The Sierra Trek— Our second day included a sixteen mile hike without any water sources, a lost trekker, and a huge timber rattlesnake that insisted on blocking the trail.

Friday: More Burning Man mutant vehicles including El Pulpo Mechanico and a huge Rhino that would send his African counterparts scurrying for cover.

Where Dragons Still Rule the Earth… Burning Man

 

The mutant vehicles of Burning Man, such as this green dragon, are marvelous creatures of the imagination.

The mutant vehicles of Burning Man, such as this green dragon, are marvelous creatures of the imagination.

Blogging about mutant vehicles at Burning Man is always fun for me. Each year brings a new crop of these marvelous creatures, as well as old favorites. How can you not love dragons and cats and fish and ships and trains and planes and tennis shoes and Mad Max vehicles as they make their way back and forth across the Playa— blasting out music on occasion, and at other times blasting out fire.

Here’s the thing: you are not allowed to drive a regular vehicle in Black Rock City or out on the Playa. You can drive to your camp when you arrive at Burning Man and out when you leave. Beyond that you have to get creative and build a vehicle that doesn’t look like one. And you have to get a license. The Department of Mutant Vehicles, DMV, is waiting for you… and hundreds of other Burners who have built the creatures of their dreams or nightmares. Is your vehicle weird enough? Is it safe? If the answer is yes, are you turned loose to wander. Thousands of people are eager to see what you have created.

The Department of Mutant Vehicles processes hundreds of vehicles each year that are applying for the right to be driven on the Playa and in Black Rock City.

The Department of Mutant Vehicles processes hundreds of vehicles each year that are applying for the right to be driven on the Playa and in Black Rock City. It isn’t unusual to see a dozen or more lined up out side of this building waiting to be processed. I wonder if LA County is missing its sign?

Mutant vehicles or art cars come in all sizes as well as shapes. Some will barely accommodate two people while others may accommodate 50. Most big ones are built by camps and provide transportation for their members. (The rule is, however, that anyone can hitch a ride.) They also provide a convenient viewing platform for special events, such as the Piano Toss, or a dance floor for anytime/anywhere. I once watched one crawl by in a whiteout with riders gyrating like the end of the world had arrived. I could barely see them 50 feet away. It could have been a scene from Dante’s Hell.

This vehicle provides one of Burning Man's popular dance venues and can usually be found parked at the same place on the Playa. Check out the speakers.

This vehicle provides one of Burning Man’s popular dance venues and can usually be found parked at the same place on the Playa. Check out the speakers.

El Pulpo Mechanico looms up in the air and provides a viewing platform. Here Burners were waiting for a piano to be tossed.

El Pulpo Mechanico looms up in the air and provides a viewing platform above the crowd of Burners who were waiting for a piano to be tossed. (More on that in another post.)

I decided to do two or three posts on mutant vehicles. There are simply too many to feature in one. Today I am going to focus on fire-breathing, magical dragons. Aren’t they all? I think it has to do with their genetic make up. There have always been dragons at Burning Man— at least since I started going in 2004. They deserve their own post.

The green dragon provided a ride out to admire R-Evolution and other art pieces on the Playa.

The green dragon provided a ride out to admire R-Evolution and other art pieces on the Playa.

A heads up view of the dragon.

A heads up view of the dragon.

How to rein in your dragon...

How to rein in your dragon… Chains are used to raise and lower the dragon’s head.

Staring off into space.

Staring off into space.

Back view of dragon shows entry and how bikes are carried.

Back view of dragon shows entry and how bikes are carried.

The dragon on the left is named Abraxas, I believe. It has been to Burning Man several times. This year it showed up with a baby!

The dragon on the left is named Abraxas, I believe. It has been to Burning Man several times. This year it showed up with a baby!

Most of the larger mutant vehicles carry sound systems. Stopping is an excuse to dance. Partners are not needed.

Most of the larger mutant vehicles carry sound systems. Stopping is an excuse to dance. Partners are not needed.

The proud mama with her kid.

The proud mama with her kid.

Off they go.

Lined up to take off. The structure on the right was used in the Piano Toss. (Photo by Don Green.)

A final head shot of Abraxas. The tube coming out of her mouth is for shooting fire.

A final head shot of Abraxas. The tube coming out of her mouth is for shooting out flames at night. Note the red-eye. A fearsome beastie indeed.

Dragons are fearsome creates at night!

Dragons are even more fearsome creatures when the sun goes down!

NEXT BLOG: More incredible mutant vehicles.

Burning Man: A Media Circus— Or, Possibly, the Greatest Show on Earth

Media representatives are required to check in at Burning Man each year.In line with the 2015 theme, this was the media tent.

Media representatives are required to check in at Burning Man each year. In line with the 2015 theme, this was the media tent. The clown opened its mouth when ready for business.

Burning Man has been in the news a lot, lately. The event has a way of drawing media coverage like, uh, The Donald (that’s in Trump, not Duck). Among the stories: “One-percenters have taken over; The Bureau of Land Management wants Burning Man to pay for million dollar accommodations— plus ice cream, and; (my favorite) Gazillions of bugs are crawling out of the ground. ” The list goes on. Naked people, hippies, and drugs are almost always worked into the story. It improves ratings and readership. If accuracy suffers, oh well.

I thought the 2015 theme, Carnival of Mirrors, was one of the best ever, not to mention an excellent reflection of most media coverage for Burning Man (and presidential politics).

I didn’t think I would be at the event this year, having failed to score in the annual grab bag ticket sale, which rarely works as promoted. But three days before Burning Man, my friends Don Green and Tom Lovering managed to find tickets on Craig’s List in South San Francisco. Don drove down from his home in Lafayette with a thousand dollars cash in his pocket and met a person he didn’t know around midnight on Thursday at a coffee-house he had never been to. The money was for two tickets and a vehicle pass, a real bargain in this age of massive scalping.

I spent all day Friday racing around taking care of the myriad details that involve surviving in the desert for eight days. (Peggy sat this year out since she had just returned from a two-week trip to England with her sister.) The van had to be made ready, my bike checked over, food and water purchased, and a minimal costume assembled. Plus there were the inevitable questions. Where had I put my goggles and bandana for dust storms? Which box hid my bike lock? Did I have enough glow sticks to avoid being run over by mutant vehicles at night? Etc. Eventually, I had everything together and by 10 a.m. on Saturday I was on my way to the small town of Cedarville on the northeastern border between California and Nevada.

Cedarville is our jump off place for Burning Man. We normally stay at the fairgrounds. Not this time. The Modoc County Fair was taking place. You know the old saying, “When you are given lemons, make lemonade?” So I camped at the City Park and walked to the fair. It was perfect. The pigs hammed it up, a goat nibbled on my shirt, and country-western singer sang “Pistol Packing Mama.”

The pigs were 'hamming it up' at the Modoc County Fair in Cedarville, California.

The pigs were ‘hamming it up’ at the Modoc County Fair in Cedarville, California. Check out their cute curlicue tails.

I’ll be writing about Burning Man off and on over the next few months, adding stories in between the other things I blog about. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while, know that Burning Man is one of my favorite things to do— that I love the art, the creativity, and the magic. Regardless of what the media may report, it is one of the greatest shows on earth. What’s not to love about an event where a huge catapult is built to toss a flaming piano for 100 yards? Or where Susan Sarandon shows up with a portion of Timothy Leary’s ashes to re-cremate. (Leary was the guru of LSD in the 60’s and coined the phrase, “turn on, tune in, drop out.” His ashes were distributed among friends after his death. Some were rocketed into space, along with those of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Susan decided that Burning Man was the perfect place to distribute her share.)

Today, my objective is to introduce Burning Man 2015 with a series of photos. Enjoy. NEXT BLOG: I’ll return to my backpack trip into the Grand Canyon.

A carnival of sorts, complete with sideshows surrounded the Man this year. This was one of four main entrances.

A carnival of sorts, complete with sideshows surrounded the Man this year. This was one of four main entrances. I arrived on Sunday and wandered around before the crowds arrived.

A close up looking up at the Man.

A close up looking at the Man.

Side show posters were located through out the Carnival. I'll show many more in another blog, but this was one of my favorites.

Side show posters were located throughout the Carnival. This was one of my favorites.

Another 'view' of the Man.

Another ‘view’ of the Man and surrounding carnival through a glasses sculpture.

Burning Man is known for its unique sculptures, such as this dragon protecting its egg created by the Flaming Lotus Girls out of the Bay Area.

Burning Man is known for its unique sculptures, such as this dragon created by the Flaming Lotus Girls out of the Bay Area.

Burning Man dragon created by Flaming Lotus Girls for Burning Man.

The same dragon at night.

The Temple of Confession where Timothy Leary's ashes were re-cremated.

The Temple of Confession where Timothy Leary’s ashes were re-cremated.

Susan Sarandon donned a wedding dress and led a parade out to the Temple of Confession to deposite Leary's ashes. El Pulpo Mechanico, a 30 foot high octopus was part of the parade.

Susan Sarandon donned a wedding dress and led a parade out to the Temple of Confession to deposit Leary’s ashes. El Pulpo Mechanico, a 30 foot high octopus, was part of the parade.

Medusa with her snake hair was one on my favorite sculptures.

Medusa with her snake hair was one on my favorite sculptures. Note the tennis shoe mutant vehicle to the right.

The dragon mutant vehicle on the left brought its baby this year.

The dragon mutant vehicle on the left brought its baby this year.

Costumes are big at Burning Man, as are the dust storms seen in the background.

Costumes are big at Burning Man, as are the dust storms seen in the background.

Sculptures come in all sizes at Burning Man. From this giant woman...

Sculptures come in all sizes at Burning Man. From this giant woman…

To this 'Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe' sculpture...

To this ‘Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ sculpture…

To this unique sculpture that I found very attractive.

To this unique sculpture that reminded me of flower pollen.

This robot with his dog and a flower was in front of the Center Camp Cafe. He would raise the flower up to his nose and sniff it.

This robot with his dog and a flower was in front of the Center Camp Cafe. He would raise the flower up to his nose and sniff it.

Performance art is found everywhere in Black Rock City.

Performance art is found everywhere in Black Rock City.

The Burning Man Temple at sunrise is guaranteed to draw a crowd. Burners had spontaneously joined hands as the sun little up the Temple.

The Burning Man Temple at sunrise is guaranteed to draw a crowd. Burners spontaneously joined hands as the first rays of the sun bathed the Temple in a gentle light.

I'll conclude with this shot of the Man taking on a ghostly appearance as he burns on Saturday night.

I’ll conclude with this shot of the Man taking on a ghostly appearance as he burns on Saturday night. Hopefully you have found these photos fun and interesting. Many more will follow over the next few months.

 

The Best of Burning Man: The Top Ten Series (#5)… Mutant Vehicles

The tusks on they mammoth are what make this art car one of my favorite mutant vehicles at Burning Man. People sit inside the rib cage. The driver climbs into the head.

The tusks on this mammoth are what make this art car one of my favorite mutant vehicles at Burning Man. People sit inside the rib cage. The driver climbs into the head.

 

I am going to be on the road for the next few weeks, so I decided to produce several blogs that might be of interest to my readers but would be easy for me to do: Voila—The Best Of Burning Man series! I’ve now been to Burning Man for ten years starting in 2004 (and will be going again in 2015, assuming I get two tickets and a vehicle pass). Each blog will feature a top ten category such as top ten sculptures, mutant vehicles, etc.

Important: 1) These are from my perspective. Other people will have different points of view. 2) I never see everything that is available to see at Burning Man. There is simply too much. So it’s quite possible that I have missed some really great things. My apologies. 3) I missed 2011. 4) These photos are not in order of choice. That is beyond me. (Grin)

Basically, this series will include a brief introduction and then my top ten choices. There may be captions on my photos, or not. Finally, while Peggy and I have taken the majority of these photos, I have also included photos from Tom Lovering, Beth Lovering, Don Green, and Ken Lake… all members of our ‘tribe,’ and friends.

Series 5: Mutant Vehicles

Burning Man requires that you park whatever you happen to be driving when you arrive at Black Rock City. You are expected to ride a bike or walk where you are going. The exceptions are mutant vehicles that are free to wander about. A mutant vehicle is a vehicle that has been modified to resemble something that in no way resembles the original car, truck, bus or golf cart it was. (There is a three-masted sailing ship that looks exactly like it did when it sailed the seven seas, however. And this year the playa is supposed to feature a recovered 747 jet.)

Some of the mutant vehicles are quite artistic. The best of these creations are jaw dropping unique. Most mutant vehicles take on a totally different persona at night when the Playa becomes magical with their comings and goings. I’ve included an example.

Here are a few of my favorites. If you have been following my blog for a while, they will be familiar.

El Pulpo Mechanico became an instant Burning Man classic when it first made its appearance on the Playa a few years ago. At night, its arms pump up and down shooting out fire.

El Pulpo Mechanico became an instant Burning Man classic when it first made its appearance on the Playa a few years ago. At night, its arms pump up and down shooting out fire.

Fire breathing dragons are also perennial favorites at Burning Man.

Fire breathing dragons are also perennial favorites at Burning Man.

Another, more ferocious looking dragon in Black Rock City.

Another, more ferocious looking dragon in Black Rock City.

Never Was Haul resembles a Victorian House that has been converted to a steam engine train.

Never Was Haul resembles a Victorian house that has been converted to a steam engine train.

Mutan vehicles, such as this vase, take on different personalities at night.

Mutant vehicles, such as this vase, take on different personalities at night.

The same mutant vehicle vase shown above, parked in Black Rock City during the day.

The same mutant vehicle vase shown above, parked in Black Rock City during the day.

Smaller mutant vehicles often brim over with character, such as this polar bear with its red rose.

Smaller mutant vehicles often brim over with character, such as this polar bear with its red rose.

The sailing ship I mentioned above.

The sailing ship I mentioned above.

A rhino even more massive than its counterpart in East Africa.

A rhino even more massive than its counterpart in East Africa.

And finally, a wart hog.  NEXT BLOG: The buildings of Burning Man.

And finally, a wart hog.
NEXT BLOG: The buildings of Burning Man.

A Giant Rhino, an All-Seeing Eye and Other Mutant Vehicles of Burning Man 2014

Giant rhino mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

So who needs an African Safari? (grin)

A journey to Burning Man is a voyage into one of the world’s most creative environments. A kaleidoscope of art, costumes, theme camps, and live performances constantly demand your attention. Mutant vehicles are another form of marvelous creativity. In my last blog I introduced you El Pulpo Mecanico. Here are some other favorites of mine from Burning Man 2104.

Rhino at Burning Man 2014.

A horn of plenty? (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

I would say that this Burner is quite proud of her Rhino.

I would say that this Burner is quite proud of her Rhino.

The all seeing eye at at Burning Man 2014.

The all-seeing eye and… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The all seeing eye mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

…its mutant vehicle.

Mutant vehicle eye. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Speaking of eyes, I caught this man-sized  one on a mutant vehicle the night they burned the Man.

Peggy found this dragon out on the Playa while the owners were away. Good thing they didn't leave the keys. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Peggy found this dragon out on the Playa while the owners were away. Good thing they didn’t leave the keys.  Giddy-up! (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Close up of a dragon head at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Close up of the dragon’s head.

Winged dragon mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This is a rather attractive fellow with gossamer wings.

Fish mutant vehicle emerges out of a dust storm at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Imagine for a moment you didn’t know what was happening and you saw this creature of the deep emerge out of a dust storm.

A steampunk horse and carriage at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A steampunk horse shows off his inner workings. The carriage is also quite unique.

Steampunk vehicle at Burning Man 2014.

Another steampunk vehicle with a unique look. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Large mutant vehicles can carry a number of people at Burning Man. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Large mutant vehicles such as this bull can accommodate a number of people.

The same bull at night provides a perspective on how dramatically different mutant vehicles look at night.

The same bull at night provides a perspective on how dramatically different mutant vehicles can look when the sun goes down.

Cheshire cat at Burning Man 2014.

This Cheshire Cat rolled by our campsite.

Lady Sassafras mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2014.

Lady Sassafras built by the Crown Collective of New Orleans is made from debris left over by Hurricane Katrina.

ATV mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Mutant vehicles come in all sizes as this ATV demonstrates. Every square inch of available space is covered.

Close up of decorations. I liked the dog.

Close up of the decorations. I liked the dog.

A three mast sailing ship at Burning Man 2014. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This three mast sail boat makes a good conclusion for this blog on the mutant vehicles at Burning Man 2014. Next blog: A huge sculpture known as Embrace.

 

The Burning of the Man… Burning Man 2012

The single event that pulls all of the Burning Man community together is the burning of the Man that takes place on Saturday night.

Burning Man is about the many things I have described in this series of posts over the past few weeks… and much more. But ultimately, as the name suggests, it is about the burning of the Man. It is the single event that pulls the whole community together and provides closure for the Burning Man experience.

Black Rock City becomes a ghost town on Saturday evening as 50,000 Burners walk, climb on bikes and cram onto mutant vehicles (standing room only) in a mass exodus to the Playa.  Best costumes are donned. Lights are applied. Two-way streets become clogged one-way thoroughfares.

The sun has set by the time members of the Horse-Bone Tribe have wrapped up dinner and used up several containers of light sticks decorating our steeds and selves. It is critically important to be seen as we wend our way though thousands of people over dark, dusty roads on our way out to the Man. We also need to see each other. Getting lost from the group is ever so easy.

Bikes and people are decorated with lights in preparation for our journey out to the Playa.

Scout and Adios, two tribe members, have determined the best place to be. It isn’t about seeing; there isn’t a bad location. It’s about which way the wind blows. Downwind means dust and smoke, lots of it.

Preparations go on at the Man all day Saturday. Early in the morning the area is blocked off.  If you haven’t already made your obligatory visit, it’s too late. All week people have been gathering at the Man during the day and using him as a beacon at night. Now he is being stuffed with fireworks and prepared to burn.

From Monday through Friday, the Man on his base dominates the Playa and Black Rock City serving both as a land mark and as a gathering place. While the Man remains the same every year, his base changes. Bikes and people at the base provide a perspective on size.

As the outside structure changes each year, the internal structure does as well. What is common among the various internal structures is that Burners can climb up and view Black Rock City and the Playa. The 2012 structure was built without the use of nails or screws. (Photo by Tom Lovering)

At night, the Man serves as a welcome beacon helping Burners find their way… or get un-lost.

When we finally break out onto the Playa and approach the Man, we enter a surreal world of large concentric circles dominated by gloriously lit mutant vehicles, pounding music, fire, and swirling masses of dancing, gyrating, strolling costumed Burners.

Burning Man staff members have set up a rope barrier at a safe distance from the Man. Sitting next to it is considered a prime location and people show up hours early to get seats, i.e. to sit in the dirt. Behind the rope are several rows of seated people and then even more rows of standing people. Next is a broad walkway, a boulevard if you will, where Burners dance, show off costumes and make their way around the huge circle. Hundreds of mutant vehicles form the outer rim.

We arrive at our hopefully dust free site, secure our bikes, and split. While most of our group heads for the inner circle, Peggy and I stick to the boulevard. My rear has little tolerance for sitting in the dirt for two hours and I prefer the action of the boulevard. What we miss in watching fire dancers we will make up for in admiring the colorful mutant vehicles.

I am a huge fan of mutant vehicles. On the night of the burn they form a huge circle around the Man. The larger vehicles provide a great platform for viewing the burn… and dancing. Many are outfitted with mega-music systems.

This vehicle at the 2012 burning of the Man provided a great place to hang out. (grin)

This vehicle at Burning Man 2012 featured a flower garden. The rooster? to the right shoots out flames, another common characteristic of mutant vehicles.

Here, a bug eyed dragonfly rests next to a tropical jungle. The opportunity to walk around and see mutant vehicles is my primary reason for not sitting down to see the show on the night of the burn.

We can still see the fire dancers. Hundreds form groups inside of the rope barrier and each group has a drum-dominated band. Shortly after we arrive, the show begins as dozens of choreographed companies twirl poi balls, staffs and fans of flame. Participants have practiced all week, some all year and some for years. Peggy and I move in closer to watch the show and then return to the boulevard.

Hundreds of fire dancers accompanied by bands and organized in groups or companies provide entertainment before the Man is burned. By wandering around on the boulevard, we missed a close up of the show. New Burners should come early and claim front row seats in the dirt.

A brief silence descends as the fire dances end and the lighting ceremony commences. Flames leap upward in the structure surrounding the Man and fireworks shoot toward the sky. Suddenly the man bursts into flame accompanied by a great shout from the crowd. Huge tornado like dust storms go whirling off.

The burning of the Man is accompanied by an incredible fireworks display worthy of a major city’s Fourth of July celebration. In this year’s burn, the Man caught on fire earlier than usual.

Fireworks continues for 30 minutes, or at least it seems to. There are always some rockets that go off late in the burn. The Man raises his arms when they catch fire.

I like this shot of the Burning Man 2012 because it captures the intensity of the fire. Note: Both arms are now raised.

Another shot of the Burning Man 2012 that shows his legs and the underlying structure.

The intensity of the flames created by the burning of the Man spin off towering tornadoes of dust… a good reason for not being downwind.

Faces lit up by the fire, Burners and El Pulpo Mechanico (the octopus mutant vehicle) watch the Man’s last minutes at 2012 Burning Man.

Sitting and standing Burners watch with rapt attention, waiting for the Man to fall, willing him to fall. Other Burners dance ecstatically in the boulevard and on top of mutant vehicles to music blasted out by the vehicles over ear shattering speakers.

And then suddenly quiet… an arm falls off. The end approaches. Dancers cease to gyrate. The ever-present music stops. The final moments are filled with respectful silence as the Man gives up his lofty perch and tumbles into the fire below bringing to a climatic end his annual trek to the Black Rock Desert.

Arms raised in a final salute to the Man, Burners shout their goodbyes as the 2012 Man tumbles into his fiery grave.

All that was left was the burning structure that provided the Man’s base. I took this photo shortly before it too fell.

Thus ends the 2012 Man and my coverage of the 2012 Burning Man. The Man will be back in 2013. As will I.

Next I honor a homeless man with a Chevy van and a bank account, visit the Oregon Coast, drop by Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, and take an 18 day raft trip through the beautiful Grand Canyon.I will finish off 2012 with a month-long exploration of the Mediterranean Sea with stop offs in Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.