Surprise! The Black Rock Desert is a desert. Temperatures climb to over 100 degrees in the day and massive dust storms create zero visibility. It is all part of the experience of Burning Man. Veteran Burners call it ‘fun.’ They whine when it doesn’t happen.
After six years I still have doubts. But I guarantee it will be more ‘fun’ if you are adequately prepared
Last year I failed to take my advice. It was a beautiful evening for Burning Man. Temperatures were moderate, the sky was clear and a beautiful sunset bathed the surrounding mountains. A major event was scheduled on the far side of the Playa. The umpteen thousand square foot MEGATROPOLIS was to be burned
I joined fellow members of the Horse-Bone Tribe and a long line of Burners as we trekked across the Playa to the site. There were great fireworks, an impressive fire and all of the other hoopla that goes along with a Burning Man event.
My wife Peggy, our friend Beth and I had just started back when the massive dust storm hit. Everything disappeared.
“Which way do we go?” Peggy asked.
Unfortunately, I had left my goggles, my dust mask and my sense of direction back at camp. I didn’t have a clue. All we had going for us were 5000 other people caught in the same storm.
Someone in a large mutant vehicle filled with madly gyrating dancers yelled, “Center Camp is that way!” and we started trudging in the suggested direction, all of us, lemmings marching to the outer edge. What followed was weird, a Hieronymus Bosch scene scripted by Edgar Allen Poe and directed by Salvador Dali.
Sixty mile an hour winds battered us with dust. Visibility climbed from zero to a hundred feet and back to zero. Other Burners and mutant vehicles became ghostly reminders that we weren’t alone. The three of us held on to each other; being lost together was better than being lost alone.
Time slowed down, almost seeming to stop. At one point a cyclist zipped past going in the opposite direction. “Center Camp is that way,” he said, pointing in the direction we had come from. I was prepared to believe him. Up was down, north was south and east was west.
A thick coating of dust covered my glasses and trickled into my eyes. It clogged my nose, coated my mouth and stuffed my ears. Our clothes and skin became a muted Playa Gray. A full day of hiking and biking collaborated with my 67 years and began to sap my energy. Walking became work. I was not having ‘fun.’
Then, for a brief second, the wind shifted. I caught a glimpse of Black Rock City’s most prominent landmark, the Man. He was exactly the opposite of where I expected him to be and we were further from camp than when we started. But I was ecstatic. Now I could orient myself and get us back to our camp.
Eventually we made it home, two hours after we left the burn. A box of baby wipes, several sneezes, eyewash, ear swabs and a cold beer repaired most of the damage. Exhausted, I fell in to a restless sleep. Giant dust devils pursued me through the night.
Under any circumstances, our trek through the dust storm would have been challenging. I could have done without dust in my eyes, nose and mouth, however. I now carry my goggles and dust mask whenever I leave camp. Lesson learned.
Radical self-reliance is the primary catch phrase of Burning Man. You are expected to take care of yourself. That means we bring our own food, our own water, our own shelter and all of the necessities required to survive for a week in a harsh desert environment.
Niceties matter as well. You can choose to shower by running along naked behind the water truck or you can choose to clean up in a more private manner.
Burning Man provides an excellent list of what to bring. Newbies and veterans alike will benefit from visiting. I return to it each year.