Top Five Reasons for Going to Burning Man 2014… by Curtis Mekemson

The Man burns at Burning Man while fireworks shoot across the sky.

The Man burns at Burning Man while meteor-like fireworks shoot across the sky.

I am sitting in my room on the fourteenth floor of the Atlantis Hotel in Reno.  It has a northeast view, which means I am looking toward Black Rock City, some hundred miles away as the crow flies. Snow blankets the distant hills, providing a wintry view of the Nevada desert. It’s the perfect location and day for a Burning Man post.

The view from our window at the Atlantis Hotel in Reno looking northeast. Black Rock City lies beyond the mountains.

The view from our window at the Atlantis Hotel in Reno looking northeast. Black Rock City lies beyond the mountains. A light dusting of snow adds a wintry feeling to the desert.

It’s decision-making time for veteran and newbie burners alike. January and February are the traditional months when Burning Man tickets go on sale– first come, first serve. And they sell fast. If you’ve never been to this wildly unique event in the remote Nevada desert, here are my top five reasons you should add Black Rock City to your bucket list.

I made my first journey to Burning Man in 2003. This photo is taken from 2006 when I posed next to a great ape in an evolution sculpture. Playa dust decorates my hat and T-shirt.

I made my first journey to Burning Man in 2003. This photo was taken by Ken Lake in 2006.  Playa dust decorates my hat and T-shirt. (All photos on this blog are taken by me or by friends.)

1. CREATIVITY: Burning Man is about cutting-edge art, at least for me. It ranges from sublime to whimsical. Examples are everywhere–walk 50 yards in any direction and you will find someone’s personal creation. Much of the art is superb. One measure of the quality is that art made for Burning Man can now be found on display in a number of US cities.

Art at Burning Man can range from the sublime to the...

Art at Burning Man can range from the sublime…

…the not so sublime, as this large Alice in Wonderland rabbit demonstrates. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

…to the humorous, as this large Alice in Wonderland type rabbit demonstrates. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Beautiful women have forever been a prime model for artists. They tend to be monumental in Black Rock City.

Beautiful women have forever served as models for artists. They tend to be monumental in Black Rock City, topping out at over 50 feet.

I am always amused by what is whimsical and slightly quirky. This Burning Man dog seems to fit.

I am always amused by what is whimsical and quirky. This Burning Man dog fits my definition. (Photo by Ken Lake.)

Sphinx sculpture at Burning Man.

As does this suave sphinx.

Many regions around the world have developed thriving Burning Man communities and some have started contributing art to Burning Man. This bull emerging from the Playa was created by the Houston, Texas community of burners.

One of Black Rock City's most memorable sculptures was the Big Rig Jig where two oils tankers were stacked together.

One of Black Rock City’s most memorable sculptures was the Big Rig Jig where two oils tankers were stacked together.

Like statuesque women, dragons are a popular Burning Man art form. This one was capable of breathing fire from its mouth and joints.

Dragons are popular at Burning Man. This one was capable of breathing fire from its mouth and joints.

Beautiful buildings are another art form at Burning Man. Each year a different Temple is created.(Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Beautiful buildings are another art form at Burning Man. Each year a different Temple is created.  (This early morning photo was captured by Tom Lovering.)

This ship was another very impressive structure at Black Rock City.

This large ship was another impressive structure at Black Rock City. The people on deck provide perspective on size.

On a less monumental scale, the Center Camp Cafe at Burning Man is filled with art, such as this turtle.

On a less monumental scale, the Center Camp Cafe at Burning Man is always filled with art, such as this slightly spacey turtle. (Photo by Don Green.)

2. ENTERTAINMENT: When was the last time you were waiting in line at a port-a-potty (maybe you never have), and had a 20-foot tall mastodon pull up and disgorge pirates, aliens, cats, angels and shamans to wait with you? People watching is prime time entertainment at Burning Man, but there is much, much more. Fire dancers, trapeze artists, magicians, actors, jugglers, hula-hoopers, comedians, disk jockeys, and musicians in the hundreds eagerly seek audiences. You can tango, roller skate, bowl, go for a ride on a giant teeter-totter, or join a parade and flaunt whatever you have to flaunt (rabbit ears, for example). Or you can spend your week learning new things. Hundreds of classes ranging from the practical, to the esoteric, to the erotic are available. And to top it all off, there is the burning of the Man, one of the greatest shows on earth. All of this is included with the price of your ticket to Black Rock City.

Mutant vehicle mammoth at Burning Man.

This large mammoth had stopped for a potty break. The halo is a nice touch.

Fire dancer at Burning Man.

A fire dancer performs his art. It takes a brave man to go shirtless while twirling burning objects.

Music is everywhere at Burning Man. Here we have a mobile music player. Who needs an iPod?

Music is everywhere in Black Rock City. Here we have a mobile pianist. Who needs an ipod? Check out the Burning Man symbol on stilt-man’s chest.

Over the week, almost every type of music can be heard at Burning Man. Last year I stopped to listen to a woman singing opera on top of a mutant vehicle. The vehicle shot fire into the air when she hit high notes!

Over the week, almost every type of music can be heard at Burning Man. Last year I stopped to listen to a woman singing opera on top of a mutant vehicle. The vehicle shot fire into the air when she hit high notes!

Burning Man jam session at Temple.

An early morning jam session at the Temple. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

And on top of a bus."Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

And on top of a bus.

Cyclist knocks down boxes at Burning Man.

Here is a unique form of entertainment involving a cyclist and empty boxes. Crash, restack, crash.

Checking out the hundreds of mutant vehicles at Burning Man is definitely entertainemnt and could take up much of your week.

Checking out the hundreds of mutant vehicles at Burning Man is definitely entertainment and could take up much of your week. I liked the shadow the big guy cast.

Psychedelic box at Burning Man.

Would you be willing to climb into a psychedelic mirror box and have the lid closed? What about if you knew they were going to shake the box?

There is always a sense of being at a three ring circus at Burning Man.

There is always the sense of being at a three ring circus at Burning Man. The entertainment goes on and on – 24/7.

3. MAGIC: Burning Man is interesting, even fascinating during the day. But at night it becomes magical. Fifty thousand people decorate themselves and their bikes with lights and venture out into the dark night. Fire breathing dragons and ghostly desert ships join hundreds of other lit up mutant vehicles in an unending, random parade back and forth across the Playa and along the streets of Black Rock City. Art, too, is lit up, and takes on a totally different personality. The desert night air throbs with music and dancing. Fire dancers appear everywhere, practicing their flaming art singularly or in coordinated groups. Neighborhood bars– there is one on almost every corner– attract regulars and visitors alike with free alcohol, conversation and dancing (Note: you may have to wear pink pajamas, a little black dress or some other getup). A stroll down the mile-plus Esplanade introduces dozens of major entertainment venues. Walk into any one– or all of them– and explore what each has to offer.  The most excitement is generated by the burns;  they light up the night sky and send mutant vehicles, bicyclists and walkers scurrying to catch the latest one. Last year’s major events included a massive burn off of regional art on Thursday, the Man on Saturday, and the Temple on Sunday.

Night brings its own special magic at Burning Man.

Night brings its own special magic at Burning Man. This is another of Burning Man’s annual Temples.

Art is creatively lit and takes on a different personality.

Art is creatively lit and takes on a different personality.

A misty moon added depth to this sculpture.

A misty moon added depth to this sculpture. The Man is off to the right.

Mutant vehicles work their way back and forth across the Playa. Many spout fire.

Mutant vehicles work their way back and forth across the Playa. Many, such as El Pulpo Mechanico, spout fire.

Mutan vehicle vase at Burning Man.

And some inspire by their beauty, such as this vase.

Burning Man mutant vehicle lit up at night.

Another magical mutant vehicle.

The burning of the Man provides Burning Man with its name, but there are many other burns. This was a light house created by burners from the North Coast of California. Last year over 20 regional art pieces were burned simultaneously on Thursday night.

The burning of the Man provides Burning Man with its name, but there are many other burns. This was a light house created by burners from the North Coast of California in 2012. Last year, over 20 regional art pieces located strategically around the Man were burned simultaneously on Thursday night.

The burning of the Temple on Sunday night sends thousands of messages to loved ones wafting into the sky.

The burning of the Temple on Sunday night sends thousands of messages that have been written to loved ones wafting into the sky.

Fireworks provide a sendoff to the burning Man.

Fireworks provide a sendoff to the Man as he begins to burn. Almost everyone in camp attends this event.

Arms raised in salute, Burners bid farewell to the Man as he tumbles into ashes.

Arms raised in salute, Burners bid farewell to the Man as he tumbles into ashes.

4. DESERT: It takes a hardy soul to survive living in the desert. Soaring day time temperatures, freezing cold nights, a desperate lack of water, and raging dust storms are all part of the desert life. But there is also stark beauty and a profound silence (not so much at Black Rock City, but close at 5 AM). The desert is a significant part of the Burning Man experience. Say yes to the heat and cold and beauty and dust and you will have a memory that will last a lifetime and bring you back to the desert time and again.

Dust storm at Burning Man.

Dust storms are a common phenomena of the Black Rock Desert. Accompanying winds can knock down tents. Zero visibility and dust in everything are part of the experience.

But the desert also has great beauty, as this rainbow at Burning Man demonstrates.

But the desert also has great beauty, as this rainbow at Burning Man demonstrates. BTW… things come to a grinding halt during rainstorms. Playa dust turns to glue that sticks to both tires and feet– several inches thick!

Clouds over Black Rock City.

Clouds, following the storm, add their own beauty.

5. COMMUNITY: There are dozens upon dozens of communities at Burning Man based on where you live, who your friends are, and what interests you. The person standing next to you may be a Google founder, Nobel Prize winner, or a Hells Angel. It’s possible she is from nearby Reno, Nevada or far off Auckland, New Zealand.  All age groups and most occupations are represented. Veteran burners mix freely with first timers, known as virgin burners.

What makes Burning Man unique, beyond what I have already listed, is the focus on participation. The event is created by the people who attend. Burners are strongly encouraged to contribute to the community. There are numerous ways to do so. Amuse fellow burners with a great costume or cleverly decorated bike; provide entertainment, food, alcohol, or services; teach people how to meditate, do yoga, or Tango; volunteer to help Burning Man greet people, light lamps or pick up trash– the list goes on and on. All of this is based on Burning Man’s non-commercial, gifting economy. You can neither advertise nor sell things in Black Rock City. With the exception of coffee and tea at the Center Camp Café, ice, and a few necessary RV services, everything is given away for free.

People come from all over the world to participate in Burning Man. Some set up an individual camp while others are members of large theme camps.

People come from all over the world to participate in Burning Man. Some come on their own and set up an individual camp while others are members of large theme camps.

The Sacred Spaces Theme Camp.

The Sacred Spaces Theme Camp.

Wearing a costume is part of the Burning Man experience. A great costume is enjoyed by everyone.

Wearing a costume is part of the Burning Man experience. A great costume is enjoyed by everyone. (Photo by Don Green.)

A well decorated bike is also a way to "gift" other burners.

A well decorated bike is also a way to “gift” other burners.

As is a fierce mutant dragon.

As is bringing a fierce mutant dragon.

Or a ride on a sailing ship. (Photo by Peggy.)

Or offering a ride on a sailing ship. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The California Library's form of gifting is giving away books, hundreds of them.

The California Library theme camp gives away books, hundreds of them.

This woman had a unique way of gifting. She carried around an ice block and then put her icy hands on your face, which was perfect for a hot desert day. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This woman had a unique way of gifting. She carried around an ice block and then put her icy hands on your face, which was perfect for a hot desert day. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.) Our tie-dye  T-shirts were close to matching.

Fixing bikes is another important form of gifting at Burning Man. Beth is a master mechanic who owns a bike shop in Davis. My van Quivera provides the backdrop for the photo.

Fixing bikes is another form of gifting at Burning Man. Beth Lovering is a master bike mechanic who owns a bike shop in Davis. My van, Quivera, provides the backdrop for the photo.

Burning Man has numerous opportunities to volunteer, such as being a lamplighter and helping to light the hundreds of lamps that adorn the night.

Burning Man has numerous opportunities to volunteer, such as being a lamplighter and helping to light the hundreds of lamps that adorn the night.

Or greet people when they arrive at Burning Man as these two welcomed Peggy and I.

Or working as greeters and welcoming  people when they arrive at Burning Man.

THE 2014 THEME: Each year Burning Man comes up with a theme that inspires art, costumes and villages. Last year’s theme was Cargo Cults. This year it is Caravansary. It may be the best theme yet. Think of the Silk Road that connected the mysterious Far East with Europe from Roman times into the middle Ages. Picture caravans of camels, Arabian horses and Mongol ponies carrying exotic spices, silk, and other valuable trade goods as well as new ideas through forests, deserts and mountains for thousands of miles– all the while keeping a wary eye out for bandits. Imagine what life was like in the great trading cities of Xanadu and Samarkand, places that literally define exotic. The Silk Road provided an open invitation to adventure and new experiences. I am excited to see what Burning Man’s creative minds can do with the concept.

This is Burning Man's official 'logo' for 2014… an invitation to adventure.

This is Burning Man’s official ‘logo’ for 2014… an invitation to adventure.

CAUTION: Burning Man is not for every one. Partial nudity is common. The F word may be blasted from mega speaker systems. You are expected to be totally self-reliant, that is bring your own food and water, plus what you need to survive a week of desert weather. And, as I mentioned above, the desert can be challenging. People with health problems need to think through the ramifications of a week in the desert with limited services. No pets are allowed. I wouldn’t bring kids. But there are a few children present; there is even a children’s theme camp that is chock full of kid-based activities. (And I did see parents who were doing a great job with their children.)

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: I highly recommend that people who are considering their first trip to Black Rock City do serious research. Odds are you will know veteran burners who can serve as an excellent source of advice. Also check out the Burning Man website. It includes everything you need to know about the event and is mandatory reading. Sign up for Jackrabbit Speaks for ongoing, up-to-the minute-year-round information. Beyond this, there are hundreds of blogs, media articles, and photo sites. Google Burning Man and browse to your heart’s content. Speaking of Google, check out Google Images for Burning Man. Dozens of photographers with links back to sites are included, including mine: Wandering through Time and Place.

One final source: I blogged extensively about last year’s Burning Man. Go here and scroll forward.

28 comments on “Top Five Reasons for Going to Burning Man 2014… by Curtis Mekemson

    • People line up five RVs and call it a caravan. 🙂 Another word that might apply is Trek… a long arduous journey. I really like the desert and have spent a lot of time in America’s southwest. Death Valley is one of my all time favorite national parks. –Curt

    • Dust storms only last a while, Alison. Sometimes we go for two or three days without one. 🙂 And given the adventures you two have… piece of cake. We all carry goggles and dust masks to survive the worst of the storms but I’ve been in a couple when you absolutely become lost. There is nothing to do but wait it out. Burning Man has a fence around the event… so at least you can’t wander off into the desert! –Curt

  1. “The New Yorker” as mainstream? Hmmmmm…. there’s something to ponder, right there. 😉

    After reading your other posts about last year’s experience, and now having this as a kind of summation, I know for a certainty that Burning Man isn’t for me. But trust me – I’ll look forward to your 2014 posts with great anticipation!

    I must say the Houston contingent did us proud with that Bull, though!

    • Okay, okay Linda… mainstream for me. 🙂 I’m addicted to its cartoons. But when Peggy and I found Burning Man listed as one of three things to do in the region in Reno’s local book for tourists… the one you always find in hotel rooms, Peggy and I laughed– especially at the idea you would arrive in Reno at Burning Man time and say, “Oh, let’s drive out and do that.” None the less- there it was as a chamber of commerce type recommendation. 🙂 –Curt

      • Actually, when I was in Liberia, we used The New Yorker as the acid test. When you no longer understood the cartoons, it was time for a little R&R.

        Maybe that’s my problem. I haven’t understood the NY cartoons for a couple of years now. 😉

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  6. I can’t think of a better way for me to spend my birthday (it falls between those dates)…Would love to commune with all those creative people, unplug from the world for a week.. It definitely has gotten bigger & bigger each year! One year maybe…

    • I know, Hilary, burning art can seem a bit barbarian, but the message has to do with the impermanence and deconstruction, which I sort of get… with an emphasis on the ‘sort of.’ –Curt

  7. I think “magic” works for me, augmented by the experience of the desert and the colorful people and art. Each year, I say it is my last because I always worry that the “next time” might be different in a negative way….but, never is (!!!!)….so off we go again. There is always something quite surprising and special awaiting us. Peggy PS Would love to share the experience with any of you thinking about heading that way!!! Let us know.

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