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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.