The people of Burning Man speak of self expression, reality, tuning in to nature, and personal honesty. They wear costumes.
According to burningman.com, "Burning Man is an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada."
Analog and I came into Burning Man and our trip from the Montana border to the festival with very few expectations. We knew there was art. We knew there was music. We knew it all took place in a pop-up temporary community known as Black Rock City out in the desert. That was about it.
We were in Reno, NV, all we had to do was get 40 miles back East of town and make our way down a small road to the event entrance. We figured this would be easy. There were plenty of Burners, people who attend Burning Man, in Reno. Surely we would get a ride. We were wrong. This was the first, but not last, of many indications that the Burner "family" or "tribe" was much less tribal than we had hoped. It was very difficult to get out of Reno, despite the fact that we were being passed by hundreds of vehicles sporting the Burning Man logo, clearly headed exactly where we needed to be. But, given enough time, a ride is bound to appear and we made our way to the festival entrance.
As we neared the entrance we entered a traffic jam and took this as the perfect opportunity to excuse ourselves from a rather uncomfortable hitch and do what we do best, walk. Plus, why sit around in a car going nowhere, when you can walk right past all that nonsense right up to where you want to be? It seemed like the obvious choice for us, but again, we were wrong.
Burning Man began as a small collection of friends meeting on a San Francisco beach to burn a wooden effigy, "The Man". They were sculptors, performance artists, and good friends. As the event, and "The Man", grew, it was relocated to the Black Rock Desert, East of Reno, NV. "The Man" got taller each year, attendance grew, and rules and norms crept their way into the "anything goes" event.
It turns out, that walking into Burning Man was not only uncommon, but event organizers and volunteers did not know what to do with those crazy guys walking their way into the event. "Return to your vehicle." "Please remain in your vehicle." "Ect, ect, you need a vehicle," was the mantra as we strolled past the sedentary.
After being directed, misdirected, and re-directed we approached the will-call booth where we received our tickets. We headed straight for the event gate, a roadway flanked on each side by large torch-like flaming structures. Where we were stopped again and instructed that we absolutely needed to be within a vehicle to enter the event. After our brief explanation, "Well, you see, we don't have a vehicle. Don't even own one. In fact, we were hiking from Mexico to Canada, and had just reached the Montana border when we received tickets to the event, and so here we are. But, we've got no vehicle. So, if you'd excuse us, we'll be on our way...." we did nothing but confuse the event staffers.
We may have been attending an event based on "radical self-expression and self-reliance", but this is America, and you need a car if you intend to be self-reliant! ...We realized that if we wanted to get into the event, we'd have to throw our thumbs to the heavens once more.
We hitched one last ride, from just outside of the gate, to just inside of the gate.
Burning Man is an incredible event. Art, music, dance, spirituality, technology, nature, communal living, self-expression, and of course, fire all come together for a week of unplanned madness in the desert. And it's big. Really big. Nearly 70,000 people big; making Black Rock City the second biggest city in Nevada, for just one week.
There's no festival itinerary, no band line-up, no main stage. It's a sort of controlled madness, an ordered chaos. But rest assured, whatever you're into, it'll be there. For me, that was sculpture and the idea of Black Rock City, itself. A temporary city in the middle of nowhere!
Sculpture first, because Burning Man delivers in spades. Sculptures and art installations are scattered over every inch of the desert. From major installations over 140 feet tall, to tiny ones, to "art cars" (cars whom have becoming moving pieces of art themselves), to themed camps, to the appearance of most attendees. Nearly every aspect of Burning Man is a piece of art, one way or another, and most of it is set to be burnt at some point during the week.
As far as the city, Black Rock City goes, it's pretty neat. 70,000 people, their shelters, entertainment, food, drink, all of it, is brought in by the festival goers. And at the end of the week, it's all brought out again... in theory. Some of the major art installations will take a little longer to remove and volunteers do hang around for a week combing the desert and hauling out the stuff that is inevitably left behind). Unfortunately, it is 2014 and Burning Man has become a pretty big deal and tents are most certainly out of fashion. I was astounded by the amount of RV's. In fact, Analog and I felt like one of very few people to actually be staying in a tent.
Then we've got the "community" aspect of the festival. A lot of burners talk about their burning man "family" or "tribe". After having mixed feelings about the Continental Divide Community, largely due to the stress the trail seemed to load onto those of us attempting to thru-hike it, we came into Burning Man with high hopes of meeting people and making some of the connections that we hadn't been finding.
Unfortunately, Burning Man did not prove to be a place of intimate human relations.
Partly, I think Analog and I had trouble assimilating into the Burning Man culture. In a weird way, this counter-cultural event is a lot about "stuff". The costumes, the camps, the bikes, etc. We didn't have any of that. We wore exactly the same outfits that we had been wearing for the previous four months. It's all we had. It's all we needed. But, when the young lady dressed as a unicorn walks by, she isn't interested in talking with you, she'd much rather talk to that dude dressed as the Mad Hatter. Because we didn't look like Burners, we were often left to our own devices.
This isn't to say we didn't meet some incredible people. Because we did! We were fortunate to camp just next to a couple of great people who opened their camp to us! More than that, they opened themselves to us and became great friends throughout the week. I don't do this often, but I'm gonna break from all narrative continuity here and say it: Paula, Anna, Kellie, and Brandon, thanks for being your bad selves!
Overall, Burning Man is a pretty crazy experience. I'll let the photos speak for themselves, because lets face it, this stuff was pretty cool. Click the photos to see them in full size!
* Photos provided by Paula as well as borrowed from the world wide web. Sorry gang. I didn't take any myself.