Last week Jeff and I went to Burning Man, the weeklong event held once a year in the northern Nevada desert to celebrate creativity, self-reliance and community. Trying to describe it is often compared with the attempt of trying to describe color to a blind person, but this BuzzFeed article comes close. It’s huge (68,000 people – temporarily becoming Nevada’s 3rd largest city), crazy (24 hours of non-stop music, light and people) and just simply wonderful. We went with 28 strangers in our camp who quickly became lifelong friends, bawled our eyes out at one of the most beautiful marriage ceremonies we’ve ever attended and learned to embrace the “Burner Culture” founded on the Ten Principles (which basically boil down to: “Get your shit together and also love everyone”).
The alkaline dust that coats everything is pervasive and corrosive, so I didn’t take my camera out much. The following pictures are the ones I did take in an attempt to document one my favorite weeks I’ve been alive, and due credit is given for the (much better) photos I’ve borrowed.
Tickets – check. Camelback – check. Crazy fur costumes – check.
Our group right before we left. To be honest at this point I knew only one or two names. Now I love these people so much.
Top of truck: Tyson. Back row LtR: Ben, Mikey, Spencer, Me, Jeff, Josh, Andrea, Symon, Ashley, Matt, Phil, Amy, Mary. Front row LtR: Anna, Yoni and Eric.
Packing and labeling the food
Two of the Principles of Burning Man are Radical Self Reliance and Decommodification – Basically you’ve got to bring everything for the week with you, there is no food to be bought in the desert. As a camp we coordinated food for 30+ people for a week and signed up for shifts to cook it (Jeff and I had Thursday night: Chicken teriyaki with rice and veggies).
We left Seattle on Saturday afternoon at 3:10p and arrived in Black Rock City at 5:30a Monday morning. Our camp’s theme was Owl Town and “Hoot” was the adorable mascot for the Jeep.
Stopping somewhere in Oregon to try down the tarps.
Our little caravan held 3 vehicles, 2 trailers and 15 people with enough supplies to last us a week in some pretty extreme conditions.
The view when you’re caravanning behind your friends’ trailer for hours.
We finally made it through the gate and into camp as the sun was rising on Monday morning. The first shape I could make out was a ship. Yes, a ship with masts parked next to our tent. It was the first of many “art cars” we would see out on the playa.
This is the ship I had my first glance of. I stole this picture from this flikr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelastminute/7964064238/.
There are three ways to get around Burning Man: Walking (it’s realllllly far, and realllllly dusty); Biking (on your decorated bike of course); or by hopping on one of these art cars which are just amazing.
And then I put my camera away for three days because of the dust and constant running around and doing things. The art that people bring to display on the playa (read: large, flat, dry, dusty, prehistoric lake bed) is incredible and more pops up each day. We rode our bikes for hours trying to see it all and then when we’d get tired we’d sit and chat with people from all over the globe.
On Wednesday we had the really cool chance to go up in a plane with some skydivers to see the city from the air. One of the members of our camp had put us in contact with the members of Burning Sky, the camp that organizes planes to take skydivers up over Black Rock City and some observers along with them.
We met at their camp on the other end of the playa and a plane art car took us out to the airport. It’s a temporary airport that exists, like everything else in the city, for only one week out of the year.
They fit all of the observers with parachutes as well with only two instructions: “If the pilot tells you to get out, get out. Next, pull the cord next to your heart”. I’d only been skydiving once – I really didn’t want to do it again.
All parachuted up and ready to go
Ready for the skydivers to exit the plane.
Black Rock City from the air.
It was incredibly dusty on the day we went up, so the picture quality isn’t great. I was just amazing by how HUGE it is. Seriously, for one week of the year it’s the 3rd largest city in Nevada – and then a week later it all just disappears.
To give you some idea of scale. Stolen from here (http://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/53-things-i-learned-at-burning-man).
The streets are laid out in a radial pattern – from 2 to 10 o’clock and then the concentric circles are alphabetized out from the center from A to L. We were camped at 8:20 and E – so just to the right of that 9’o clock line in the picture, about halfway out (kinda near the “9”). The man is in the center of the empty area known as the playa.
We survived our airplane trip without having to use the parachutes! Our plane art car made it back to the Burning Sky camp about the same time that the skydivers did!
More to come.