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Exploring Black Rock City

Exploring
Black Rock City
America’s Newest "Lost" City

By Jerry E. Smith

 

Legendary stage magicians wow crowds nightly in the show halls of Las Vegas, Nevada—but the most stupendous magic trick of all is conjured up by The Burning Man Project on the Black Rock Desert more than 500 miles north of Vegas’ famous strip. It seems impossible, but it’s true: the seventh largest city in the state appears, mirage-like, in the middle of the desert for only a few days, then disappears leaving no trace. Each year between thirty and forty thousand artists and revelers gather in Black Rock City for eight magical days, and then in whirlwinds of fire, ash and dust it vanishes!

It is a surprise to many to learn that northern Nevada is home to not one, but two of the world’s premier art festivals. Reno’s "Artown" (see: http://www.renoisartown.com/) was voted the world’s best downtown art festival by a European civic association in 2000. The Burning Man Project (see: http://www.burningman.com) is likewise on its way to becoming one of the great art festivals of all time.

Artown runs the entire 31 days of July with over 200 events and exhibits in more than three-dozen venues around the city, making it the largest civic art festival in the world. Artown covers most of the spectrum of mainstream art, both amateur and professional. For everything else there’s the weeklong celebration of "radical self expression" called Burning Man that ends on Labor Day (the first Monday in September).

Artown, with its packed schedule of open air concerts, intimate theater presentations and wine-and-cheese gallery receptions is fairly easy to describe; Burning Man with its art cars and fire twirlers, costumed revelers and naked exhibitionists, massive art installations and practical joke theme camps is equally, and oppositely, nearly impossible. Many who have tried to describe Burning Man have compared it to Woodstock, Mardi Gras, The Rainbow Gatherings or the Grateful Dead concert phenomena, but such comparisons fail utterly. This festival is so truly different that only by attending can one understand it. But, lacking that let me try to give you a taste.

In 2006 George Piccard and I (both Adventures Unlimited authors and World Explorers Club members) ventured out to Black Rock City (BRC). It was our sixth time sojourning together in this amazing place.

BRC is erected each year on the Black Rock Desert, a dry lakebed in northwestern Nevada. One of the flattest surfaces on earth, it is part of the extended playa (Spanish for beach) of ancient Lake Lahontan, which covered over 8,500 square miles of the western Great Basin during the Ice Age, between 20,000 and 9,000 years ago. With no outlet this "terminal lake" filled with water from melting Ice Age glaciers, which then slowly evaporated away.

During the lake's peak around 12,700 years ago, today’s desert floor was under approximately 500 feet of water. Horizontal banding on the hillsides above the playa give mute testimony as to where the shoreline lay for extended periods as the water level gradually fell. The Black Rock Desert stretches approximately 100 miles northeast from the town of Gerlach, which is itself some 120 miles north of Reno.

From Reno, "The Biggest Little City in the World," there are two main routes to the Black Rock. The majority of folks driving to the Burning Man festival come from the San Francisco Bay area and travel over the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Lake Tahoe, coming in on I-80 from California. From Donner Summit I-80 follows the Truckee River down into the Truckee Meadows, a large basin wherein lay the cities of Reno and Sparks (old joke: How close is Reno to Hell? On a clear day you can see Sparks!).

East of Sparks the Truckee River plunges into a gorge and twists between two mountain ranges, the Virginia Range on the south (where you will find world famous Virginia City about 20 miles south of the Truckee) and the Paw-Rah Range on the north. Soon after emerging from these mountains it heads north to terminate in Pyramid Lake, the largest of Nevada’s terminal lakes. Most Burners, as festival attendees are called, continue on from Reno on I-80 to the tiny Indian town of Wadsworth at the southern end of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. From Wadsworth they head north, following the Truckee, up a State Route that takes them through another Indian town, Nixon, and on past the southeast corner of Pyramid Lake.

George and I prefer the shorter "back door" route taking two-lane Pyramid Highway from Sparks through Spanish Springs and Palomino Valley. On this route you will travel around three sides of Pyramid Lake, which has been called the most beautiful desert lake in America, before rejoining the main route in Nixon. Before getting to Pyramid Lake you will see spectacular multi-hued cliff faces below Tule Peak, and also herds of wild horses and burros, some roaming free, others impounded in the Bureau of Land Management’s National Horse and Burro facility which is on the route.

Cresting Mullin Pass you will see Pyramid Lake shimmering below you. In 2006 George was driving The Atomivan, the panel van owned by his quasi-rockabilly "pre-apocalyptic" dance band The Atomiks. We pulled into the spacious rest stop and drank in the awe-inspiring beauty of the place. David W. Toll described it for the Nevada Travel Network as a "… stunning, staggering sight: a vast sheet of electric blue cupped between pastel mountains of chalky pinks and grays."

John C. Fremont was the first American to gaze down at Pyramid Lake. His journal entry of 10 January 1844 records coming up Mullin Pass to the very spot where we were standing, saying: "… we continued our way up the hollow, intending to see what lay beyond the mountain. The hollow was several miles long, forming a good pass; the snow deepening to about a foot as we neared the summit. Beyond, a defile between the mountains descended rapidly about two thousand feet; and, filling up all the lower space, was a sheet of green water, some twenty miles broad. It broke upon our eyes like the ocean." Fremont named it Pyramid Lake for a tufa rock formation on the eastern shore.

Fault-block mountains, twisted and blackened with ancient lava flows, dominate the landscape of the Great Basin. The few sparse junipers on their heights do nothing to soften the stark, sharp outlines of these crags against the pale blue sky. From Nixon you drive nearly straight north for fifty miles just a few yards above the dry bed of Lake Winnemucca, another piece of ancient Lake Lahontan, flanked east and west with jagged peaks.

The Great Basin is a large, arid region most commonly defined as the contiguous watershed between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas with no natural outlet to the sea—which is what made Lake Lahontan so vast. The Great Basin Desert is somewhat differently defined on the basis of the extent of characteristic plant and animal species, and covers a smaller area. The Great Basin Cultural Area, home to several tribes of First Peoples, extends further to the north and east than the hydrographic basin. Basin and Range Province is a name for the geologic region that is most recognizable in the Great Basin but extends well into the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts. I hope you were taking notes, as there will be a quiz!

A nearly straight road up a long slope slowly brings us up out of Lake Winnemucca’s basin. We crest the rise and start down into another basin. In the distance, beneath more jagged peaks, we can see the beginning of the Black Rock playa. On the left a smudge of green signals the trees of the tiny towns of Gerlach and Empire.

Soon the road descends and we are driving right on the playa. I look to my right, eyes straining to make out any sign of Black Rock City, some twelve miles away. But all I see is a flat almost-white expanse of lifeless playa, with a dust devil or two dancing far way. Quickly the road crosses the alkali flats to rumble over a railroad track, then makes a sharp left turn into the town of Gerlach.

An ancient water tower speaks of Gerlach’s far off beginnings as a water stop for steam locomotives. Across from it is Bruno’s Country Club Casino and Restaurant. As always we stop in Bruno’s for lunch, one of those rituals humans seem so prone to evolve. George uses the payphone to let his wife know we made it here safely. BRC is a cell phone free zone. A cheeseburger and a Budweiser later, we are back in the van and on the final leg to BRC, a place that a surprisingly large number of people think of as their "home town"—myself included.

Burning Man takes place inside the federally designated Black Rock, High Rock Emigrant Trail National Conservation Area, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The permit to hold the event stipulates that afterwards no trace of the event can be left, not so much as a cigarette butt or a gum wrapper. Every year this Herculean task is accomplished by hundreds of volunteers. Burning Man has set the standard for what the federal government expects of a Leave No Trace event.

The region was designated a National Conservation Area because of its historical significance for Nevada and the nation. A famous pioneer trail, which runs through the heart of the region, played a pivotal role in the western migration and the California Gold Rush. The Applegate-Lassen Cutoff of the California Trail left the main route near present-day Rye Patch Reservoir, and crossed the Black Rock Desert on the way to Goose Lake in northeastern California; it went from there to the California gold fields to the south. The trail and its scenery remain much the same as it was 150 years ago during the peak of its use. The area's rich history dates far beyond the trail, however. A wealth of prehistoric remains has been found throughout the region including those of sabertooth tigers and giant woolly mammoths.

On 21 December 2000, President Clinton signed The Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area Act into law. This gave special designation to nearly 1.2 million acres of public lands in Nevada. The Act established about 795,000 acres as a NCA and about 755,000 acres as wilderness. About 378,600 acres of wilderness is within the NCA. You guessed it—this will be on the quiz too!

The Black Rock and High Rock region is home to pronghorn, wild horses, raptors, sage grouse, bighorn sheep, cougars, and numerous other species—none of which have been sighted inside BRC! The region provides some of the largest breeding areas for sagebrush-dependent desert songbirds. Warm springs found in the Black Rock and High Rock NCA are a critical habitat for threatened and endangered plants and pupfishand are very popular with Burners and locals as well! Naked hot springs parties are a year-round activity in Nevada.

The flatness of the surface of the Black Rock playa has led to its use as a proving ground for experimental land vehicles. It was the site of the most recent successful attempts on the World Land Speed Record. In 1983, Richard Noble drove the jet-powered Thrust2 car to a new record of 633 miles per hour. Noble also headed up the team that beat the Thrust2 record. In 1997, ThrustSSC became the world's first, and so far only, car to break the sound barrier. When they achieved that supersonic feat, the ThrustSSC Team drank every bottle of booze in Bruno’s dry! The Tripoli Rocketry Association also uses the area for their annual experimental rocket festivity. Wikipedia cites it as the USA’s most prized launch site for high power and amateur rocket hobbyists.

The road from Gerlach runs along the base of a steep ridge on a shoulder of land thick with sagebrush a few yards above the playa. Soon we come to orange highway signs that warn motorists that they are approaching a Special Event. Out on the playa we can see tents and flags shimmering through the heat waves and dust. Almost there!

The light traffic on the road slows. All of us are going to the same place. In a moment we pull off the highway into a wide rocky dirt area that funnels down into a broad unpaved road leading in a sweeping miles-long curve out onto the playa. An emotion of joyous homecoming wells up in both of us—we’re home! And what a crazy feeling that is! Homesick for a place that only exists one week out of the year?! Homesick for a place that might kill you?!

The playa of the Black Rock Desert is a harsh, inhospitable environment. Nothing grows there; nothing lives there—no plants, no birds, and no visible insects. The playa is both literally and figuratively a blank canvas onto which the art of the attendees is painted. Summer daytime temperatures exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks on end. The dirt beneath your feet, and soon in your hair, under your clothes and in your food, is a pale shade of tan, fine and powdery. The least little breeze raises clouds of it. When the wind comes up, and it can blow at hurricane velocity, whiteout conditions occur.

Under some circumstances this strange, inhumane place can be seen as beautiful; under others it can be life threatening. Your ticket to Burning Man makes that clear. At the top of the ticket, in all capital letters, it reads: "YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BY ATTENDING."

Beneath that it reads: "You must bring enough food, water, shelter, and first aid to survive one week in a harsh desert environment. Commercial vending, firearms, fireworks, rockets and all other explosives prohibited. You agree to read and abide by ALL rules in the Survival Guide (handed to you at the entrance gate and also available on the website). You agree to follow federal, state, and local laws. This is a LEAVE NO TRACE, Pack it in, Pack it OUT event. You are asked to contribute two hours of playa clean up before departure."

For the entire event in 2000 (my first year of attendance, and George’s third) there were about 1,000 people treated for cuts and scrapes, broken bones, dehydration, and such. All of the injuries but for a handful were minor (two people were hit in the head by flying debris and were flown by helicopter to local hospitals). A thousand sounds like a lot, but consider, BRC had nearly 25,000 inhabitants that year! How much action would a hospital or urgent care center get in a similar week in a regular town of that size? Lots more! And, this was under extreme camping conditions with extreme weather conditions (75 mile an hour winds, blowing dust causing whiteout conditions, and rain all of one night). Under such circumstances these folks performed very well indeed.

Sadly, one or two people do die each year as a result of attending. George and I lost our mutual best friend, the legendary conspiracy theory and UFO writer Jim Keith, after he broke his knee jumping off an unused stage in BRC in 1999. Indeed, it was investigating his death from an alleged blood clot to the lung following surgery on the knee that led me to Burning Man.

A quarter mile or more from the highway we come to the Gate. BRC encompasses some five square miles. Surrounding it is the trash fence, a pentagram-shaped line of orange plastic fencing. It keeps trash from blowing out of BRC, and gatecrashers from sneaking in. Laser sensors and security guards monitor the length of the fence. At the Gate you leave the "default world" and enter Burning Man. It is here that your tickets are validated and your vehicle is checked for stowaways—and you are still a mile from BRC!

Once you and your vehicle are passed you are given a poster-sized map of the city, with a list of registered theme camps and the Who, What, Where guide to activities that are scheduled for the event—it is 20 or 30 pages of tiny type! Every year hundreds of camps and groups invite attendees to participate in a thousand or more activities ranging from yoga at dawn to live combat in the Thunder Dome, to erotic body painting. The activities include scores of discussion groups, New Age medical and spiritual practices and not-so random acts of art and beauty. Without a working time machine, it is impossible to see all of it. Hundreds of interesting things occur simultaneously—and do so ‘round the clock for over a week!

The centerpiece, the grand culmination of the week’s activity is the burning of The Man. This is no simple bonfire, but a spectacular pyrotechnic display taking a couple of hours and consuming more than $100,000 worth of fireworks. The Man is some 40 feet tall, his outline illuminated by neon tubes. Each year artists compete to design the pedestal he stands on. In the last few years the pedestal has been a couple of stories tall and provided a singular vantage point from which to see and photograph BRC prior to the burn. More on the Burn later.

In high spirits we travel on from the Gate. From here on we will be on the playa, a surface not unlike a box of talcum powder spilled over linoleum—a fluffy surface layer of fine powder sitting atop a hard-packed surface. In an effort to avoid raising dust, we drive no faster than five miles an hour. Our highway is six lanes wide and travels in a big curving arc far out onto the playa. More orange fencing channels us down this road. Spaced at even intervals along the fence are signs. Like the old Burma Shave ads from the 1940s and ‘50s they form poems and stories and messages, written a few words per sign. You have to travel slowly to read them, which helps keep your speed and the dust down. From them you learn more about the year’s theme, what radio channels to tune to for information and important dos and don’ts on the playa.

Each year the festival has an overarching theme. Artists and citizens of Black Rock City are encouraged to weave the theme into their art and activities. Of course, non-theme related art is always accepted too. Themes in recent years have included The Body, The Seven Ages of Man (from Shakespeare), The Floating World, Beyond Belief, The Vault of Heaven, The Psyche, and The Future: Hope and Fear. The theme for 2007 was The Green Man.

Just outside the city we come to the Greeters. They greet returning Burners with a heartfelt "Welcome Home!" and initiate "virgins" (first time Burners) with a brand new "age-old" ritual every year. If you are a first-timer don’t be shy, it won’t hurt (much). We get there at midday and the temperature is on the hot side of the century mark on the Fahrenheit scale. Most of the Greeters are nude, wearing little more than hats and sandals. Yes, at the Greeter station you can see more naked people in five minutes than you would during a whole night in a strip club—and all they ask for is a cold beer! And, of course, it’s all in the name of art…and it is!

Traditional American cities are laid out on a square grid, but the grid for Black Rock City is round. In the very center of BRC is The Man on his pedestal. A circle, a mile across, is drawn around him. This space is left open for large-scale art installations. Fringing that open circle is the curving arc of city streets that make up the campgrounds of BRC proper. The streets that run in parallel concentric arcs are given names relevant to that year’s theme, except for the first one. The "main street" of Black Rock City is Esplanade, with the biggest and most elaborate theme camps on one side and the open playa and The Man on the other. The city’s cross streets are radials, emanating from The Man. They are numbered, a la the face of a clock from 2:00 to 10:00, with the top of the clock face left open inviting attendees to step beyond the circle to experience the playa and still more installations.

At the intersection of 6:00 and Esplanade is the BRC equivalent of a Civic Center. It is here that you will find the vast circular tent structure that houses Center Camp where hot and cold drinks are sold amid a circus-like atmosphere. The room has six or seven stages, and at any given moment, day or night, at least one of the stages is in use; the performer might be a belly dancer or a poet, a guitarist or puppeteer.

Surrounding Center Camp are the official civic facilities and special camps. Here you will find, for example: The Artery which assigns the locations of the major art installations on the playa and conducts daily art tours to them; Arctica, which sells bags of cubed and crushed ice, the proceeds of which are all donated to the town of Gerlach; Playa Info, where you go to find the locations of friends’ camps or to leave messages for them; or Media Mecca, where journalists are assisted in covering the event.

Beyond Center Camp and Esplanade are the suburbs of the city. Some years George and I and our friends have erected small camps out in the ‘burbs, but in other years we have built elaborate theme camps in the heart of the action. One year we erected a full-on nightclub with stage, live band, two DJs and more. That year the theme was "The Floating World" and we became a movie set for a disaster film that had itself become a disaster: Irwin Allen’s Beneath The Floating World.





Hollywood Tattletales Magazine August 15, 1981

HALF-SHOT FILM ABOUT TO GO INTO THE DUMPER?

DIRECTOR VANISHED, STUDIO BANKRUPT AND THE CREW AND EXTRAS ARE SAID TO BE IN CONTROL OF ITS WILDERNESS LOCATION SETS PARTYING LIKE "WILD ANIMALS"!

Dateline: Gerlach, Nevada. Rumors are flying across the Nevada desert this week like the ever-present playa dust. Wagging tongues in this one saloon town claim that famed Producer/Director Irwin Allen (maker of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Poseidon Adventure, and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure) is holed up here in a back room at Bruno’s Café and Casino. His studio, Miracle Films ("If it’s a Good Film, it’s a Miracle!"), refuses to comment, except to say that he and his writing team are somewhere in Nevada putting the "final touches" on the script to his current project, Beneath The Floating World – final bullet to the head of this a dog of disaster movie is more like it!

Word has it that shooting stopped this week after three months on location in the remote wilderness of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Sources in Reno, Nevada, the nearest "city," report that four consecutive would-be leading ladies have been hospitalized there with heat stroke.  The film’s leading man, Kevin Costner, refuses to come out of his dressing room. Eyewitnesses have leaked to this reporter that the production crew and extras have taken over the set and are throwing the wildest, most debauched party in Hollywood history!

We certainly feel for Mr. Allen. After the box office failure last year of When Time Ran Out, a big budget turkey in which a volcanic island erupts underneath Paul Newman's feet, we are sure he is desperate for a hit.  In Beneath The Floating World he has the usual big name cast of Hollywood has-beens. This time they try to escape a watery death in this sequel to a film about a drowned world, only to find themselves marooned in an endless desert - one as dry as their Floating World (Paramount, 1972) had been wet.

Lead by Kevin Costner (as a heavily armed disgruntled postal worker) these rag-tag survivors of the Fall of Civilization include Paula Abdul (as a wheel-chair bound dance instructor), Sally Jesse Raphael (as a retired WWF diva) and Ernest Borgnine (as a disoriented Alzheimer's Disease sufferer).

In one version of the script slipped to this reporter, the cast makes their way to a strange, inhospitable land by plunging a tiny submersible into the vast depths of the ocean.  Many leagues beneath the sea they find a sheltering sea cave (with good air and flattering, indirect lighting!). Some how (that part of the script hadn't been written yet) the sea cave leads to an endless desert.  Far out across miles of blowing sand they find others who have made their way to the land Beneath the Floating World

First Costner and company find refreshment and a friendly greeting at a watering hole called Barnacle Bill’s Beer Bar and Bacchanalium. Later, after the inevitable barroom brawl scene, they come upon a crowd of beautiful, half-naked people dancing around glowing UFOs! The dancers seem to be hypnotized by music emanating from the UFOs. This is where the film takes its fatal twist … but I’ll leave it to other reviewers to spill those beans.

The Atomiks, a Nevada dance band with a fanatical following, have been signed to write and perform the film’s entire score. The little birdies this reporter uses to scoop those fools at Variety say it is the Atomiks who are in control of the set and will be performing excerpts from their forthcoming LP this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights!


In 2006, George and I and a couple of friends with whom we always camp erected a few tents and a couple of shade structures and just hung out together, enjoying the show and each other’s company. I was a little disappointed that year, but now I know why—I have learned firsthand that what you put into Burning Man has a very profound effect on what you get out of it. Immerse yourself! Participate! Don’t watch it, do it! Burning Man truly is what each attendee brings to it. It is a blank slate, an elaborate physical inkblot test, a kaleidoscopic Etch-a-Sketch™ left in the desert for those who can find it to draw onto it, or from it, what they will.

The core philosophy of The Burning Man Project is given as "radical self expression." Let’s break that down, starting with the word "radical."

Radical comes from the Latin radicalis meaning "having roots." The first definition of radical in my Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary is "of or from the root or roots; going to the center, foundation, or source of something; fundamental; basic." The political definition of radical is given, in part, as "favoring fundamental or extreme change; very leftist." Burning Man certainly goes to the very core, the root of what being a human means. It is also extreme, in just about every possible sense of the word. "Leftist" on the other hand doesn’t really apply. While it is hardly a "conservative" activity, Burning Man eschews politics in any conventional sense. Indeed, one of the funniest moments for me was when a group of "protesters" came by our camp in 2000. They were dressed head to toe in white and carried large white "protest signs" that were totally blank. While they went through motions as though they were shouting or chanting slogans, they uttered not a sound!

"Self" is defined as "the identity, character, or essential qualities of any person or thing," and "the identity, personality, individuality, etc. of a given person; one’s own person as distinct from all others." "Expression" is partially defined as "a putting into words; a representing in language; a stating," and "a manner of expressing; especially, a meaningful and eloquent manner of speaking, singing, etc." We are not talking about mere hedonistic self-gratification, as some who have not attended the event have mislabeled the experience. This is a celebration of identity. Breaking the bondage of conformity to peer pressure and corporate image, the individual is free to shed the three-piece suit and power tie, the Crew Kid cap, the pantsuit and sensible shoes, and instead wear a wild costume, or absolutely nothing, reveling in the nearly unlimited possibilities of self statement.

In the definition of "expression" as "a stating" we see that Burning Man is far more than self-indulgence, it is communication. Thirty- to forty-thousand people are there to tell, and to listen, to who they are. As a Utopianist I am struck to my core by what this means. Black Rock City is an ongoing experiment in community building, and more. Unlike cities of the past, based on mutual protection against the elements or enemies, or on making money, Black Rock City is built to further communication. Here we see, in all its strange glory, the missing element of the Internet: physical communication. Black Rock City is the Internet in hard copy. It is the first true city of the Information Age, the first metropolis of the 21st Century.

Further, in "a manner of expressing; especially, a meaningful and eloquent manner of speaking, singing, etc," we see the artistic expression of self that is the greatness of The Burning Man Project. Each year there are between 80 and 200 major art installations erected across the five-square-mile site, making it the world’s largest art gallery. From live music to performance art, from interactive art pieces to body painting, from a fake Post Office where one waits in line to be yelled at by the clerk to elaborate quasi-religious rituals, hundreds of art events happen continuously. Parades of one sort or another are just about hourly occurrences.

Of course, just because it’s "art" doesn’t mean it’s "good." Some artists don’t grasp that they need to communicate with their audience. Some art is just done for shock value. Some is done simply because it can be done. Some is clearly the work of disturbed minds. But then, that is true of nearly every gallery and modern art museum I have ever visited. On the other hand, some of the pieces I have seen at Burning Man were impressive, moving, inspirational and/or delightful. As a working artist I was thrilled, awed, and, yes, even made a little envious.

A very high percentage of the attendees work in high tech jobs. Many techies are frustrated artists. I was once a computer programmer. I know many of these folks found tech jobs as a way to express their innate creativity and still make a living. Many find fabricating crazy artsy stuff, like turning a VW Bug into a flying saucer, covering a bicycle in lights or building tiny robots that scuttle about the desert performing strange feats, a much needed outlet.

The quasi-religious rituals of Burning Man are another important outlet. The religious urge is one of the great human drives. I am sure I could babble like a pop psychologist, or a graduate student working up his doctorial thesis, on the deeper meaning of Burning Man—but I will spare you. Let me just say, I felt something...

One of the greatest moments for me was my first Saturday night in BRC. As sunset ignited the clouds with dazzling reds and pinks, thousands of people began to converge on The Man. A circle of lights set in the playa, a safe distance from him began to rhythmically flash, warning the attendees to stay back.

When darkness had fully fallen a cloudburst of fireworks erupted from his head. As the fire spread to his body more and more fireworks of many types were released. Whirling wheels of fireworks descended to The Man on wires from surrounding towers. More fireworks were shot off from all over the festival site. A fire cannon blasted great scorching balls of black smoke and fire into the starry night sky…

As the last of The Man turned to ashes and the crowd began to disperse, I felt a sudden and quite surprising feeling of release, like a heavy burden I didn’t even know I carried had suddenly been lifted. This was followed instantly by a joyous sense of renewal. "Release and renewal!" I said aloud to no one. I looked around, wondering if others were feeling this. I wondered if I were telepathically experiencing the sensations of some in the crowd around me, or if something in me had somehow burned up with The Man. Buoyant, I returned to camp and a wild and wonderful evening.

Before I next fell asleep in my own bed back home in the "default world" I was already working on a design for our camp at next year’s Burning Man. Yes, once you go, you’re hooked.

Perhaps in the future we can establish an official World Explorers Club presence in Black Rock City! Are you ready for the expedition of a lifetime? Join us!


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