Growing up in Northern Nevada we have seen many a strange vehicle loaded up with all sorts of odd equipment and decor roll into town late summer, head north on Pyramid Highway, and then return coated in a powdery white dust only to vanish once again for about a year. The spectacle of oddities is no doubt some lunar circus that travels to the moon via some strange portal north of Pyramid Lake. Or so I thought as a 10 year old.
As we grew older, and our parents and teachers hid our eyes from these travelling dust bound "hippies", we were taught to know Burning Man as a festival for the crazy. An event for the wicked. A sex craved and drug fueled party where animals of men came come to commit hanus acts in the desert. I can admit now, with certainty, that we were wrong.
In 2015 I met a woman named Bobcat Queen through the work I did for a local print store. Bobcat was in town prior to "The Burn" on some official business for the Burning Man organization, and had stopped by my office to print a few things. She had asked if I had ever been to Burning Man and I said no.
A large part of me was mystified by this seemingly cool and exceptionally normal lady who I would have never guessed was an integral member of such an organization. She described the event more as an art exhibit or a celebration of self expression than a giant rave. My interest was peaked to say the least, and towards the end of our business together she "gifted" me two tickets to that years upcoming event.
Quite honestly, that day changed my life. Or rather, the unfolding of events that occurred as a result of that day, changed my life.
Two weeks later I found myself at the entry gate to Burning Man. It was near midnight, pitch black out, and I had just waited in a line of vehicles for a little over two hours while listening to people talk about how short the line was at that moment. All I could see in front of me in the distance were thousands of lights and maybe hundreds of lasers and lots and lots of sounds.
At the gate there is a ticket check process, which includes a vehicle check for stowaways and brief yet surprisingly intense overview from a gruff Burning Man staff about what you can and cannot have inside Black Rock City.
After you pass through that gate, you arrive at a second gate where you receive hugs and a "WELCOME HOME!" from a much more welcoming group of staff members. Now, before I make it sound too ordinary, I will say that nearly 100% of the gate staff was dancing to loud techno beats, euphorically happy, and while the men were wearing kilts, feathers, and pirate shirts, the women were dressed in not much else but glitter and fur coats, or topless. Suffice it to say that the Gate was looking like everything I'd imagined about Burning Man.
These gate folk were so endearing and happy and soothing, that being told to roll in the dust, embrace accept it into your existence and ring a giant bell while screaming at the top of my lungs, "I am no longer a virgin!", was something that I found myself doing. Here I was, at the entry to the festival of craziness... and at that moment I opened my mind and accepted it as my destiny.
Stripped of my worldly ego and after a long and heartfelt embrace by the gate staff I drove another mile or so to the entry to Black Rock City.
Black Rock City is a city unlike anything you could ever imagine. With properly signed streets and intersections and actual addresses, it was as if I had driven miles through a seemingly endless desert into a bustling metropolis in the middle of a dry lake bed.
There were bars, and restaurants, movie theaters, coffee shops, and lots and lots of real estate built solely for this one week-long event. All temporary, yet highly sophisticated structural ingenuity at its finest. I made my way through the city in complete awe and found a place to park my car. Any tiredness I had from it being so late was instantly gone, and every one of my senses was stimulated by the surroundings. Laughter, music, lights, many many "art cars" and decorated bicycles were all around me. A city of 70,000 people was alive and breathing and I was right in the middle of it's heart.
At the time I was stone cold sober, I didn't have one drop of alcohol while there, nor any drugs of any kind, save for a cup of coffee that I bought in the morning. Which brings me to maybe the most widely misunderstood conception of the Black Rock City...
Burning Man is based on a "gifting economy". There is no barter, or currency. You ask and you receive that is that. Every drink, food, snack, commodity, nicety, and staple is all supposed to be provided by your own self, however if you are in need, you need look no farther than the first person you see for help.
After learning the ways of the society in Black Rock City, I had never in my life felt so safe and welcome. You become one with the collective family, and everyone looks out for everyone like their own brother or sister, son or daughter.
However, there are two luxuries that are available for purchase with US dollars. Coffee and Ice. I believe due to the sheer volume of the consumption of each commodity, there is no other way to go about it other than charging a rather minimal price. I saw about 20 very large semi trucks making constant 5 hour ice runs back and forth to the city of Reno, so the volume of ice usage must be astronomical. I have read that the profits made from ice sales go to local charities and schools.
The art around Burning Man is quite obviously the most unique place on earth that I have ever visited. A mix between a beach fair, Disneyland, and your wildest dreams. During the day or night you can spend your time visiting attractions such as a zip line, roller rink, skate park, dance classes, yoga, climbing structures, educational exhibits, workshops, and various bars and eateries. All while seeing some of the most extravagant art and sculptures you can image. Most well over the size of a house, these art exhibits are truly the work of giant imaginations of engineers. Color, light, science, and physics are the core of most of these giant exhibits, while art and expression is at the core of the rest.
Burning man is not just a huge drug induced party in the desert where everyone burns everything and gets insanely belligerent on drugs and alcohol. Sure, there are some of that stuff up there, but I didn't see it. Though I saw many dance parties, and bars, I didn't see one person using substances, and I didn't see a single fight or argument, which is quite contradictory to what we are led to believe about this event.
That was 2015, and this year 2018 makes my fourth burn in a row that I've experienced. Each one is different while maintaining a similar feel. Community, acceptance, and a humanity centered social environment. Burning Man opened my eyes to another way of living, and opened my heart to giving and building a a better world together with other people.
The best advice I can give you, is to try it yourself. Experience it once in your life and I guarantee you will find a happiness and peace. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity.