The Playa – Willis' Excellent Adventure

This isn’t the normal fare for WUWT, and I had some reservations initially about publishing a piece by Willis about “Burning Man”, fearing it would have tales of wicked debauchery, and irrational topics like crystal healing, bead therapy, and cannabis cures. As most pieces by Willis usually are, I found it entertaining in a “Mad Max/Road Warrior” sort of way, so I decided to post it. Read it at your own risk. After that, be sure to take the replicated Lewandowsky survey, no matter what side of the fence you exist on.

I do have one question for Willis. What sort of CO2 footprint would an event like this have? – Anthony

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I had said in my last post that I was going to check out the meteorological conditions on the Black Rock desert in Nevada. Having done so, I can testify that they are quite stunning, but hard on the human frame. The desert is a dry alkaline lake bed most of the year, perfectly flat, and a kind of dirty white. Here’s the Google Earth view, along with a view from the ground.

As a number of people correctly surmised, I was going to the event known as “Burning Man”. I had never gone before, and I am an incurable addict of the more outré oddities of the world. Black Rock City (called “BRC”) is a week-long carnival with 60,000 performers, artists, musicians, jugglers, aerialists, fire-dancers, madcap mechanics, acrobats, sculptors, dancers, and assorted other odd people, one of whom is yourself, going 24 hours a day for a week. There are bars, restaurants, tea houses, massage parlors, breakfast joints, an airport, emergency services … but no money changes hands. There are monumental works of art all around. Everything is scrupulously clean, not a gum wrapper on the ground. For one week, the city exists in light and glory and flame … and then it is all folded up and taken away, and the desert reclaims the landscape.

Burning Man was started in San Francisco by an artist. The legend in BRC is that he was breaking up with his wife and he went down to Baker Beach, built a statue of a man, made an altar containing the photos of his past life that he was done with, and burned both. It was so much fun, and so liberating and cathartic, that he did it the next year with some friends. Over the years the party outgrew the size of Baker Beach, and the beach authorities wouldn’t let him burn the statue of The Man, so it was moved to the desert. Which was fortunate, given the current size of the statue of The Man that gets burnt every year …

The Man. The structure holding up the Man is four stories tall, as can be seen by the people looking out from the upper floors. In the middle is a free-standing climbing maze that holds hundreds of people. It is burned on Friday night.

In addition to The Man, there is also The Temple. The story has it that it is the outgrowth of the altar that the artist burned that contained the photos and memories of his marriage. This is where people go to put up commemorations of friends and family who have died in the past year.

The Temple. This year it was constructed of intricate fretwork plywood, and it created a lovely, dappled shade. People leave all kinds of photos and written comments and remembrances of dead friends and relatives to be burned with the temple. Photo courtesy of David Raitt.

When you first come across this type of desert, it looks like a great sandy beach stretching in front of you, so the early Spanish explorers called it a “playa”, the Spanish word for beach. But in BRC, the word has other meanings. It means the actual alkaline dust that makes up the desert, as in a statement like “My food was covered in playa, but I ate it, I’ve been eating playa all week.” Then there is the “Inner Playa”, which refers to the large open area in the center of BRC where you find The Man and The Temple and a host of outrageous, mind-boggling art works of all types. Finally, it refers to the community of Burning Man, as expressed in the oft-heard statement “The Playa provides …”

The city contains a number of “camps”, which are groups of people organized around some theme, which is generally to provide something to the inhabitants of Black Rock City (called “burners” in the local parlance). For example, there’s a camp called The Grilled Cheese Incident (the title is a play on the name of a popular band). Every day at four pm they serve grilled cheese sandwiches for about an hour. There’s the Voodoo Soup camp, they serve soup in the afternoons. And the Popcorn Camp provides just what you think it would, all the time …

I had the immense good fortune to go as part of the Skinny Kitty Teahouse camp. The Teahouse serves up tea and entertainment in equal measures. There’s a piano and a stage. There are circus performers and aerialists … but I suppose I should tell this story in the order I lived it.

I was part of the crew that went in early to set up the Teahouse and get stuff ready. Here’s my pickup truck with the popup camper, towing a 10 kilowatt “Whisperwatt” generator plus a bunch of gear. The green tape on the windows is painters tape, to keep out the dust.

The wind was blowing when we got to Gerlach in the afternoon, not an uncommon occurrence as I was to find out. Here’s a shot on the way in …

Soon after I took this photo, we were engulfed in a full-on whiteout before we even got to the gates. When the wind kicks up, the dust blows up, sometimes so thick you cannot see more than a few feet in front. Dust masks and goggles are essential if you want to venture out into a whiteout … which is not recommended.

There are 60,000 tickets sold for Burning Man, and every vehicle is carefully checked at the gates. We also had to show our Early Access passes that proved we were part of the setup crew for an organized camp. The ticket checkers were totally enveloped in the whiteout, with serious protective gear.

The whiteout let up as we got in. Here’s what the Teahouse looked like when we arrived, the tent was already up. It is a huge (80′ x 50′, or 25m x 15m) saddleback tent capable of holding great numbers of people. Note the dust in the air. The tent is huge, the man on the left is near the camera so the dimensions are deceptive.

We set up our camp, laid out the tarps, put the sunshades out, got the barbecues set up, the usual. My truck is on the right, my friend’s 5th wheel is on the left, dust is in the air.

Then we went to work on the Teahouse. Tim had pre-built, numbered, and disassembled an outrageous structure of natural tree branches, to go around the “Reliquary”, where the Skinny Kitty’s sacred relics are displayed in front of the Teahouse. We had to install it on-site. First a trench was dug, and a 7-sided foundation of 6″ x 8″ (15 x 20 cm) timbers was bolted together, dropped in, and spiked in with rebar spikes. Then all of the pieces had to be found and bolted together in the proper order. This was made more interesting because two of the pieces had been given the same number, and that took a long while to sort out … but eventually it all came together. Here it is, later in the week.

The crystal pyramid in the middle of the structure encloses the Skinny Kitty holy relics, which are the bodies of four desert-mummified cats, the eponymous Skinny Kitties. Plus a crystal skull at the upper right. Here’s a shot of them at night …

I never asked why “Skinny Kitty”, I figured the reality couldn’t match my imagination. My guess on the back-story is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

In any case, we got Tim’s structure up around the Reliquary, and got the Teahouse ready. The Teahouse has a piano. It didn’t work at all, out of tune, keys sticking.. People told me not to worry, the piano doctor would fix it. When he got there, I was amazed. I learned to tune pianos while living in the South Pacific, because every piano there is out of tune. But this guy was the maestro, he could tune a piano at an extraordinary rate of speed while holding a conversation. I asked how he got so good. “I quit counting how many pianos I’d tuned when I hit 15,000”, he told me, and I saw absolutely no reason to disbelieve him. I watched him work his magic with the stuck keys as well, filing them a bit here and a bit there until it was all working. “It was very flat”, he said, “so I only tuned it up to where A equals 420 hertz or so. I’ll come back tomorrow and bring it up the rest of the way to 440 Hz”. And he did, and the piano stayed in tune for the rest of the week. And when a few keys started to stick, I pulled out my own wood rasp and fixed them, following in the steps of the master.

The other fun of the first few days was replacing the engine of the camp’s Art Car. What is an “Art Car”? Well, it’s anything that can drive and be art. Ours is the “Crystal Ship”, with what look like large luminous green crystals, but an art car can be anything. Here’s another camp’s art car …

This art car looks like a VW bus until you look at the scale, the wheels are almost as tall as a person.

Anyway, the motor of the Crystal Ship got frozen over the winter and the freeze plugs didn’t blow out. When they fired it up on the playa, it only ran for about 15 minutes and stopped, and the engine had to be replaced. On the Playa. Ooogh.

It was discovered that there were exactly three replacement engines available, one in Atlanta, one in Nashville, and one by a stroke of extraordinary luck in Sparks, Nevada, about a hundred miles away. Someone went out and got the engine, a “long block”, and then we had to make the switch. One of the hardest parts was removing the vibration damper from the old engine so it could be installed on the new. This task involved a cherry-picker engine hoist, a high-lift jack, about six guys, and a plethora of bad words. But we finally got the new engine installed, complete with a piece of plywood in place of a missing metal plate to seal off some unused engine vents … and it ran happily for the duration.

Meanwhile, others had been putting in the lights for the Teahouse and unloading the couches and building the tea bar and hooking up the generator, so when the gates finally opened for general entry, the Teahouse and the reliquary with its enclosing shrine and the Crystal Ship were all up and running.

Now that my initial work was done, I spent the next few days exploring the city and the inner playa. Before I left I’d given some thought to the principle of giving, which is one of the main principles underlying Burning Man. I pondered what I wanted to give away. Having lived in the desert, I realized that cold mist would likely be appreciated, so I brought a garden sprayer that sprays extremely fine mist.

It’s made by Solo, holds a litre (about a quart) of water, and sprays an extremely fine spray. And since the finer the spray the more the evaporation and the cooler the mist, it shoots a very cool mist. There are other folks spraying water in BRC, but mostly it’s just sprayers and they just get you wet. But my mist sprayer was cold enough to give people goosebumps, cold enough to make them squeak and stand on their toes. It made me reflect on how amazing evaporative cooling is, and gave me more insight into how the winds associated with thunderstorms over the ocean cool the ocean so well. Among other ways, they blow a fine mist off of the surface of the ocean, with a huge associated cooling.

I didn’t mess around when I misted someone, I misted every exposed square inch. I cooled them off completely. And on a hot day in the middle of the dusty playa, that is a very scarce experience indeed.

I greatly enjoyed my chosen act of giving, the act of misting people to a state of coolness, for a variety of reasons. First, it gave me the opportunity to talk to a host of very interesting people from all over the world. I couldn’t begin to list the nationalities and races of the folks I talked to. People from Quito, people from Hamburg, people from New York. I misted old folks and young folks. I misted fat old guys and beautiful young women. I misted drunkards and fools, wise women, the ugly people and the beautiful people. I misted people on stilts, and the people sweating while giving away popcorn in the popcorn booth. I always asked first, no problem with refusals, everyone gets full choice. I misted people lying down, standing, walking, sitting, riding bikes, and passing by in art cars. So one great joy was, I could meet and talk to anyone.

Second, it gave me the chance to practice acting without the slightest expectation of reward. In my view of the world, this is a most important skill  to learn, doing things without expecting a quid pro quo of some kind. Acting just for the value (or lack of value) inherent in the action itself. I didn’t expect anything at all in return, I just misted folks and went on my way.

Third, I misted the whole person. To do that, I had to bow down to spray peoples’ calves and lower legs. As a result, my chosen task gave me the opportunity to bow to people all day long, regardless of my opinion of them … and that is an opportunity that I rarely have in the world.

Finally, whether I’m writing for the web or building a building for a client, somebody is always unhappy about something. For example, I’m sure somebody will be unhappy with the way that I am telling this tale. But misting people in the heat of the day on the playa, I never had one complaint. Everyone thanked me profusely. I did a good, full, professional job, back of the neck, back of the knees, cover all exposed skin, some mist for the face if they wanted (after taking off their glasses or goggles), and I never had one person says anything bad about what I was doing, or question my motives, or say that I was making some mistake. A marvelous break from blogging, for example …

So I spent my days wandering the city and cooling down the overheated. I got three offers of marriage, but only if I would agree to start following them right then and there and I would mist them whenever they wanted … I allowed as how my beloved ex-fiancee might reasonably take exception to that.

I received a whole bunch of sometimes lovely but totally worthless gifts in exchange for misting people—crystals, buttons, string bracelets, jelly beans, decals.

And of course, along the way I saw a whole raft of astonishing things. Here, for example, are some of the art cars … first, to match the VW bus, there’s the VW bug … note the size of the man standing by the front tire:

Here’s a few more art cars, a tiny sample of the thousands, photos again courtesy of David Raitt

Art cars wander around the playa and the city, and the general rule is that if there is space you can hop on board and ride as long as you want. Ask first. Mostly I just walked, I saw more art that way. I’d seen photos of how last year there was a long dock in the playa, looking like it was sitting in the ocean, that lead to nowhere. This year, the dock was back, but this time with a half-sunken ship at the end …

Of course, in best Burning Man fashion, the mast of the ship shot giant flames at night from three points, the top of the mast and the ends of the spar, casting a ghostly light over the entire scene. Then there was the insect eye …

My friend Clint said “Where’s the door?” “What door?” I asked. “It has to have a door”, he said, and he was right. One of the panels swung inwards and we went inside. The interior was cool, with a carpet on the floor. We could see and hear the people outside, but no one could see us, no one knew we were there … strange. But perhaps not as strange as the giant toilet art car …

I went by the Center Camp. It’s a huge tent, open in the middle, and constantly occupied by a shifting cast of characters. While there was the usual assortment of what in the sixties we used to call “bliss ninnies”, there were also a host of amazing folks doing an astonishing variety of things.

As a scientist, I just loved the Ask-A-Physicist lady, who was giving away her knowledge:

On Wednesday, I came across a most strange art car. I was walking along a street and came across a full-rigged sailing ship. I’m a blue-water sailor, I looked at the rig, and it looked ready to sail. I asked them about it. Turns out it is a half-scale replica of a ninety foot (27 metre) 1790’s US navy square rigged frigate. It is fully detailed, and fully functional.

They said that when there was wind, they sailed it on the inner playa along with another ship that they described as the “covered wagon ship” that was parked on the playa. So I set off to find that other ship so I’d know where to find them when they sailed. I tracked it down. It turned out what is claimed to be a full scale replica of the wagon of Windwagon Thomas from 1853.

After the whiteout on the day I arrived, the weather had been mild … mild for the playa, at least, hot, but not too much wind. So nobody was sailing either ship, but now I knew where the sailing happened, and would follow up later. Meanwhile, it was Wednesday, circus night at the Teahouse. Skinny Kitty is associated with Bones and the CircusMeCCA, a non-profit circus arts education group. So the Wednesday night circus at the Teahouse is an amazing event … here’s the Teahouse and the moon …

And here is a photo of one of the performers, but none of this can capture the joy and the humor and the agility and skill of Bones and his son Kai and the circus people involved:

On Thursday I continued my daily walking and misting, with every few minutes delivering new amazements … for example, the bowling alley …

And of course, more art cars:

In the afternoon, the wind was kicking up, so I went out and found the square-rigger setting sail for a voyage.

So I said “Permission to come aboard, Cap’n?”, and climbed on board. We set the mainsails and the spanker and the topsails, but it wasn’t enough to move the ship. So we set the topgallant sails, and slowly at first, she started sailing. We cruised in a lovely fashion for a bit, all silent, only the wind. But as we sailed, the wind kept strengthening, and soon we were enveloped in a total whiteout. The Captain stopped the ship, because visibility was down to a couple of feet … it was exactly like any number of times that I’ve been stopped in a boat in a thick fog for fear of hitting something …

But I realized that, for the first time, I could just hop off a boat stopped in the fog and walk to shore … if I could find the shore, of course. But I’m a sailor, so I thanked the Captain and jumped overboard. I’d been watching before the whiteout, and I knew exactly which way the wind was blowing. So I set the wind to a certain angle on my right cheek and headed for what I thought was the direction of the Teahouse. It was very eerie to be walking in the whiteout. Visibility was about 5-10 feet (3 metres). I walked what seemed like forever, and I finally came ashore on the Esplanade, the inmost street of the city that surrounds the inner playa. I missed the street I was aiming for by one block … but I greatly enjoyed abandoning ship and walking to shore.

When I got up the next day, people said the Teahouse was out of water. I looked at the 5,000 gallon plastic tank, it was down to the level of the spigot. So I got a long board and some blocks, and I levered up one side of the tank and jammed in the blocks so the spigot would be below the water level. I filled up some pots and put them on to boil. I ended up spending the whole day making and serving gallons of tea to the folks who came by, and shooting up the hot dusty folks with cooling mist, and playing piano in between times. It was a great pleasure. Then in the evening I went to see them burn The Man. The fire-dancers from Skinny Kitty were part of the procession …

The burning of The Man on Friday night was a rowdy affair, people yelling and screaming, art cars playing loud music. The most amazing part to me was a strange meteorological phenomenon. As The Man was burning, the heat downwind was so intense that it set up dust devils. I was forcefully reminded of why the current climate models can’t model the climate. The dust devils were just one of the many ways that the surface cools itself when it gets too hot. They arise spontaneously as needed, for example when the surface is heated by a fire, and they move huge amounts of energy from the surface aloft.

You can see a few of the dust devils on the right. They arose just to the right of the fire, one after another, and they spun downwind until they dissipated. Clearly, once they were created they could continue to exist despite moving into cooler areas, and thus they were able to cool the surface down to below the temperature needed to initiate their creation. This “overshoot” is nowhere represented in the climate models.

Saturday, like Friday, was a lovely day with a warm night. The Teahouse ran out of tea, water, and ice. Someone put up a sign asking for donations, and soon we had plenty of tea, water and ice to serve the masses. The Playa provides …

On Saturday night they burned The Temple, along with the thousands of photos and writings and memories it contained. In contrast to the burning of The Man, this was a very solemn and moving affair, with people sitting down and everyone quiet. There were small dust devils, nothing like at the burning of The Man. The Temple burned down to the skeleton of its timbers fairly quickly, but they held up much, much longer than I had expected. I was reminded of a person struggling to stay alive, fighting the fight that all of us wage against our eventual deaths. And when The Temple finally fell, in place of the hooting and screaming when The Man fell, there was just a collective in-drawing of breath. People thought about their dead friends, their losses. Other pieces of art were burning, all over the inner playa. The moon silently watched everything.

And the next day, suddenly it was all over. The art cars were put away …

The aerialist ladies brought down the light and wires from the Teahouse …

We took the bar apart, tore down the shrine and stacked the pieces on a trailer, and brought down the Teahouse tent …

I walked out to the outskirts of the city, I could walk diagonally through the city blocks now, clean empty spaces where people had been camping and living. I came across a place with a sign that said “The Last Bar Standing”. I had a gin and tonic, and misted those customers who requested it. Walking back an hour later, there was not a single trace of the Last Bar at all, it had vanished like the rest of the city.

In the evening, I finished loading up my camper, gave a last scan for moop where I’d been parked, hooked up the Whisperwatt generator loaded with stuff, and drove to Reno. I shared a room at the Peppermill Casino with a friend. It had a bathroom the size of my living room, with polished marble floors, a wide-screen TV, a phone by the toilet, and two heads on the shower … my mind reeled.

At the end of the day, what did I take away from Burning Man? If I had to encapsulate it in one word, it would be …

… joy …

(Photo courtesy of Stacia Knight-Graham, taken on San Pedrito Beach, Baja.)

In closing, my profound thanks to the men and women of the Skinny Kitty Teahouse. It was my great pleasure and good fortune to have the opportunity to work and laugh with all of them, they made this newcomer feel most welcome, and they have my gratitude.

My best regards to everyone,


APPENDIX—Frequently Asked Questions Upon My Return

1. Is there lots of nudity? Well, everyone dresses the way that they want to. On the way out, as people were breaking down the city, there was what was obviously a family camp being taken apart. Grandma and grandpa held one end of the tent, their adult children were disassembling the other, the grandkids were watching the fun, and not one of them had a stitch of clothing on. Me, I wore clothes. People wear what they want in BRC, and nobody pays much attention.

2. Is there lots of sex? It sure seemed like it from the outside, but me, I’ve been with my ex-fiancee for thirty-three years now, so it wasn’t an issue. I laughed at the titles of some camps, like the play on Saks Fifth Avenue which was called the “Sex Filth Avenue Boutique” … but I didn’t bother going in.

3. Are there lots of gay people? Seems like, although it’s hard to tell, my gaydar is the old 1960’s model … on the Black Rock City Census form, the question regarding sexual orientation is as follows:

I think that pretty much covers it, except for those folks who are attracted to inanimate objects, barnyard animals, or aliens from UFOs …

4. Are the weather conditions intolerable? Part of the time, pretty much yes, you just have to live with them. The dust is alkaline, and irritates mucous membranes, and dries the skin. I was reminded that excess alkalinity is much harder on life than excess acidity. People routinely drink lemon juice, which is quite acid, but even mild alkalinity is quite damaging. This is relevant regarding the changing alkalinity of the ocean, what people mistakenly refer to as “acidification” but which is really “neutralization”.

I used my magic mist sprayer with a mix of water and lemon juice every night to wash my feet, face, and hands. Then I put on “Bag Balm”, which is a sort of lotion used by farmers and fishermen for cracked, dry hands … it’s called Bag Balm because it is used on the bags and teats of dairy cattle, works great on humans too. You need good goggles and some form of dust mask to go outside if the wind is up. The wind can kick up at any time, day or night.

5. How about toilets? Black Rock City has rows of portapotties all over the place, and as long as you can master the “hover” technique to keep from touching anything, it’s not an issue.

6. Is the City really that clean? Absolutely. To start with, nobody throws things on the ground. And many people pick up stuff as they travel and stow it for disposal. I picked up and put trash in my back left pocket. People even pick up what is called “moop”. Moop is the collective name for the corner torn off of the candy bar, or the cigarette butt, or the small shard of unrecognizable plastic, tiny bits of junk. Many folk attend to this throughout the week, so it is the cleanest city of 60,000 people on the face of the planet. Refreshing. Sites of established camps like Skinny Kitty are inspected after everyone has left. The Kitty has always scored well.

… from Willis’s upcoming autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … and Often” …

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Jon Kassaw MA LPC
September 9, 2012 9:57 am

Thank you for sharing since I have never been. Sounds completely interesting – especially since I am Licensed Professional Therapist. I think I would have loved it myself.

Policy Guy
September 9, 2012 9:59 am

I attended a few years ago. As you say it is an amazing experience!! I still carry a photo on my phone of me in a phone booth in the middle of the desert “talking to God”. Yes, there was someone on the line. Only down side was that the dust remained in crevices on my car for months.

September 9, 2012 10:02 am

articles like this are the reason I visit the site everyday. Thanks for the post.

September 9, 2012 10:10 am

Interesting parallels with the Pennsic War, a two week city of ten thousand plus medieval recreationists. At Pennsic, a burning model viking ship goes out into the lake and sinks, with shields painted with the arms of friends who have died during the year. A smaller and older event, a less harsh climate, but a good deal of the same feel.

September 9, 2012 10:12 am

Great post, I enjoyed every word. Thanks.

September 9, 2012 10:21 am

Willis , thank you for your descriptive , interesting account . Like all your other writing that I’ve had the pleasure to read I found it enjoyable .

Duke C.
September 9, 2012 10:23 am

A bit of of off-topic trivia-
Black Rock City also hosted the world altitude record for the CXST amateur rocket team back in May 2004. 77 miles.

September 9, 2012 10:24 am

Absolutely weird and bazaar…..Meanwhile, in another Bazaar, the pantomime tradition continues in British politics and the fight against climate change…..

G. Karst
September 9, 2012 10:26 am

Life is an accumulation of experiences. We are duty bound, to maximize, the richness of those experiences, thus obtaining wisdom. GK

The Old Crusader
September 9, 2012 10:31 am

So, where was Howl’s Moving Castle?

September 9, 2012 10:32 am

Thankyou. I lived it with you as I read the account. And it was joyous.

September 9, 2012 10:40 am

Thanks for putting the experience on Burning Man in WUWT. Great article giving just a feel of what is an adventure I will not be taking. Read a few words about it in the local paper but never in this personal depth.

September 9, 2012 10:43 am

Training camp for life after CO2AGW. /sarc

Tom J
September 9, 2012 10:45 am

Fabulous, fun, and, dare I say, uplifting story. Thanks very much for sharing it. I think it shows that people, left alone, achieve a higher purpose when they’re unfettered by a multiplicity of rules and regulations. Of course that’s just my opinion. One thing that’s unarguable though, is that people will exhibit a high degree of creativity in that environment. Here’s to hoping it can spread.

September 9, 2012 10:49 am

So can I just turn up next year with an “ask a climate skeptic” plaquard and join the fun?

September 9, 2012 10:53 am

no money changes hands. There are monumental works of art all around
Sounds like my kind of gig. Thanks for the interesting festival report Willis.

September 9, 2012 10:54 am

Are dogs allowed? I think they’d poop up the place and get in the way.

Tom Bakewell
September 9, 2012 11:05 am

Thanks Willis for your wonderfully lucid post. I especially liked your description of how you arrived at what you brought to share.

September 9, 2012 11:10 am

Ok, Willis, a few historical corrections. There is a woman who teaches art at a local college in SF who has a beach house and used to have gatherings where they would burn art on the beach. One time Larry took this man he built to the gathering and burned it. It was quite a hit so he did it again the following year. After a few times, his man thing got to be the focus of the evening and it grew too big for the woman’s art parties so they moved it to Baker Beach. This was when it was still being held at the summer solstice. Well, it finally got so big the cops wouldn’t let them to that anymore.
There was a fellow named John Law who had a gathering over labor day in the Black Rock as part of the Cacophony Society (you may already be a member) and invited Larry to bring his man out there and burn it and that’s how things ended up out there. I started going in 2003 but have known people who go going all the way back to 1996. When I first heard about it I thought it was some kind of radical feminist celebration (no kidding, I really did). After 1996 there was a parting of the ways, of sorts, between Law and Harvey. Law wanted to keep the place more loose with fewer rules. Harvey wanted to get more “carnival” about it. Some people were killed in 1996 because of accidents (a tent or two run over and a motorcycle accident) and so that kind of settled matters as far as future organization.
The one thing that bothers me is that of course the most extreme and spectacular things are the things that are presented when reading about BM. For me, it is probably some of the hardest work I do all year when I go out there. You never know what you are going to get. You could possibly have a whole week of rain as they had in 2000. But it sounds like you had a great time and I would like to extend an invitation to you, Willis.
There is an event in Northern California over Memorial Day weekend. It is mostly “old school” burners, some of whom don’t even go to the Black Rock anymore and is held in a pretty remote area on private land that is somewhat difficult to get in and out of but provided it has dried up normally from the winter rains is accessible by regular cars (we’ve only had a problem one year and still managed to accommodate everyone) . It is smaller, just a hundred or two people and it is a private gathering by invitation only. Firearms are welcome so if you have an aversion to being around guns, it probably isn’t for you. It’s the best defended party west of the Pecos. You can arrive as early as you want, stay as long as you want but you will be self-sufficient and pack out your trash. The only stipulation is that I would be responsible for the conduct of any guests I invite and have no problem inviting you. If you are interested in going next spring, drop me a line.
Oh, and “hovering” actually makes the problem worse. Couple of tips: When entering the pot, put the bite valve of your hydration pack in your mouth. After exiting, use the hand sanitizer that can be found at the end of the row of pots and only then remove your bite valve. And never accept a hot dog from someone with a blue arm.
This is probably the best collection of photos I have found from this year’s event:

September 9, 2012 11:12 am

“Only down side was that the dust remained in crevices on my car for months.”
The playa changes everything it touches.

September 9, 2012 11:16 am

A few years back, one of the auto mags did a report on the ‘art car’ aspect….but in no way did justice to the pagentry that you described. Thanks so much, am linking to my friends list and adding this to my ‘bucket list’.

Pamela Gray
September 9, 2012 11:18 am

I have a skinny kitty! Who would have thought it had family??? It has been in our family blacksmith shop for decades, maybe even 100 years and counting. It was hanging on the wall so I climbed up and got it down before we cleaned out the property getting the ranch ready to sell. It is in storage at the moment but it will be on my wall as soon as I can retrieve it next weekend. I put it in a “kitty” box (again rescued from the blacksmith shop) so it didn’t just look like it was levitating.
What are the odds??

September 9, 2012 11:20 am

tallbloke says:
September 9, 2012 at 10:53 am

no money changes hands. There are monumental works of art all around
Sounds like my kind of gig. Thanks for the interesting festival report Willis.

420 USD entry fee, says wikipedia. If the price over the years is indicative of inflation in the US, you have already arrived at what the Eurozone will experience next.

September 9, 2012 11:22 am

fenbeagleblog says at September 9, 2012 at 10:24 am
and he links to
Anybody who has not, you’ve just got to see that link, especially if you are a ‘Brit’.
Thanks Fenbeagle. That’s brilliant.

September 9, 2012 11:22 am

Brilliant! I’ve always wanted to visit Burning Man but reading your travelogue is the next best thing.
“A marvelous break from blogging, for example … So I spent my days wandering the city and cooling down the overheated.”
But cooling down warmists is what you do best Willis 🙂

September 9, 2012 11:26 am

Thank You Anthony for posting this. As always Willis’ writing are insightful and enjoyable.

Steve McIntyre
September 9, 2012 11:31 am

One of my sisters went to Burning Man as well. A few days ago, my 89 year old mother wrote her 6 children (see below). I think that it was in jest. (Not for lack of energy as she just returned from a trip to Moose Factory on James Bay, an expedition which included a 5 hour canoe trip):

From: Mcintyre Katherine
Sent: September-03-12 1:08 PM
To: …
Subject: Burning Man
Please put this on your calendar for next year, a family reunion at Burning Man in the Nevada desert next August. Forward to the grand children so they are all included. Love Mom this is for my 90th birthday party celebration, xoxo

September 9, 2012 11:42 am

I wanna see Willy Soon @ Burning Man. Willis fits in too well.

Adam Gallon
September 9, 2012 12:00 pm

And people claim that only us Brits are eccentric! What a marvelous collection of odd people (In the best sense of the words!) I wonder what a certain Australian would make of it?

September 9, 2012 12:02 pm

Thanks for the first hand report on this unique assembly of intersting ideas in the middle of nowhere.

Pamela Gray
September 9, 2012 12:05 pm

Unless it is a dead cat, right?

Pamela Gray
September 9, 2012 12:06 pm

If I ever get a chance to go, and I’m thinking I might be able to, I will bring Dead Kitty with me. Keeps me company.

September 9, 2012 12:11 pm

Amazing event. For those who have never experienced the Nevada desert dusty grit…it is weird stuff…I recall it sticks to everything and finds a path to everything. As for the misting, great way to cool off in the dry heat. To cool off, we used small wet cotton towels around our necks while at Nellis. That works for awhile. I recall salty meals and lots of water. Glad you shared the desert fun.

September 9, 2012 12:16 pm

Another thing I would suggest to anyone who goes: prepare for the cold at night. People often associate the desert with heat and some years it can get quite hot but what people don’t come prepared for if they have never been before is that it can get quite cold at night. 2004 had temperatures in the upper 30’s with strong winds on a few nights. Our camp provides several “burn barrels” along the street for people who are hurrying home (back to their camp) to warm up after dark and didn’t realize how cold it can get, particularly when accompanied by a stiff wind (common out there). Every year is different, though, and my mates tell me this was a good year and not so cold at night.

Stephanie Clague
September 9, 2012 12:29 pm

Freedom and individuality and fun combined with the best of American hospitality and friendliness, be yourself and be true to yourself, its the American way. The future is not the herd or the hive it is the individual, the free individual making connections with other free people and coming together to create a human beauty, a human poem of the best kind. If life means anything it must be this.
Just reading about it cheered me up no end, many thanks for sharing.

September 9, 2012 12:36 pm

I liked especially Willis’ observations about the sand devils.
And as for the carbon footprint: Maybe the admission fee is indicative of the energy use. As I normally equate energy to money…
Were there protesters outside the gates? 😉

September 9, 2012 1:03 pm

This has to go on our “to go to” list.

September 9, 2012 1:07 pm

“There are bars, restaurants, tea houses, massage parlors, breakfast joints, an airport, emergency services … but no money changes hands”
OK, please do tell how I can get a steak, rum and coke and a massage without paying !!??!!.

September 9, 2012 1:10 pm

Great work, Willis. Just what we’d expect of you.

September 9, 2012 1:20 pm

I love Willis’ ramblings, I adore the desert, but I hate leftist anticulturalist, philisophically uneducated, nihilist, European-descended, gross-me-out, get a job, freakin’ hippies.

September 9, 2012 1:25 pm

I think the Man burned on Saturday, followed by EGO and Burn Wall Street which had to be delayed from Friday due to winds/dust storms. Other than that, Great description! It certainly was much more than I expected too. Community and Spirituality in the desert. Thanks for the spray BTW!

September 9, 2012 1:30 pm

Awesome Willis. I was looking forward to your take. Going back for a second read……..

September 9, 2012 1:30 pm

So, the big one next year? Glastonbury, the Grandaddy of all festies, the biggest and the best. Tickets on sale next month, usually about a 10-1 chance of getting one. If you do make it there will be a few pints of decent beer awaiting you in the green fields.

September 9, 2012 1:37 pm

From the pictures, there appear to be few people of color at BRC. Is this a correct observation?

September 9, 2012 1:39 pm

I liked the land yachts.

September 9, 2012 1:51 pm

I found it entertaining in a “Mad Max/Road Warrior” sort of way, so I decided to post it. Read it at your own risk.
Made me want to puke, as all worship of human meat (carne) and government does.

September 9, 2012 1:57 pm

I loved your story about the piano tuner! Sounds like a wonderful event – thank you.

September 9, 2012 2:05 pm

If you can, watch the closing ceremony of the Paralympics. The Mad Max/Road warrior crusties are there and on form with Coldplay providing great sounds.

September 9, 2012 2:12 pm

Best description of the Burning Man I’ve read.
Thanks, Willis

Don K
September 9, 2012 2:20 pm

Very entertaining. Thanks.

September 9, 2012 2:24 pm

Thanks for showing us such an excellent collection of great and extraordinary photographs of the art works at Burning Man. The photos really give one a clear idea of what it is like to be there in the festival. When I got there it was out of season and not so hot and dusty but it was still interesting. Those car sculptures are really so well done. It was a fascinating and well written read too.

September 9, 2012 2:40 pm

“…I never had one person says anything bad about what I was doing, or question my motives, or say that I was making some mistake. A marvelous break from blogging, for example …”
Good one Willis. Welcome back. Thanks for sharing.

September 9, 2012 2:51 pm

“No pets of any kind allowed.

Ohoh. My wife is going to be some upset about that rule! And what is wrong with THC therapy?
On a serious note,man,wish I could be there.Some guys have all the luck.

September 9, 2012 2:54 pm

And a question,Willis or Anthony.Why do they call it Black Rock,when it looks white? From a Canuck who has never been there.

charles nelson
September 9, 2012 3:04 pm

I love WUWT.
Mind expanding.

September 9, 2012 3:13 pm

You write beautifully, but I found your description weirdly discordant. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on my own in the Australian desert, and for me deserts are about you and the desert, nothing else. A desert full of people is a strange concept for me.

September 9, 2012 3:19 pm

Burning Man? Thats nothingWillis, I’ll be at Widecombe fair on Tuesday
Widecombe fair must be the worlds smallest, internationally known fair where absolutely nothing happens other than middle aged ladies in a tea tent will be serving cream teas and some ponies will be jumping over modest fences and ….er…that’s it.
The thousands of tourists that come here from all ove the world for the event must be completely bemused when they arrive and find nothng but a tea tent and some ponies jumping. Quintessential England (it usually rains) Burning man indeed.

September 9, 2012 3:22 pm

Very entertaining read. I liked the personal account of it.

Robert of Ottawa
September 9, 2012 3:30 pm

Hmm sounds like fun if you’re attached to an event. Rather hippyish Ken Kessy roadshow. People clearly put a lot of effort into their events.

September 9, 2012 3:56 pm

Very cool article. I loved the photos as well.
A small note of correction: The Effigy burns were Thursday night. The Anubis Burn was Friday night, with high winds postponing the Wall Street burn. The Man burned on Saturday night. Wall Street Burned Sunday morning at about 1am and the Temple was burned Sunday night.
I can’t blame the author for losing track of the days because the event is so fun, overwhelming and surreal that days simply cease to matter after a while.
As far as those wondering how one can get food and drinks without paying; it is easy, be a cool person and participate. The food and drink will come to you. Never expect any gift, and freely accept that which you are given (within reason) and give the gift of a positive, friendly attitude in return.
Burning Man is an expensive endeavor. Not only are the ticket prices high ($240 to $400), but all the things one needs to survive in the desert for a week, as well transportation and such can cause expenses to easily climb over $1000 (or more, depending on how extravagant one gets). That said, Burning Man is SO worth it! Pooling resources with friends is a great and fun way to reduce the costs.
Lastly, the porta-potties were largely very clean considering. Most of the time, “Hovering” was not needed at all. Hovering is usually a great source of messes because many hoverers tend to “miss.” The better way is to find a clean potty, or use some TP to wipe the seat clean.

Bill Jamison
September 9, 2012 4:14 pm

That was a great read Willis! It captures the spirit and essence of Burning Man as well as it can be captured in just words and images. I tell people that you can’t understand Burning Man unless you’ve been to Burning Man. There is no simple answer to the simple question of What is Burning Man? It is what you make of it. I was disappointed that I couldn’t attend this year but I hope to go home next year!

September 9, 2012 4:29 pm

What recession?

September 9, 2012 4:30 pm

I can only echo previous sentiments, “Well done Willis!”

September 9, 2012 4:32 pm

This recession.
[Great story BTW, Willis.]

September 9, 2012 4:38 pm

That was great Willis. I was riding the California Zephyr from Chicago to Sacramento that week and was st first surprised at how many passengers were bound for Reno. A little observation and a question or two revealed that most were bound for Burning Man. The other interesting factoid was that many passengers, deciding that they had the time to take a train did so because they found the current situation in airpoirts intolerable. Still, in crossing the state line from Nevada to California a raft of DHS or DEA gang members with dogs to be trained came aboard in Reno and left in Truckee.

September 9, 2012 4:40 pm

Time for a WillisUpToWhat website.

September 9, 2012 4:48 pm

Looks like it makes one inclined to say “Whoa, Dude” out loud.

September 9, 2012 4:48 pm

What were some of the items traded in lieu of cash or plastic?

Jim Barker
September 9, 2012 5:10 pm

As Always, Thank you Willis. A great description of what seemed to be a great time.

September 9, 2012 5:16 pm

A true adventure. Thanks for sharing.

September 9, 2012 5:48 pm

Oh good, the previous person who described Burning Man to me described a very similar experience. Believable, but just barely. It’s got to be an amazing effort for some of the over-the-top participants.
Did you mist the physicist? Seems like someone who would appreciate the offer from several points of view.
Heh – your first time visit there is believable but just barely. I would have expected you to have been there ages ago.

September 9, 2012 5:56 pm

Nice article. You’d never see me in this kind of new age stuff. Beyond the fun, its paganism and name participates of the anti human movement so dear to the greens.

September 9, 2012 6:14 pm

This is how Woodstock should have been handled. Organized behind the scenes (check the neat parking lot in the Reuters pix), with rules, and no dogs allowed.

D. Patterson
September 9, 2012 6:20 pm

Next, a Ceremony for the House of the Empty Chairs…..

September 9, 2012 6:59 pm

willis –
any Zombies about?
6 Sept: Yahoo: AP: Alicia A. Caldwell: Seriously? Government warns citizens of ‘zombie apocalypse’ to urge better emergency plans
“The zombies are coming!” the Homeland Security Department says.
Tongue firmly in cheek, the government urged citizens Thursday to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, part of a public health campaign to encourage better preparation for genuine disasters and emergencies. The theory: If you’re prepared for a zombie attack, the same preparations will help during a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake or terrorist attack…
The Federal Emergency Management Agency hosted an online seminar for its Citizen Corps organization to help emergency planners better prepare their communities for disaster. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year first launched a zombie apocalypse social media campaign for the same purposes.
Emergency planners were encouraged to use the threat of zombies — the flesh-hungry, walking dead — to encourage citizens to prepare for disasters…

September 9, 2012 6:59 pm

…..”fearing it would have tales of wicked debauchery, and irrational topics like crystal healing, bead therapy, and cannabis cures.”
Your fears may be put to rest, Willis held back, it would appear 🙂

September 9, 2012 7:20 pm

Nevada City attempted to make Black Rock City a sister city. Here is the local newspaper story:
Burning Man resolution extinguished in Nevada City
Faced with heated opposition, Nevada City’s clerk extinguished his proposal that called for the town to be a companion city to the temporarily-erected home of the Burning Man festival.
“It’s becoming too massive,” said Niel Locke, the clerk. “It was to be a fun thing and it has gotten way beyond that.”
Locke first proposed the resolution after last year’s Burning Man, its 25th anniversary, which was his fourth visit to the event.
The resolution had no actual municipal ties, as Black Rock is not an incorporated city, but a temporary gathering location in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert during the annual Burning Man festival at the end of August.
As word spread of Locke’s resolution, news media “started a blitz” that stoked embers of opposition among residents, businesses and even elected officials, Locke said.
“That is not what I wanted,” said Locke, who introduced himself as “the perpetrator of the great firestorm today” in an emotional speech at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“It would be a no-win situation for the council or Black Rock city,” Locke said. “That is not anything of what I wanted. It was a fun little project.”
Many of Nevada County and Nevada City residents make the annual trek to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where the temporary Black Rock city is erected to house the week-long Burning Man at the end of August.
After the event, the festival’s remnants are collected and the area returns to its uninhabitable barren landscape.
Locke withdrew the agenda item a few hours before the council would have voted on it.
“I’m glad to hear that Locke withdrew his resolution,” said Christina Files, a Nevada County resident. “It was vague and didn’t seem to fully address all of the fiscal and logistical implications for Nevada City and all of Western Nevada County.”
The resolution was never meant to attract at 50,000 of Burning Man’s attendees, Locke said. Locke said his resolution should merely have been proposed as a proclamation, which requires no council vote.
“It will probably still come up in the future,” Locke said to the council.

September 9, 2012 7:25 pm

Reblogged this on Is it 2012 in Nevada County Yet? and commented:
Never been to Burning Man and wondered why Nevada City was thinking to making Black Rock City a sister city. Here is what what the fuss if all about. As noted in the Union Article linked below issue will come up again.

September 9, 2012 7:27 pm

Thank you, Willis, for a greatly enjoyable account. I live in California (but will be moving back East in a few days) and have spoken with several people who have been to Burning Man, some regulars and some one-timers. Their descriptions were much less insightful than yours, but entirely consistent with whay you describe. I’m a bit embarrassed at never having attended, as like yourself I enjoy the occasional opportunity to experience the fringes.
I was glad to read your account of the cleanliness of BM, as that is a rarity. I commend the Experimental Aircraft Association for the same tradition. The primary EAA event in Oshkosh, as well as their Sun and Fun get-together in Lakeland FL, are equally spotless. The number of attendees is much larger than at Black Rock, but I’ve never seen any moop on the ground for more than a few seconds, and what little bit got there was clearly by accident.
Again, thanks hugely.

Policy Guy
September 9, 2012 7:33 pm

One other comment.
You did a great job publicly describing such a private/public personal experience. Yes, its pagan to an extent, but also much more existentialist. The displays I remember are far ranging from primal native to extremely high tech. Incidentally I just reviewed my full photos set from the Burning Man I attended, and recall now clearly recall why I have only one photo in my phone photo library of me “lobbying God” at a Black Rock Bell phone. The huge number of other photos could not pass a public test. Though I filled out their questionnaire as a “Visitor/ Observer”. Most of my photos were of “Participants” (the other choice to that question).
As far as the Woodstock comparison is mentioned, I bought eight tickets to Woodstock, of which I sold six, when my car lost a break fluid cylinder on the Friday night before the event and there was no way I could go myself. Some were sold to my brother who went and came back with incredible photos, mostly of mud. Burning Man is much more civilized, in my opinion, believe it or not. Of course the music was better at Woodstock.
Willis, Great work!!!
Thank you

September 9, 2012 8:09 pm

I heard of Burning Man only when Number One Son did some volunteer post-earthquake rebuilding work in Peru for an organization affiliated with the festival. So it was instructive (and entertaining) to learn more. It sounds oddly non-ideological: not a whiff of theology, nor politics, not even bohemian angst, at least from Willis’s account. It sounds like a bunch of folks having a lot of entirely whimsical (if elaborate) fun. What a relief from the tedium of the Sunday talk shows and the depressing ‘occupy’ people.
/Mr Lynn

September 9, 2012 8:12 pm

Great stuff Willis – and thanks for expanding my vocabulary. “Bliss ninnies”, hadn’t heard that one before.

Bill Jamison
September 9, 2012 8:31 pm

Talk about climate change….the Black Rock Desert, and the Playa specifically, are the remains of the ancient Lake Lahontan. All that’s left of it is Pyramid Lake. As you drive out to the Playa you can see the bathtub rings on the mountains indicating the various water levels (ancient shore lines) as well as tufa from the springs that bubbled up in the ancient lake. At it’s peak it’s estimated to have been 900 feet deep and covered 8,500 square miles!
The Playa is the second largest flat area in the Northern Hemisphere.

September 9, 2012 8:40 pm

Whoa! Great archaeological info Bill Jamison – perhaps like a garden of Eden 14,000 years ago to the Paleo pooper in Oregon cave?

September 9, 2012 8:53 pm

The “Racing Snail” art car is awesome.

September 9, 2012 9:00 pm

Looks like it was a great adventure, and your equally great writing no doubt does it justice Willis.
Clearly this is Woodstock meets Road Warrior, with heavy emphasis on Road Warrior. The vehicles were just awesome, they alone would make the visit worthwhile.
Someone must have taken video, perhaps the links will pop up eventually. That’s not meant to imply that your vivid telling lacks anything at all, it’s just that it would be great to see that city in a sandstorm from the inside of that cool house-train-car.

Eugene WR Gallun
September 9, 2012 9:32 pm

On stage, as a terrible tragedy unfolds, a great writer will often have the clowns put in an appearance. It reminds the audience that others have their own concerns and that the eyes of the gods see more than just that on which our own attention has become narrowly focused.
The best metaphor for this articile appears within it — Willis’ cooling spray. I feel refreshed. WUWT is the better for having published this. Excellant call Anthony.
Eugene WR Gallun

Robert Clemenzi
September 9, 2012 9:55 pm

There are lots of videos. Just search youtube!

September 9, 2012 10:06 pm

Ah, one of the “events of life” I’ve always wanted to attend, and never quite managed to make… Living in the S.F. Bay Area I’ve been aware of it from early on. Wanted to go back when it was nearly free (and very easy) but life was too full. Now that life is less full, I’m hard pressed to cough up $1000+ for a week in the desert camping and, frankly, it’s not the same. It’s become more “trendy” and a bit less “just a happening”. Still, I’d love to go someday. (Wonder if anyone needs a computer geek who will “work for passage”…)
Having the Redhead Gene, I’d not be able to participate in the skin exposure part. Life is so unfair some times… I’d be forced to look like a geek, covered head to toe. Oh Well; as a geek I guess it’s OK to look the part 😉
On one occasion, I almost bought an old School Bus conversion that was a Burning Man veteran, intending to use it the next year; but “things came up” and I let the bus go by. From time to time I still have a fantasy of what ‘kit’ to bring. My old yellow Mercedes wagon almost made it 3 years ago. A friend and I agreed to go, and I planned the ‘kit’; then found out tickets were selling out faster than we could seal the deal. (Figured on putting a large plastic tank of water on the roof rack and setting up with a cabin tent, but taking refuge in the car if wind / dust got to be too much.) Somehow it was counter intuitive to me that you needed to buy tickets months in advance for a quasi-improvised event… oh well, live and learn…
Oh for what might have been… At least now I’ve got it ‘second hand’ from your story 😉
Your event sounds like a fun one too. Maybe a bit more like before Burning Man became “known”. Though I can’t quite get the vision of “Bikini & Holster” out of mind 😉
The descriptions of “hovering” gives me the ‘easy idea’ of what to provide if I ever do make it to Burning Man… Take a wash kit and sparkle up the portapoties… I’m sure some folks would appreciate knowing that a couple of times a say the surfaces would be sprayed down with lysol / rinsed with Mr. Clean or whatever; and wiped to a sparkle.
As a Burning Man “wannabe” of long standing, I’ve read bits about it over the years. To the question of “how to get dinner for free”: As I understand the ethos (from the outside…) the event is supposed to “just happen” and be partly an exercise in mutual support AND self reliance. Everyone is responsible for their own ‘kit’ and for providing something to the community; at the same time, folks are expected to see what is needed and help to provide it. This entails a certain degree of social awareness… So if someone is just there to gawk and get a free lunch, not much “comes to them”. If folks are there to actually be part of the community and provide to others; when they have an issue, the solution tends to come…
With that said, the “regulars” have a lot of it planned and organized. Partly just from many years of ‘being there’ leading to known ‘things to do’. (And part of why being a random just showing up was a little bit intimidating to me. I’m sure I can ‘care for my own’ even in a desert; but don’t have the experience base to plan a contribution well enough… So that porta potty cleaner idea is helpful 😉 The street layout. The main participant events. The larger venues. Those are planned. Yet the particulars are different each time as many of the participants change each year.
Still, some years things have run out ( like, IIRC, one year water was short) so then folks adapt. Like the engine story. Folks just found a way to get more water that year. It is part of the ‘charm’. Folks just making the community work without a lot of the ‘overhead’ of structured governance. An exercise in ’emergent behaviour’ applied to community. Part of what I’ve always found attractive.
(I’m into “preparedness” but part of that is awareness of ‘adaptive behaviour’ benefits. Mixing both of those in a high desert in a cool ‘happening’ setting has a certain charm 😉 If only I had more “cool” I’d likely have gone ahead and done it years ago…)
So thanks, Willis, for the experience by proxy.

September 9, 2012 10:07 pm

Thank you Willis. This is something I’ve never heard of and unlikely ever to see. Quite fascinating. I do fancy the Ask-A-Physicist lady. She looks all thumbs. 🙂

Bill Parsons
September 9, 2012 10:11 pm

George says:
September 9, 2012 at 11:10 am
Ok, Willis, a few historical corrections. There is a woman who teaches art at a local college in SF who has a beach house and used to have gatherings where they would burn art on the beach. One time Larry took

Shows what I know. I would have sworn the original “burning man” at Black Rock was the guy done in by a Molotov cocktail at the end of Spencer Tracy’s no good, very Bad Day there.

Thanks for a very entertaining post, Willis

September 9, 2012 10:22 pm

Thanks for this tour. Did you, or anyone you talked to, remark on the image of the insect-eye car? It immediately struck me as a reasonable (rotation-axis) profile of the Mandelbrot set “turtle” (turned 90 degrees from its usual presentation).

September 9, 2012 10:27 pm

Oh, and on the question of why it is called the “Black Rock Desert” if it is white:
As I understand it, the area includes the surrounding lava fields as well. So it is a desert, made of “Black rocks” and a white playa area in the middle…

September 9, 2012 10:48 pm

If it is any consolation, the alkaline dust you were breathing sucked CO2 from the atmosphere as it weathered from surrounding silicate mountains.The surrounding mountains are appropriate to the festival as the Western Nevada Shear Zone which lies along the western edge of the BR “playa” likely juxtaposes basement rocks separated 300km from when they formed in San Andreas Fault style displacement during the era of (dancing?) dinosaurs. Deep energy.

Mac the Knife
September 9, 2012 11:08 pm

Thanks, so much! I had hoped to make Burning Man this year, to post a memorial to Jim Gaither at The Temple. Jim was a many times repeat offender at Burning Man, a creator of art cars, a demolition derby maestro, a soliton soul from Seattle and originally a farm boy from Iowa. Life got in the way for me, both health and necessity, que latisma, but I really appreciate your various vignettes of the grand circus that is Burning Man.
Thank You. And Thanks to Anthony for posting your snap shot of chimeric America.

Don Monfort
September 9, 2012 11:21 pm

No criticism from Mosher?!! I guess he will be riding down there with you next year, Willis.

Mac the Knife
September 9, 2012 11:27 pm

Stephanie Clague says:
September 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm
friendliness, be yourself and be true to yourself, its the American way. The future is not the herd or the hive it is the individual, the free individual making connections with other free people and coming together to create a human beauty, a human poem of the best kind. If life means anything it must be this. Just reading about it cheered me up no end, many thanks for sharing.
Just so….. Perfectly stated!

Ken Nohe
September 10, 2012 12:42 am

It would be great to have similar festivals elsewhere in the world but high costs and very different mentalities probably insure that Burning Man will remain typically American.

September 10, 2012 1:08 am

If you’ve never done it, I would recommend something orthogonal to Burning Man: Oshkosh. It is pristine in both the behavior of the hundreds of thousands who attend each year, as well as getting nearly pristine surroundings barring the occasional T-storm.
In a different context, you get a sense of what a large, self-selected mass of humanity is capable of in the very best way.

Lady in Red
September 10, 2012 4:38 am

A friend of mine went to Burning Man, again, this year. Full of anticipation of the events, as well as stories of previous experiences.
Apparently, if you parachute into Burning Man, it’s free. Free, I pondered. It’s been some years since my last jump, but, hell….. It might be kicky. And a chance to meet the McIntyre clan…? and Willis…?
The chutes today are like butterfly wings, after all. …..Lady in Red

Lady in Red
September 10, 2012 4:45 am

Oh dear. Apparently, I’d have to parachute in — naked! I have princess skin and that wouldn’t work at all.
Back to standing in line for tickets. …smile…. …..Lady in Red

September 10, 2012 6:23 am

Yes, there certainly are videos. This one has a great overview of the site. Willis is not kidding about the scale, a small city. It also has some very good night shots. The fireworks at the burning were something else and the video captures it nicely.
Everything is bigger … in Nevada.

September 10, 2012 7:23 am

Never much for crowds, but enjoyed the vicarious looksee.
Thanks Willis..

September 10, 2012 7:43 am

Is this for real, or some kind of psychedelic acid-dream? 🙂

GP Hanner
September 10, 2012 8:41 am

Really? All those people have nothing better to do?

GP Hanner
September 10, 2012 9:56 am

I’m not bitching. I find it stunning in its pointlessness.

September 10, 2012 9:57 am

How much warmist activism / concern was evident there? (Also, is there a rule against overt “cause”-oriented campaigning?)

John Whitman
September 10, 2012 11:14 am

I was also at Burning Man this year. I did wander by the Skinny Kitty once in a dust storm, no Willis.
I have recommended to all my associates and family to go.
I will be there with my daughter’s family next year plus a bunch of old retired engineers of the nuclear variety.

September 10, 2012 1:03 pm

I dropped by the Skinny Kitty on Monday to say hi, but you were out and about at the time. I ended up being caught up in other Playa adventures and never made it by again, unfortunately. Maybe next year 🙂
Burning Man is an interesting community inasmuch as it is remarkably non-political. It appeals to both young liberal silicon valley types (the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Tesla, Amazon, and others are regular participants) and libertarians of all stripes. Probably not too many on the socially conservative side, but you can’t please everyone. There is a fairly high level of new age woo that you have to ignore, but its never really forced on you.

Mac the Knife
September 10, 2012 1:28 pm

Man_Tran says:
September 10, 2012 at 1:08 am
Willis, If you’ve never done it, I would recommend something orthogonal to Burning Man: Oshkosh. It is pristine in both the behavior of the hundreds of thousands who attend each year, as well as getting nearly pristine surroundings barring the occasional T-storm. In a different context, you get a sense of what a large, self-selected mass of humanity is capable of in the very best way.
I’ll second that recommendation, to all of the WUWT participants and lurkers! The 7 day AirVenture exposition, convention, and fly-in sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association at Oshkosh WI in the last week of July each year is the lalapalooza of aviation events. It is the equivalent of Mecca to the muslims, for aviation enthusiasts! If you haven’t made at least one pilgrimage to the annual Oshkosh airshow, you will be amazed at the thousands of aircraft (antiques, warbirds, current military aircraft, commercial private aircraft, experimental/homebuilt aircraft, ultralights, rotorcraft, amphibious aircraft and seaplanes, etc., etc.) that you will be able to examine ‘up close and personal’! The airshows every afternoon are phenomenal, featuring only the best aerobatic pilots and teams available and more squadrons of fighter and bomber aircraft than can be seen anywhere else in the world! The countdown to AirVenture 2013 is already underway!

John Whitman
September 10, 2012 1:42 pm

Willis and Zeke,
My group was camped at the inner side Kingcup between 4:30 and 4:45. I picked it because it was relatively quiet.
Sorry I missed you both.

September 10, 2012 1:53 pm

GP Hanner
September 10, 2012 at 9:56 am
I’m not bitching. I find it stunning in its pointlessness.
Fortunatly for the human race, not everyone is like you or else we would still be hunting with pointed sticks.

September 10, 2012 2:10 pm

John Whitman,
I was actually pretty close by at 4:45 and G with the Chillage. We served pancakes and waffles for breakfast over at Shady Waffle and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch at Om Skillet.

John Whitman
September 10, 2012 2:14 pm

I still have my free Burning Man 2012 decal that the welcoming group at the BM gate gave me in the standard welcome package. See it here:

John Whitman
September 10, 2012 2:26 pm

Zeke Hausfather says:
September 10, 2012 at 2:10 pm
John Whitman,
I was actually pretty close by at 4:45 and G with the Chillage. We served pancakes and waffles for breakfast over at Shady Waffle and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch at Om Skillet.

That was close to my group. We walked by the Chillage a dozen times on my way to and from the Inner Playa!!!
Maybe will see you at next year’s BM?
Take care.

John Whitman
September 10, 2012 2:42 pm

Photo of the BM himself taken with my iPhone:
We hung out near there at night drinking martinis on a blanket. We had some battery powered strobe lights so the stampeding bicyclists and also the mutant vehicles didn’t hit us!
What a kick.

September 10, 2012 4:07 pm

I was at 4.45 & G at the Free Advice Camp… Next yeah maybe we can have a WUWT camp…..

John Whitman
September 10, 2012 5:03 pm

Martin Fisher says:
September 10, 2012 at 4:07 pm
I was at 4.45 & G at the Free Advice Camp… Next yeah maybe we can have a WUWT camp…..

= = = = =
Martin Fisher,
Or at least a Skeptically Happy Camp (SHC) : )

September 10, 2012 11:52 pm

@GP Hanner:
It isn’t pointless. Pointless is writing cost accounting computer systems that get thrown away at the next merger. Pointless is working 2 years at building a company that ships first product,and people stay away in droves, so it goes POOF!
Life experiences, like a Burning Man event, stay with the participants for life, and everyone is subtly changed by it; typically for the better.
Life isn’t about how many left axle nuts you can apply on the assembly line, nor how many papers you can write that will never be read again. Nor is it about how many complaints you can make about the technique used in some paper. Not even about how many emails you can read or voicemails you can delete in a day. Life is about living it. Being it. Sharing it. Just being in the moment. To me, Burning Man is fully dedicated to just those things. The only things that really matter. As the posting put it: “Joy”. Taking some time to smell the roses (or plant some).
“This life is not a dress rehearsal. Take BIG bites!”
I’ve been out in the desert, alone and with small groups. It “centers” you in the universe in odd ways. There is something about being 200 miles from nowhere, looking at dead flat until it hits shards of rock 1000 foot high. Standing alone and realizing how much was left back in the green places. Realizing it is up to you to do everything needed to stay alive. Sharing that with “60,000 close friends” has got to be a kick…
(BTW, all the above to be filtered through the understanding that I’m a native Californian who grew up during the Flower Power Era… and went to college not too far from San Francisco…)
One of the things I’ve heard many times from folks at Burning Man (and experienced in smaller ways in other places) is how liberating it can be to let go of all the definitions put on you by other places, other times, and other contexts. To be the “ice cream guy” instead of the I.T. Guy, or to be part of a floor show instead of being the analyst… Kind of like Carnival where for a little while folks are dancers in The Great Show, instead of store clerks and auto repair guys…
If anything, it is the rest of life that all too often is “pointless”…
(Somehow I think I’m talking myself into going to it next year… “this time for sure!” 😉

September 11, 2012 12:38 pm

Browsing reddit today, I found this image of a guy skydiving into Burning Man !

Big D in TX
September 11, 2012 4:49 pm

Willis, and anyone else still in this thread, here’s a neat video one of my friends (who went this year) showed me.

I’ve been wanting to go for years now, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it, actually…

September 17, 2012 6:25 pm

The truck and pop-up tent look perfect – any details on the brand of the pop-up?

September 23, 2012 2:49 pm

[Snip. Way too many ‘denial’ type words. See site Policy. — mod.]

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