Building a Temple

[Shalaco Wordsmith is your typical Bay Area Renaissance man: he dabbles in web design, writing, photography, art, Burning Man, adventure and zombies. He contributed this piece about his involvement with the construction of the Temple of Whollyness in 2013.]

I’d like to tell you the story of what happened when I set out to do something I dreamed about doing, but thought I couldn’t, and what I discovered along the way.


Arrival in Gerlach
Arrival on Playa
Temple’s Arrival
Temple Build
Transition Ceremony
Temple Burn


I’ve been to That Thing in the Desert (TTITD) a handful of times and very much wanted to make that leap from attendee to participant by playing a part in creating the event. I dreamed of being on Man Krew (the crew that builds the Man), but felt it was a pie-in-the-sky idea that would never happen. I decided, however, to simply put my intentions out there and see what happens, instead of reciting to myself all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I didn’t make Man Krew. Instead I am approached with a role as ‘Internet Wizard’ for Temple Crew. I think to myself, “Establish an internet connection essential for the AutoCAD-based assembly of a massive pyramidal complex comprised of interlocking puzzle pieces of precision-machined wood, 80 miles from the nearest broadband-capable infrastructure, in the enormous, flat, dry, endorheic Pleistocene lakebed of ancient Lake Lahontan? Sure, why not. I hear it’ll be a plug-and-play setup.” 


Arrival in Gerlach

Rolling thunderstorms rumble in the distance as Quickdraw (Jeremy Paul) and I approach Gerlach. A powerful group of storm cells is hitting Black Rock City (BRC) and there are reports of heavy rains and pooling water everywhere. That “dry” playa was threatening to return to its old ways as Lake Lahontan. Burning Man’s staff have put a Level 0 rain contingency plan into effect — a very technical way of saying that things are on total lockdown. There is no driving on playa, let alone in and out. Our brief stop in Gerlach has turned into an extended stay.


Gerlach is the last town on the way to Burning Man. To most “Burners”, it’s nothing more than an inconvenient 25MPH zone before reaching the long-awaited final destination of Black Rock City. During my extended stay, however, I see that Gerlach is as enchanting a place as it is overlooked. Few take the time to explore its beauty and mysteries, and even fewer have wandered, gotten lost and witnessed the wonder of its antiquated cemetery, composed of wooden emigrant-era tombstones, bleached by wind and sun into anonymity. To the untrained eye, Gerlach is just another dot on the map. But for those who know that the magick doesn’t start and stop at the Burning Man gate between the last Monday in August and the first Monday in September, Gerlach and its many wonders, like the Miner’s Club, are destinations in themselves.


Flash is bartending at the Miner’s Club. The fast-talking New Englander, with his finger-in-the-light-socket white hair, is something of a legend, but I’m just starting to put all this together now. “Hey-yah! How-ya-doing?” he cackles  in his raspy voice, standing next to a sign that reads “There’s other kinds of booze besides whiskey. SERIOUSLY.” The place is overflowing with Department of Public Works (DPW) members (the rugged, hardened anti-heroes who build the infrastructure of Black Rock City). The room echoes with their radio chatter. At this point, they are no longer certain if it’s their comrades — who are currently rained into BRC —that are stranded on playa or if we are stranded in Gerlach.

In any case, we’re all staying in Gerlach, with no sign of a break in the storms for a handful of days. Flash, the self-proclaimed “largest slumlord of the playa”, puts me up for the night.

I awaken to a flurry of inactivity. People are running in circles, accomplishing I-don’t-know what. Between meeting half a dozen freshly-arrived Temple Crew members, I learn that there is a possible sliver of a gap between storm cells — a way for us to cross the threshold of Point One into the confines of the soon-to-be Black Rock City. Muster everything you can and forget the rest, because we’re making a beeline for it! Hurriedly we pack,  our vehicles line the road’s shoulder, and we stand and wait to see what will happen next. It takes a special kind of person to lead a Temple build. Lightning Clearwater the III is equal parts tender, charismatic, tenacious and plain fucking stubborn. If anyone is going to get through those gates, it’s him. We load up our disheveled caravan and head to Point One.


Arrival on Playa

Coyote leads our company in serpentine patterns along remote paths of dry playa through the gates at Point One. In what SF Slim would later describe as “a humorously prescient coincidence”, our early arrival passes welcome us to the “Lake Lahontan Retreat and Water Show”.

Photo by Vertumnus

Coyote is BRC’s superintendent, and an original member of the DPW. We’re just arriving, but he’s already been out here two weeks, surveying every single arm, leg and intersection of the city with his elite, tight-knit team of 12 , working and sleeping in a plywood octagon where that golden spike first ritualistically penetrates the playa.

He takes us beyond the horizon to the place they have surveyed for Temple. Sparse settlements can be made out in the distance, a lone commissary tent, and a monolithic Man-base towering, yet still overshadowed by the horizon. We are led across a vast desert through an incredibly young Black Rock City — with no emergency medical services, no road signs, no spires. The first structures of Burning Man soon far behind us, we reach a blank expanse marked by a single orange flag. This is to be the Temple site.



Before Black Rock City

The playa is different than I’ve ever seen it. Packed hard from the rains. Deep cracks outline large chunks of playa, grouped like clusters of cells forming the skin of the desert and stretching to the horizon. There’s something incredibly enchanting about Black Rock City when its population still lingers below a hundred. Before its rows of annular neighborhoods start to fill in with theme camps, before First Camp, Center Camp, and the port-o-potties arrive. Before the fences and streets and The Man come to town, it’s an entirely blank sheet of toothy 300 lb. vintage coldpress rag paper.

Gregg Fleishman, Quickdraw, Lightning, Aaron, Baltazar Santana, Andrew Pederson We say a few words to celebrate our arrival to the Temple site and set our intentions for the space. Then we begin transforming the Temple from a mere schematic into a physical place.

Cowboy Carl’s lone outpost along Razorback Mountain.

A sprouting ranger station

Temple’s Arrival


The Temple arrives, creating a striking contrast with the surrounding landscape. Precision-cut pieces of structural paralam and plywood, entirely flat-packed on flatbeds and semi-trucks. Attributes of its brilliant design by Gregg Fleishmen.

As we begin to survey the Temple build site and crew camp, there is a striking difference between our initial footprints, tire-tracks and brushstrokes, and the surrounding deserted desert landscape.



There is a stark contrast, a gapping disparity, a contradistinction between the gaping barren arid alkali flats, dried by wind and sun, laying open before us for miles in all directions… and the beginnings of a construction site.





Months of planning and engineering went into designing this structure, which will take weeks to build, only to exist for seven days. It’s said to be the largest temporary interlocking wood structure ever. But isn’t every structure temporary, in some sense of the word? The only difference is this one is intentionally so. Gregg Fleishman is the main designer and Terry Gross (Lightning) & Melissa Barron (Syn) are lead co-creators, spearheading the collaboration of a dozen artists and hundreds of volunteers to coalesce a unified vision.

Scott Mahoney & Gregg Fleishman
Lightning Clearwater the III Lightning would kill me if he knew I told you this, but he has just begun the final leg of a marathon race to complete the construction of The Temple before The Man can be finished.

Gregg is soft-spoken to say the least, but speaks with great gravity. You have to listen very attentively to catch most of what he is saying, and then take a moment to understand it. This majestic sanctuary is crafted completely out of geometric interlocking wood pieces that fit together without the use of nails, glue or metal fasteners. Its central pyramid is 87′ x 87′ at its base and 64′ tall.  And he’s the one who knows how the 45 different shapes, the 603 major struts and 10,775 wooden pieces are to interlock to form The Temple of Whollyness.


Our Camp One of the splendid luxuries of working on Temple Crew is feeling like you are camping at the edge of infinity. Up until the event, the crew gets to camp on the edge of the horizon in deep playa. I’m just starting to realize that being recruited to Temple Crew has not been a consolation prize, but something far greater than I had even dreamed of. The surrealism of camping on a construction site in the dry lakebed of what was once one of the largest lakes in North America is only heightened by the fact that, since the Temple structure is only held together by interlocking pieces — no nails, no screws — it’s the quietest construction site you could ever chance upon. Besides the booms, scissor lifts, VRs and cranes used to hoist pieces and get personnel to those hard-to-reach places, everything was assembled with hand tools and large custom-made wooden torque bars that looked like something out of the Flinstones.


What an amazing splendor it is to witness the open desert give way to the infrastructure and art installation of Black Rock City, a beautiful privilege. The transformation of an open landscape into a bustling metropolis.

First the street signs start showing up, then Blackthorne arrives with his team of Spirates who set about with their sledgehammers and screw guns and brute strength installing spires.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Burning Man… every time we meet. With the addition of the Spires, the open playa quickly begins to look a lot more like Black Rock City. Next the big art projects start rolling in. It is a wonder to see how quickly and easily Truth and Beauty is assembled. This nude figure emerging from the desert.

You blink, or turn around, and another dozen people appear, standing around their completed installation.
Marco Cochrane and the Bliss Dance Crew’s Truth-is-Beauty
Rebekah Waites’ Church Trap
Ryan Tedrick’s Coyote

Mike Garlington’s photo chapel

Temple Build

Survey Says

Turning back to the Temple, we see that now the measurements have been made. 96 individual temporary footings measured so precisely that each interlocking connection will be able to snap into place with only a mallet. We can now begin to assemble the Temple.


“It all begins with this humble looking but sublime structural connector node. Six identical pieces that puzzle together to form the keystones to the cluster structures we build.” ~Syn


Stack of nodes. After the foundation has been surveyed to 1/16th of an inch, and checked and double-checked and double-double-checked, the first level begins to take shape.


Heavy Equipment And Transpo (H.E.A.T.) are the unsung heroes of Burning Man. It’s with their collaboration that every major art piece gets installed on playa. H.E.A.T operates the cranes, telescopic forklifts, 85′ articulated boom lifts, skid-steers, trenches, backhoes, hysters that do the heavy lifting necessary to build the infrastructure and large art installations at TTITD. You will find Chaos (H.E.A.T.’s manager) slinging two radios, and talking into both of them simultaneously. He knows where every piece of heavy equipment is on playa at any given time, where it’s headed, and when it needs to be there.



Working into the sunset to complete the Temple on time. Heavy equipment shows up and the Temple of Whollyness begins to take shape. It took five days to measure the site to its exact specifications, however the five-story structure snaps together in just six days.

Brent is our Rigging Captain. He ensures things are done safely. “Getting to beer-thirty with the same amount of body parts that you started the day with is the goal out there.”
Handsome Chris negotiates a few pieces into place.

The rainstorms have left the playa packed and conditions ideal throughout most of the construction. Days are cool and calm. But eventually some dust storms roll through. Standing in front of the nearly complete Temple, I watch as a perfect day is overcome by a dust storm in thirty seconds and suddenly I can no longer see my shoelaces.


Cesar says Temple Crew’s meals are so good that he hardly noticed the dust storm. Thanks Awesome Sauce Kitchen!

Zach Coffin operates a crane to help with some of the heavy lifting.
The top of the Temple, the ‘Eye’ of the pyramid, is being put into place as The Man is ‘picked’ up and set on it’s base in the distance.
The ‘Eye’ of the Temple is picked.

Now that the Temple is assembled and skinned, four of its component art installations can begin: stone, light, textile and sound.

Stone Choreography: The conceptual ‘altar’ and axis mundi for The Temple. For this aspect, Jael (James LaFemina) created his first sculpture. A 24-ton, 15-foot-tall black igneous basalt stone Insuksuk sculpture — a personification of the human spirit as a stone landmark used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region as navigational aids. The sculpture is built from basalt Jael sourced from Mount Adams and the Yellowstone hot spot. Then he painstakingly stripped away layers of time to reveal its black core. The scale is magnificent, with some of the cuts on the basalt taking around five hours each on a large diamond wire saw. The sculpture will aid in focusing the energy of Temple and grounding the structure.


Bunnie is the Shadiest of the Shady Ladies.

Textiles: Where form meets function. Bunnie Reiss and her team of ‘Shady Ladies’, (designers: Abi Kelly, Carmel Dunlap, and Rachael Fisher — and a team of talented female textile artists, quilters, weavers, knitters and seamstresses) came together to craft 4,000 square feet of textiles that complement and shade the courtyards of the Temple and its visitors from the harsh sun.

Light: Bentley Meeker uses the five different types of electric light: edison tungsten, incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, and LED, to give participants an awareness of the different types of lighting used since the advent of the electricity. Sound: “If the Temple is art framing space, Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s creations are music that accent silence — the space between sounds and the space from which sound emerges and returns.” Gongs meet robotics in an innovative approach to playing ancient instruments that create deep vibratory fields of moving air.

Temple Blessing

We invite the Paiutes to bless the Temple. Chairman Lowery and the Paiutes’ spiritual leader Dean accepts our invitation and crafts a special ceremony at the Temple just before the event begins. It was crucial to honor the Paiutes since they are the keepers of the sacred land we have our annual event on, so it was incredibly important to include them in the spiritual heart of the event — the Temple.

Transition Ceremony

Now that the Temple is complete, it is time to gift it to the people.

Lightning Clearwater the III, Syn, Dr. Deb & Gregg Fleishman lead the transition ceremony.


An amazing celebration marks the transformation of the Temple from a collaborative conceptual piece realized by its creators to a canvas of remembrance for its visitors. Large pieces of decomposed granite (DG), initially dismissed as a potential hazard, were stacked in sculptures reminiscent of the Insuksuk, the center stone monolith. The Temple transforms as every nook, cranny and reachable space is filled with the love, torment, blessings, curses and overflowing feelings of its visitors. This final collaboration between Temple and attendees was best sublimely expressed by a sculpture designed by Arthur Harsuvanakit and Evan Atherton and constructed by attendees.

Burning Man Community Sculpture by Arthur Harsuvanakit and Evan Atherton

Temple Burn

I had never before missed a Temple burn. But as I arrived, it was already a heap of smoldering remains. The Temple had burned without me, and in so doing, had given me something to mourn. Something lost to the world that could never be replaced. But it was not truly gone. While helping to build the Temple, we had all created a place in our mind and the minds of others, living experiences and building relationships. As immortal as it was ephemeral. I walked up to its ashes and launched the orange flag that marked its placement into its flaming remains. A piece that was once so integral, that I had found masquerading as M.O.O.P. sent back into itself.

This year I requested to be on Survey Crew. Still waiting to see if opportunity will once again present itself from an unexpected direction.

Burning Man Now Accepts Bitcoin Donations

bitcoinStarting today, you can donate to Burning Man with Bitcoin. This makes it easy for anyone in the world to support Burning Man’s year-round programs using cryptocurrency, which is private, secure and untethered to any national currency.

Because Burning Man is a recognized non-profit, donations are tax-deductible, and there are no transaction fees for donating in Bitcoin thanks to our payment processing partner, Coinbase.

Ticket sales — which do not yet support Bitcoin — cover the cost of producing the event in Black Rock City, but Burning Man needs the help of donors to fund its projects and initiatives during the rest of the year.

Burning Man’s Marian Goodell said “Donations will help provide more grants, training and support to creators of radically interactive art and events on and off the playa, fund civic programs, teach communities the power of collaboration, strengthen our infrastructure and make the Burning Man experience accessible year-round.”

Your donations support Burning Man’s Global Art Grants, the Big Art for Small Towns program and art honorariums for Black Rock City. Burning Man also supports civic art programs, Burners Without Borders and grants for community initiatives. Around the world, Burning Man facilitates a regional network of more than 250 volunteer regional contacts on five continents, hosts an annual Global Leadership Conference and a European Leadership Conference scheduled for February 2015.

“Accepting Bitcoin for donations is an experimental first step,” Goodell says. “We plan to explore other possibilities in the future, including expanding Bitcoin to the ticket-buying process.”

Donations to Burning Man can be made online by visiting

For more information about how Burning Man uses Bitcoin donations, check out our Bitcoin FAQ.

A Statement from Jim Tananbaum

Burning Man Project board member and Caravancicle founder Jim Tananbaum has addressed questions raised about his 2014 camp in Black Rock City.

The following was posted today on … we’re reposting it here for your convenience:

I am writing to respond to a number of posts regarding Caravancicle, a camp of which I was a member in 2014 – I also helped envision and fund the camp.


I first want to apologize broadly to anyone who felt disrespected by our camp or concerned about the implications of our camp’s operation to the long-term health of Burning Man.


I have been attending Burning Man every year since 2009. Burning Man is a singularly impactful event for me and, since first attending, I have become deeply moved by the 10 Principles, the potential for these principles to change the world, and the environment of the playa as an embodiment of the principles. This is the reason I joined the Burning Man Board of Directors. It is also the reason why I wanted to create a camp environment that would help enable my friends to share the transformative experience of Burning Man. In addition, we wanted to introduce a more sustainable, communal and aesthetically pleasing alternative to RVs to the playa. It was always our intention to provide an open environment, which welcomed everyone and was consistent with the spirit of Burning Man. It is clear based on blog posts and comments made online that not everyone experienced what we intended.


For that, I would like to apologize. Despite our best intentions and efforts, some things did not turn out as planned.


Caravancicle is the third camp I have been involved with at Burning Man. My experience has been with larger camps requiring some workers to provide the infrastructure. Our camp was constructed by a long-term Burner with deep respect and care for the community, who was hired to manage the camp. He also led the build for the camp we did the year before. We have worked with people in the past to build out our camp who were hired by the camp organizers and then would enjoy the Burning Man experience when they were not working. Our campmates would staff the bar, greet people, give out gifts, etc.  This year, our plan was to gift a neighboring camp infrastructure in exchange for their assistance in building ours. We were trying to build community through sharing resources.


To make a long and painful story short, our partners were not able to complete our build and our remaining staff was left having to build out toilets, showers and other infrastructure (without having planned to and therefore not having the proper resources to do so). During this crisis, many people in our camp rose to the occasion, but a few, like “SherpaGirl,” decided to leave and then wrote a disappointing account of her few hours in our camp. Another person in camp posted a sign asking for help without asking anyone else. We had some first time Burners in the camp, including the person who posted the sign. We also had many return Burners in the camp.  I think most people attending Burning Man have had some unexpected situations; we did, and we tried to adjust to these in the moment.


The hero of this unfortunate situation was our camp’s manager who worked tirelessly for 2 days along with other camp members to help provide basic infrastructure for all of us. While the crisis was going on, all of us were greatly distracted and weren’t able to properly respond to the many people coming through our camp. Our supplies were also dwindling. Since the camp was so large, we used wristbands to help manage the food, water, and booze supply during non-public hours. It was really sad for me to read the accounts of people who visited our camp and were turned down for drinks during the day (including a number of my friends). Ughh….  If we had simply posted a sign providing details on camp gift times, it would have made a big difference.


Our camp breakdown was also compromised because the group responsible for providing the infrastructure was also responsible for part of the breakdown. In the end, our camp manager and some other members of the camp, plus breakdown staff, cleaned up our camp by Saturday after the event. We took a photo of our campsite before we left the playa and it was free of MOOP. We then learned that a camp next door was having significant issues with clean up and we sent trucks back to help them. It is unclear to me as to why we remain with some red marks on the MOOP map.


To specifically answer questions:  I did not profit from Caravancicle (in fact I gifted money, as I do every year). Our bar was open to the public at night but not during the day. We should have posted a sign to make this clear. On Friday night, used up all of our booze to gift a huge party for anyone who visited our camp. We regularly gifted very yummy homemade popsicles and herbal tea but were not able to set up the gift stand in front of the camp as originally envisioned because of the build crisis we had. We regularly gifted drinks, water, and electrolytes at night.


Regarding questions on the 10 Principles of Burning Man:


1. Radical Inclusion: Burning Man welcomes people from all walks of life. Referring to Caravancicle campers or members of any other camp as “the rich people” is creating a class system within Burning Man, which I don’t believe is beneficial to the community. Our camp welcomed people from all walks of life. Sometimes we had art cars that were filled up with our camp members and would not have been safe to include others. During other parts of the days, these art cars welcomed anyone to come on board until they were filled to safe capacity.


2. Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. Caravancicle gifted popsicles, tea, booze, water and electrolytes, but at the beginning of the week we did not serve non-camp members drinks during the day and failed to make it clear to non-camp members that we would be offering drinks during nighttime hours to everyone. We did gift a blow out Friday party with full bar and snacks. We could have greatly improved our communications on this matter.


3. Decommodification: Our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorship, transactions, or advertising. Caravancicle was in no way affiliated with any third party sponsorships. We hired a team to produce the camp (as many camps do), but Caravancicle did not participate in any advertising. The ‘promotional materials’ and website were sent to guests who were invited to join the camp. We did not actively promote the camp. No one in Caravancicle made money off of the camp.


4. Radical Self-reliance: Although many of the more physical aspects of self-reliance were lost on the Caravanciclers, camp members were encouraged to exercise and rely on their inner resources. Just as in other camps, many members spent extensive amounts of time reflecting and self-exploring out on the playa. They faced many of the same challenges every other Burner faces at the event.


5. Radical Self-expression: Caravancicle was an act of creative expression in and of itself. The camp had months and months of planning and effort put into it, including help from many of its members. While not all members of the camp participated in the creative aspect of building the camp, each brought their own unique personality, costumes and contributions to Burning Man.


6. Communal Effort: While I can’t argue that Caravancicle members had significantly less work to do as far as cooking and maintenance, all members were still responsible for chores around camp including, but not limited to, picking up trash and being responsible for washing their own dishes. We also created a beautiful space open to the public that fostered cooperation and collaboration.


7. Civic Responsibility: Caravancicle assumed responsibility for the conduct of our events. We refused alcohol to minors and to people who didn’t have cups in order to limit MOOP. On one specific instance there were so many bikes parked outside one of our parties that the Rangers had to come inside and let us know. We killed the music and shut down the party immediately, making sure the mess was cleared up right away.


8. Leaving No Trace: Our clean up was delayed because of our co-dependency on a partner camp. We were able to clean our site, with pictures taken that document a clean site on Saturday after the event. It is unclear to me why we received red marks on the MOOP map, but I think we were generally docked points because we were late in leaving. We also sent back help for a neighbor camp that was having difficulties cleaning up.


9. Participation: Members of Caravancicle participated and achieved through “doing”. I urge everyone to remember that for some of our campers, this was their first burn. Personally, I contributed substantially less my first year than I have in years since. This year, however, I allocated vast amounts of time, effort and money to create something beautiful to share with the community.


10. Immediacy: Most Burners agree that Immediacy is the touchstone of value in our culture. Just like every other participant in this community, I wish to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves. I did not get it perfectly right, but I did make my best effort to create something beautiful and creative, unique and innovative.


Regarding other questions that have been raised about me and my camp:


Plug and Play: While a lot of personal responsibility was deflected onto camp employees, I have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the year planning, organizing and executing a camp that brought beauty and value to the playa. Although some of our campers were “plug and play” participants per se, the act of judging them or excluding them goes against everything that Burning Man stands for regarding radical inclusion.


Profit: There have been suggestions that our camp was for profit. I can assure you our camp generated no money and was not, in any way, a money making venture. Additionally, the Burning Man organization was in no way involved with the planning or production of the camp – it was an entirely personal project.  Our website was meant to be viewed by 60 or so people who were planning to participate in our camp and was password protected. The material which referred to artists was produced by our partner camp and not us as a way of describing what they envisioned. Our partner camp described this as fully endorsed by the artists they included. I am sorry that people outside of Caravancicle camp were able to gain access to our website and share our draft material without our authorization. I am also sorry about artists whose names they included without their authorization. Caravancicle was trying to create an environment which shared the beauty of our architecture and design with other creative forces on the playa.


Burning Man Project Board of Directors: I joined the board of directors because I’m passionate about the impact Burning Man culture can have on the world, and because I believe my professional experience and perspective is valuable to the new nonprofit at this early stage of its development. I believe Burning Man and what it has to offer the world is still very nascent and am thrilled to be working with other board members to steward its growth and development.


I believe there is a silver lining in the discussion our camp has engendered because it has caused a healthy dialog about the implications for Burning Man’s evolution. I am proud to be a Burner. I am proud that my fellow Burners felt passionate enough about the sanctity of Burning Man to push this discussion, and I look forward to taking new ideas and lessons learned into the future.

Margaret left a trace

DumpsterWe always think of the principle of “Leave No Trace” as applying to things. To garbage. To left over zip ties. To empty cans on the ground.

But does it apply to people?

Do we want it to?

I was struck, this week, by an email that “This is Burning Man” author Brian Doherty sent out encouraging people in the Bay Area to see a show produced in large part by burners this Friday at the Castro Theatre.

The show is about a woman of whom there was no trace. Whose life was, literally, thrown in the garbage.

While hunting for a place to illegally dump some trash at three in the morning, an old-time Burner (Chicken John) found a magnificent leather scrap book at the bottom of a dumpster. It was, all but literally, the life of a woman named Margaret Rucker. It had her birth certificate, pictures of her life, clippings from news articles about tragic things that befell her, and excerpts from poetry magazines of verse she’d had published. It ended with her death certificate.

It was all there. At the bottom of a dumpster. If he hadn’t found it, it would have been destroyed.

What happened? He had no idea. Nobody knew. For maybe 15 years he carried this scrapbook around with him, read from it, shared it with people – put on shows devoted to Margaret’s poetry and the mystery of her life.

No answers. Except insofar as we all know, deep down, that people are disposable. That at some point all we are will be left in a trash bin. That no trace will be left. (more…)

The Bay Lights Will Blink On as a Permanent Installation

Image courtesy of

The Bay Lights, which first started sparkling across the Bay Bridge in March 2013, just hit its funding goal and will now be a permanent installation. The 1.8 mile-wide, 500-foot-high LED sculpture is the world’s largest, made of 25,000 white LEDs whose patterns glow from sundown to sunrise and never repeat. It will stay lit until 2026 at least.

In an email to supporters, Ben Davis, founder and CEO of Illuminate the Arts and big-time Burner, says that the $2 million raised so far was matched by philanthropist Tad Taube, bringing the organization to the $4 million baseline goal.

The Bay Lights installation is the brainchild of Leo Villareal, a world-renowned artist with many equally dazzling installations under his belt. He’s also one of the founders of Disorient, which is a Burning Man camp that, even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve definitely heard. You know the blinky orange-y camp on the 3-o’-clock side of the Esplanade? Used to rock a giant orange traffic cone-looking thing? Yeah, them. Leo joined the inaugural Burning Man Board of Directors in 2011, and he re-upped after his initial term ended, continuing to serve on the Board today.

Villareal has been coming to Black Rock City since 1994, and he brought his first blinky installation in 1997 to solve a clear, simple problem: he had trouble finding his camp at night. That drove him to build his first large-scale piece in New York in 2003, and it just got more ambitious and beautiful from there. As a Burning Man veteran, Villareal is surely used to having to take apart his art and pack it up, but now he’s built the largest LED sculpture in the world, and the people have raised the money to keep it lit.

The piece has to be taken down for bridge maintenance next year, but the New York Times arts blog reports that the piece will be up again by January 2016.

Thank you to everyone who donated to keep this beautiful piece alight in the cities from which the global Burning Man culture has spread.

Welcome Back, Lake Lahontan!

Our man Taz, who holds down the technological fort year-round in Gerlach, sent us word today that the great Lake Lahontan has returned! Luckily, he sent not only word, but pictures!

Wait, what’s Lake Lahontan, you may ask? Well, our beloved Black Rock Desert is actually a dry ancient lakebed – the lake that was once Lake Lahontan (take a look at the dark rings around the mountains surrounding the playa and you’ll see where the waterline was). And during wet years, water flows from up north and fills – very thinly, it’s cool and creepy – some or all of the playa basin.

Now, given the historical drought that the Western United States has been experiencing this year (historic as in the worst since Charlemagne was emperor of Europe – like not fooling around historic), this is fantastic news. It’s still a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop nonetheless, and we’ll take it.

All it’s gonna take is a helluva lot more to give us higher hopes of having a smooth, solid playa surface for Burning Man 2015. Keep your fingers crossed. (Click to embiggen the images.)

Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)

Welcome to circa 1997 circa 1997

The first Burning Man website — a page, really — appeared in 1994 on the WeLL, a Sausalito-based Internet provider. That held down the fort until a 100% volunteer team comprised of Eric Waterman, Rusty Hodge, Scott Beale and Marian Goodell launched the first use of the Burning Man domain on April 1, 1997. The site went through a number of rapid iterations as the technology evolved and the community’s population exploded. This rapid growth evened out in 2001, and the last time Burning Man’s website got a facelift was in 2003.

RIP Burningman.comUntil today. Now that tectonic technological shifts have left verging on obsolescence, and the Burning Man organization has transitioned into a non-profit (some would say an equally earth-shaking occurrence), it was time to bring the site — and our story — into the modern era.

While the dream of started bouncing around our brains years ago, we kicked off the daunting process of creating it about 12 months ago. It would require the marrying of,,, and bringing a number of other Burning Man website properties into the fold. And, it would require sewing them all together into an information architecture that would create a seamless, sensible whole.

We chose to go with WordPress, and Burning Man’s tech team went to work making it do a whole host of amazing and unnatural things, including crafting it into a robust, customized publishing system. Our design team was determined not only to bring the site up to modern standards (responsive design, for instance), but to surpass them. The content team dug through an absolute mountain of content — a mountain sitting atop a massive underground cavern, filled with historical treasures that many of us didn’t even know existed. And we went about surfacing the rich visual history of this culture, thanks to the amazing photographers and videographers in our community.

Welcome Home
Long live!

Our goal with was to create the ultimate storytelling tool for Burning Man — to support and honor its growth as a global culture making a significant impact in the world. Burning Man is no longer just about the event in Black Rock City. It’s about people living Burning Man every day, everywhere. tells the story of an event that spawned a culture that is supported and spread by a network of like-minded, interconnected individuals on five continents around the world.

Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.
Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.

A key part of that story is our historical roots, knowledge of which is important for anybody wanting to be a part of this grand experiment, even if you never attend the event in Black Rock City. So we unearthed all that historical treasure from beneath the mountain of content, and we brought it out into the light — we’re especially excited about our Historical Timeline and Event Archives.

Another key aspect of our culture is participation. You’ll find opportunities — and inspiration — to participate throughout the site, whether in person or online, in Black Rock City or your home town. Over time, we’ll add more features that engage and encourage direct participation, including new ways to join discussions about the information, ideas and issues that affect our community, whether that’s “what’s the best way to build a shade structure?” or “how do I build a real-world business that rhymes with the Ten Principles?”.

Get inspired!In taking nearly 5,000 pages (yes, really) and consolidating them into 1,800, we endeavored to balance what our website visitors want to know with what would inspire them about being a part of this culture. We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we hope it makes you proud to be a Burner.

If you experience any problems with the site, or see something we missed, please let us know through the Contact Us page. And if you want to know who worked on this complex project, check out the (very short, relative to the immensity of the project) list of folks who built this thing.

[Editor’s Note: We’ve been typing “” about 50 times a day, every day for the last 11 years — possibly the hardest part of this project will be breaking that habit.]

Crimson Rose Addresses World Cities Culture Forum

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Burning Man founder Crimson Rose attended the 2014 World Cities Culture Forum and Summit in Amsterdam and brought back insights from some of the world’s greatest cities. These insights can help us think about Black Rock City in new ways, of course. But they’re also lessons Burners can bring to any city at any time, just as we do with the art and the values we’ve developed in our home of Black Rock City.

The overarching issues discussed at this year’s summit were remarkably relevant to Burning Man culture, and it’s a good thing a Burning Man founder was there to offer reactions. Crimson reports that there was a pervasive attitude among the representatives in attendance that the culture of a place can be “branded” and sold like any other economic product. Crimson’s response was that culture is more like a living organism; it must grow, eat, breathe, and change, or else it will die. Black Rock City residents know this well.

Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014
Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014

In another example, Amsterdam is attempting to change the word “tourist” to “visitor” in its tourism culture. We know this “no tourists!” problem well enough to understand that changing the word for it is not enough. All the norms around integrating newcomers into the city have to change, and that extends to all residents, not just official policy. That challenge is going to be harder in Amsterdam than it is in BRC; the Netherlands is starting to see anti-tourism protests during big events.

Cities are also often hosts to spectacular cultural events, like sports and performances, which have a tried and true formula for how they run: people buy tickets, buy concessions, sit down, watch the show, and leave. Crimson was pleased to see that some cities, particularly Montreal, are beginning to push for more interactive and participatory events.

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Crimson herself appeared on a panel called “Transformational Outdoor Creative Projects.” The other panelists were Pep Gattell of La Fura dels Baus, Helen Marriage of Artichoke (a Burning Man Project partner), and Mark Ball from Lift. The moderator was Ruth MacKenzie, director of the Holland Festival. It was an open, free event attended by Summit attendees and locals. In further conversation after the panel, Crimson introduced Daniela from the Amsterdam Regional Group to some of the officials and guests at the Summit, many of whom didn’t know about the Burning Man Decompression event happening in Amsterdam two days later. These kind of serendipitous connections are just waiting to happen at a summit like this.

Crimson says Amsterdam was delightful, bike-friendly, and arts and culture were bursting into the streets. Sound like a dusty city you know?