September 6th, 2006  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

The Buena Vista Diaries: Confessions of a Virgin Burner

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.


by Doctor Fun

Burning Man. A cross between Woodstock, MardiGras, Carnival in Rio, New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Halloween in Lahaina, Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade, the World Krishna Conference, the Super Bowl and virtually every other totally-off-the-wall event you have ever been to, seen or heard of. Times ten.

Humorous, bizarre, absurd, outrageous. Cirque de Soleil meets Mad Max. The most hedonistic conglomeration of naked, writhing humanity imaginable. Hundreds upon hundreds of sprawling camps, each one more elaborate, strange and original. Thousands of “art” installations dotting the sun-cracked desert floor, each more colorful, intricate, creative, mind-boggling and spectacular than the next.

I arrive in a raging dust storm; abrupt tornadoes rise suddenly from the desert and scour the earth, suddenly turning and weaving through the tattered camps, some of which have been bolted to the desert floor for a month. An entire city, laid out in a gigantic semi-circle, complete with four hundred porta-potties, a Department of Public Works and a medical tent. Sim City comes alive.

I had no idea there were this many original ideas left in the world. Scary to think of this much talent and creativity gathered in on place; luckily it’s the middle of the desert where there’s room to expand. Unfortunately there’s only so much room in my head and within an hour of my arrival it’s already exploding. I slip into total sensual overload. It is simply too big, too wild, too untamed, too unusual to comprehend. And this was just the first of six days.

Many of the art installations take years to build and another month to assemble out on the Playa where they sit for a week in the wind and sand and dust. Original paintings, sculpture, electronics and indefinable art worth millions of dollars (just in the parts, not counting the labor) gather the dust of the earth but not of the spirit.

Some people spend $50,000 on their camps. Some people spend more. Much more. One of my friends spent $150,000 including two imported Argentine chefs to roast huge carcasses of pig, lamb and cow each night, as well as six motor homes, three bands and 100 gallons of top-shelf Vodka to keep everyone entertained. Everything. You name it, it’s here. Times ten.

There are no ‘reserved for VIP’ areas. There are no ‘headliners’ or ‘celebrities’. The people throwing the hundreds of elaborate parties each day and night are totally anonymous, spending tens of thousands of dollars to entertain their friends and everyone else who cares to join in. Everyone at Burning Man is equal; a dead flat landscape mirroring the equality of all-men in fishnet stockings, women painted black…everything so strange that nothing seems strange.

My address for a week: Burning Man, Black Rock City, Nevada, USA, Earth. Composed of entire buildings and small communities, movie sets, enormous three-ring circus tents, several hundred bars, dance halls, massage parlors, yoga and art studios, discos, living theater, roller rinks, recycling center, ten gas stations with no gas, all rolled into one. Everything is totally FREE at Burning Man; there is no commerce-just trading and giving.

Burning man is an eight-day, 24-hour-a-day, out-of-control rave. Times ten. It is a combination of art, music, religion and cooperation that one must experience-and absorb-to even begin to fully comprehend. Some veteran burners start planning a year in advance. Others start a month early to ‘ease into the burn’. For some people…. Burning Man is their life. Truly.

I was not really able to fully reconcile the seemingly disparate combination of art, music, sex, spirituality and overboard partying at Burning Man. While not mutually exclusive-indeed any two of these are often seen together-when combined at this level it’s like the grand finale at the world’s largest fireworks display. Times ten.

Exactly how do you explain the motivation or visual impact of ten thousand bare-breasted women all riding bicycles in an endless, winding snake that meanders through the scorching desert for an hour in the blazing afternoon heat? Smiling, laughing, cheering, screaming for joy. A crowd of another ten thousand cheers them on. More painted and sunburned boobies than I have seen in my life. Times ten. There are a hundred events like this. Each day. Everywhere you turn.

Over forty thousand people living within the packed, harsh and stifling confines of an area that would create anarchy, chaos and malicious mayhem anywhere else on earth. And yet, barely a harsh word is spoken, never mind an actual conflict. The overwhelming sound echoing over the sand is wild laughter. I think the flat, heat-rippled desert spaces on all sides-and the ink black desert sky at night-provide room for the bad spirits to dissipate. For one week the Black Rock City is the fifth largest city in Nevada.

Within two weeks there will be absolutely no sign that anyone was ever here. Thousands of volunteers will scour twenty square miles of parched desert floor picking up every flake of glitter, thread or piece of hair. Literally. Although this is one of the hundreds of stipulations that the Bureau of Land Management puts on the festival organizers (along with the million dollar fee), the real motivation lies in the nature of the event itself: come, enjoy, go crazy, leave no trace.

The first artists arrive a month early to start planning their creations. A few weeks later the masses start arriving, slowly at first, then building to a Labor Day crescendo that bursts open on Saturday night with the burning of the Man and goes into total overload on Sunday night when the largest art is burned. Flames scorch the atmosphere as a million pounds of lumber pours forth enough heat and light to be easily seen from the moon.

There’s no cell phone service, no internet, no Starbucks. And there’s no water. Everyone takes care of themselves and takes care of each other.

The average cost of a ticket is $250. Wow isn’t that a lot? Based on what I’ve paid for other ‘entertainment’, I would gladly pay that for just an hour at Burning Man. If the average cost of some shitty Hollywood formula movie is around eight dollars, that extrapolates into a Burning Man ticket value of around….oh….. $3 million.

Saturday night is the ‘burn’: the wildest pyrotechnics display on the planet. Times ten. Times another ten. It reminded me of the scene in the original King Kong movie where Kong first appears out of the jungle during a frenzied fire dance and peers over the stockade at the madness before him. I can identify with his astonishment.

The burn starts with a hundred fire dancers in the ring around the Man, gradually working their way into a blazing frenzy of twirling flames. At one point a huge flaming rope-at least 100’ long-is stretched between two people on stilts perhaps ten feet in the air. They begin swinging the rope and suddenly another person on stilts twirling a flaming hula-hoop around his neck jumps into the rope and starts jumping. The fire-toting, stilt-walking jump-ropers are both male and female. The crowd of 40,000 goes nuts.

Suddenly the temple around the man explodes into a continuous blaze of fireworks that erupts onto, inside, above and around the Man. The crowd goes from nuts to berserk. The noise is deafening as the fireworks continue to gush into the sky. There is no pause between the displays; for ten solid minutes the sky is filled with unimaginable glitter.

Then, as a cascade of sparks flows down, the Man bursts into flames that climb 100’ into the sky within seconds as the desert-parched wood turns into an untamed conflagration. The crowd goes from berserk into fanatical chaos. Times ten. The heat pours into the crowd as thousands of naked dancers start churning and writhing on the sand. I stand still in an ocean of pulsating bodies.

Then the real party begins and I don’t remember much of the night. It is, after all, my 55th birthday. Really.

Next day begins the slow migration back to the real world for many of the participants. I leave in a blinding dust storm as the winds once again swallow up the desert, perhaps symbolic of the blurred line between man and nature.

Burners-people who had walked around without clothes for a week slathered with mud and paint, men in lingerie, women who normally wear dark suits buttoned to the neck-begin their hesitant trek slowly. The wild, the weird, the corporate and the confused. The mob that had gradually drifted in over the past week is now leaving all at the same time, creating a massive desert traffic jam as ten thousand cars try to merge into a one lane dirt road that leads back to civilization. Ten thousand cars, slowly and patiently waiting their turn. Ten thousand cars and not one of those mindless, irritating, magnetic yellow ribbons stuck on the back. These people really care about the senseless war, they don’t need to display their misguided loyalty to a political agenda based on ignorance and greed.

Sorry to preach but sitting in a dust-boiling mass of motor homes inching their way along the road gives me time to ponder life.

So what did I take from Burning Man? I think the biggest lesson-and actually not a lesson for me but rather an affirmation of something I have believed since I was a child-is that society can work when there are guidelines but no rules.

Rules are firm and hard and fast. Rules are open to interpretation and because of this people tend to press the limits-or ignore the rules altogether. I know: that’s what I do.

But when there are guidelines, clearly acknowledged and understood by all, there is no need for rules or rigid enforcement. Society becomes self-regulating. Everyone is a citizen and a cop. Here’s what is best for everyone, but you can do whatever you want. The usual consequences are simply ostracizing; it’s up to all of society to guide everyone’s public behavior. Be nice, be kind, be generous, be honest. Accept everyone for who they are. Say thank you. Slow down. Smile.

Of course this is all highly idealistic but I can truly say that from firsthand experience in a potentially very stressful situation-crowds, heat, dust, noise-it can work. Perhaps only for a limited time, but then again isn’t our time always limited?

I’ll have a year to consider returning. I’m already contemplating some camping and costume ideas-more wigs, less booze; a solar-powered LED-spangled hat and some tall, gold, high-heeled shoes. A dozen industrial dust masks. A huge bag of plums from my tree. A thousand glow sticks in a hundred colors.

Who should go to Burning Man? Anyone trying to release their inner anything. Anyone just visiting this planet. And anyone wanting to attend my next birthday party.

If you’re offended by nudity, profanity, loud music, weird looking people, crowds, dirt, heat or cold, go to Burning Man: you’ll soon get over it.

You will see and experience things that you cannot conceive of and certainly cannot describe. Pictures only tell one-hundredth of the story. Words don’t even come close. Ask anyone who has gone to describe it and you’ll be greeted by a slowly shaking head and the words, “Sorry mate, can’t be done”.

Oh, and one more thing: it was pretty cool being in a happy group of 40,000 people and knowing that not one person here voted for Bush. So perhaps there is hope for the world.

August 29th, 2006  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

A True Story

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.


by Green Druid

[This was a speech I gave as best man at my friend's wedding in California last year. The events described happened on the Playa in 2004 and last year we returned after their wedding for the Man in 2005. This year none of us can make it. It's a long way from rainy old England you know. But I've been missing the Playa tonight so I thought this might be a way I could contribute this year.

Peace and love to all on the Playa.

Green Druid.]

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. For those of you I haven’t met, I’m Dan, I’ve been nominated ‘best man’. Best at making short speeches, I’m sure you’re hoping? I’ll try. This runs to about fifteen minutes so you shouldn’t need to fetch a sleeping bag or a strong cup of coffee.span>

I’ll begin by explaining that I’ve known Ken for around ten years, but we only became really close over the last two. Two years ago we both had the misfortune to find ourselves single after our respective partners broke up with us within about a month of each other and moving out of the places we’d shared with them. We ended up living close to one another in the city of Brighton and Hove on the south coast of England.

Being recently single men we decided to hang out and drown our sorrows with a fellow loser. We shared a few interests: martial arts, we’d go running together, spend weekends camping or just pop out for a drink to the local pub where we’d bond over our romantic misfortunes. And on occasion we would go out to a club where all the women would try to dance with Ken and he’d fail to notice.

For a few years the two of us, along with a group of friends, had a yearning to travel to the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, which is held every year at the end of August. For those of you who don’t know what this is I’ll try to explain. The festival is held in the Black Rock Desert, which is a dry lakebed or playa, encircled by a mountain range. To get there you have to drive a hundred miles north of Reno and out beyond the last outposts of humanity. Essentially it’s a large flat desert in the middle of nowhere.

This is not entertainment created for you. You participate and make your own entertainment. The aim of the festival is for all the participants to put their effort into the creation of spectacle, but with an awareness of the temporary nature of that spectacle. On the last two days much of the art that’s been created, including the Man who stands at the city’s centre and The Temple lying on the city’s eastern edge, are burnt to demonstrate this impermanence. Then next year it can all be built again.

Basically it’s 35,000 Californian hippies getting half naked and crazy in the middle of the desert. And we’re from England. We have tea, polite conversation, a Queen, and she wouldn’t approve.

So the two of us flew from the UK to San Francisco, where we met up with G, an old friend. The three of us spent a couple of nights in town gathering equipment and supplies before driving to Reno, where we stayed one night and met up with the rest of our crew, who’d travelled up from Las Vegas. More than a few adventures were had along the way but sadly there isn’t time to go into them here and there are children present. Ask me afterwards and I’ll tell you the tale of Shooter’s Bar in Reno. It’s a sordid story involving a night of invincible pool playing, strong liquor, a street fighting Nazi, a house of ill repute, some pole dancers and a Navaho barmaid called Misty.

The next morning, in convoy with our friends we headed north into the unknown on the wrong side of the road. All of us were awed by the huge flat empty spaces that surrounded us. We’d been in convoy with other people journeying to the playa since leaving the interstate a couple of hours previously, and as we drove into Black Rock City, the dusk began to fall. We passed slowly through the gateway into the city, finally arriving at a spot to park up and start assembling our camp. Over the next two days we would rise late and wander through this strange land to which we had journeyed, meeting the other participants who had travelled there from around the globe to build art, create camps, give away food and services, build roller coasters, perform music, dance, have fun and express themselves in a thousand different ways. In other words we had a great time.

On the Wednesday evening a few of us decided that we would stay up all night, with the plan of walking out to the eastern edge of the city to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Ken and I had stuck together all night, and as the early hours drew on it seemed we were the only two still up. Our companions had one by one gone to bed or wandered away to find their own adventures. I almost crashed out myself, and then around half four I started to see the first hints of tomorrow in the sky to the east and resolved to stay on. So picture the scene. We’re dancing at a club in the middle of the desert with an array of weirdly costumed half-naked folk dancing and smiling around us at four-thirty on a Thursday morning. And then I notice this girl.

She’s dancing near to us and I wonder why. And then I realise that she’s quite clearly dancing with Ken, who as I may have mentioned is oblivious to female attention in this kind of situation. I needed to go to the toilet so I leaned across and said, “Hey Fella, that girl’s dancing with you. She clearly likes you. Why don’t I go to the loo, and when I get back you can have invited her to come out with us to watch the sun rise?” “Sure,” replies Ken, dancing away, so off I go. Sure enough when I get back and ask if we’re all set, Ken beckons to his new friend and she joins us, picking up our coats and bags of water. I’m introduced to her and she mounts this weird looking three-wheel trike and cycles alongside us off towards the east.

She and Ken have started a conversation about science fiction and in particular the novel he’s writing, so as we near the Temple to the east of the city, I mutter some excuse about wanting to walk right out to the boundary fence and slowly move further and further away. Subtly done I thought. So off I go and watch the sun rise and return to my bed feeling like I’ve had a night well spent.

I don’t see Ken for the next three days. Apparently, some of my camp mates tell me, he has returned to pick up a few of his things once, but the tent he’s sleeping in remains suspiciously empty. On Saturday afternoon he returns with this young lady and tells us that he’ll be travelling back to San Francisco with her on Sunday afternoon. So having packed up the rest of his kit, which is loaded into our car, they head out to watch the Man burn.

On the Sunday morning, it’s time to leave so we pack up our things, giving away much of our remaining food and water. Three of the guys take the RV back to Vegas, where they’re flying out from the next day, and I drive the others back to San Francisco. We return our hire car and enjoy our first running water for a week. What a relief, let me tell you. That playa dust gets everywhere.

But by Monday evening I’m starting to worry. We’ve heard nothing of Ken, and we’re flying out the next morning. My main concern is Lin, Ken’s mother, who can at times be a formidable lady and to whom I’m clearly going to have to explain that I lost her little boy somewhere in the desert. I mean he’s never left Europe before. What am I going to say? “Where’s my son Dan?” “I left him in the desert with some strange American girl we’d never met before and he didn’t come back. Sorry.”

Then I get a call on my cell phone, and a female voice says, “Hi, it’s Rachel”. And my first thought is, who’s Rachel? But then she reminds me that we had actually been introduced in the early hours of the morning five days previously and goes on to explain that Ken won’t be coming back with me the next morning, partly because he wants to spend a few more days in town with her, and partly because he’s lost his passport in the desert.

So an hour or so later Ken turns up at our hostel to collect his things and before he can get a word out, G and I switch on the video camera we’ve been recording our travels with and point it at him. “Man where have you been, what’ve you been up to?” we demand. Now I really wish you could watch the video of this moment because it says it all, but I’ll try to re-enact it as best I can. Ken looks straight at the camera with this curious grin on his face and says, “It’s been a long strange journey. A year ago I had my heart broken, but I’ve travelled to another continent where it’s been mended. I’ve met an amazing girl called Rachel and I’m going to marry her.”

Now here on the video the picture kinda dips, because I’m holding the camera to my cheek and my face is doing this :-o. I pan around to G and he looks like this :-o. We made a few jokes, like “Great. Next year when we come to Burning Man we’ll have somewhere in San Francisco to store our things”. But after they left that evening, having collected Ken’s things, to be honest what we were really thinking was: Ken’s been in the desert for a week, it’s a pretty crazy kinda place, lot of exciting things to do, not a lot of sleep, he’s had a few beers, little too much sun, kinda dehydrated. You know, he’s met this nice girl who he likes but it’s clearly a holiday romance, it’s not going to last. He’ll get over it.

And to be honest, I carried on thinking that way for a few weeks after we got back. Until Rachel came to England. Now I’ve seen Ken around his flat for the last two years and I know him pretty well. He’s a guy who can be very protective of his own space. He needs space to live, and I thought that Rachel would come over and be in that space and he wouldn’t like it.

But then I saw that she wasn’t in his space, she was part of his space. And the more I got to know her the more I realised that he was part of her space too and they’re both genuinely committed to maintaining that.

The story I just told you, over the last year, I’ve related to all kinds of people. Mainly ‘cos it’s a great story and one that I’ve thought about a lot. It still seems to me a fairly crazy tale when I say it out loud. And people react to it in all kinds of ways. Some laugh, some scoff and dismiss it, some smile and find joy. But actually, now I realise that for me it’s a tale of hope.

I think about my two friends and their good fortune in finding one another, and the joy and happiness that they look forward to bringing one another, and their children, I’ve no doubt, for the rest of their lives. And it gives me hope. I hope that one day I’ll be in the desert, or maybe at a party, or in the street, or queuing in a shop, and I’ll meet a girl, and I’ll just know.

So there’s that.

So here’s to the desert, and here’s to hope, and here’s to Ken and Rachel.

August 14th, 2006  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

It’s Raining Mud

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.


by Tedward

My first year was 2000. We were camped near 3:00 to be close to Black Light Village where many friends were. Well, when the winds hit Tuesday, they didn’t stop until Friday. We had three solid days of 10′ whiteout. It was brutal. Our camp was destroyed, and I mean completely destroyed. I ended up huddled in a box truck with many of the Black Light folks for what seemed and eternity.

Early Friday, an acquaintance blew in to the truck espousing the virtues of his recent trek across the playa: “Oh, I walked across the playa with my goggles on and my mask on, and I just let the winds blow through me. I felt soooo connected to the playa….” My eyes reflexively rolled back, but I decided that anything would be a good change from being stuck in the truck for another day.

So, I instigated a trade for said goggles and mask and decided to give the hippy thing a try and “connect” with the playa. I got out to the esplanade, and let the winds blow by me for a second when I noticed that a perfect parabola was cut out of the oncoming dust, just over Center camp. As I watched it, the cleared parabola came closer, so I waited….

As the leading edge of it rolled over me, I wiped the dust off my lenses to get them as clean as possible. Then, I looked up and rain drops started to fall. Now, remember, I had clean goggles, but the rain landed and formed little puddles of mud. I held out my hand and saw the same thing. It was raining mud. I was so incredulous that I started disrobing until I found a clean, dust free garment and held it out. Sure enough… Mud.

I was in utter shock. I thought I was finally having a ‘flashback’ from that time in high school. But just then, a Ranger wandered by and heard me mutter under my breath. He replied, “yeah, it’s cool, hunh? This is my third time seeing it.”

Eventually I realized that as the rain fell, it cleared the dust out of the air. That was the parabola I was seeing, the encroaching rain removing the dust. Then, this cleared dust mixes with the water, saturates it, and falls as mud. Where else you gonna see that?

July 27th, 2006  |  Filed under News

Burning Man Appeals BLM Stipulation Requiring Payment For Local Law Enforcement Expenses

Recently the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued Black Rock City, LLC (BRC) a five-year Special Recreation Permit. One of the stipulations requires BRC to pay for local law enforcement expenses in addition to the $4 per person per day in user fees that BRC already pays to the BLM. In the past the BLM has always paid for local law enforcement expenses from the user fee revenue. Legal counsel have advised BRC that this stipulation is “double dipping” that goes against the BLM’s own fee regulations. BRC has filed an appeal of that stipulation, which will be heard by the Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals. Appeals can sometimes take over a year to be decided. In the meantime BRC is paying local law enforcement expenses for 2006. If BRC ultimately prevails then the BLM will have to reimburse the expenses to BRC.

Thank you to everyone who sent public comments to the BLM earlier this year about the proposed new stipulations for 2006. BRC is satisfied with the outcome of the rest of the stipulation negotiations. The permit, stipulations and related documents are available for downloading here.

June 25th, 2006  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Finding It

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.


by Josh Skywise

I got it. I was experiencing complete freedom. Complete and pure existence with no boundaries. Only, it took a week for that to set in.

While I did my best to release myself from all expectations, I have to admit that after 3 years of attending the Texas Regional Burn I was preparing myself for my first Burning Man experience with the mindset that it would be much of the same, only bigger. I was really looking forward to that considering I got so much from the Flipside TX community, but my eyes were clouded and my journey was only just beginning.

Arriving Wednesday night in a blur of synchronicity and flashing colored lights, I happen upon my camp-mates amid a full-swing cocktail party in formal wear. The days fade into one another as time slips away and only moments in existence remain.

The darkness of empty playa all around, I see the faint glow of ultraviolet in the distance. It draws me and I flow towards its radiance. I come upon a moment from my childhood brought to vivid reality. The memories of my stepfather teaching me to play chess when I was seven come to me full force as I take in the concept of this life-sized chess setup. I am so lost in it that I don’t notice that three other people all come up to it at the same time, nobody knowing one another. Somehow we all come to the conclusion that we were meant to play…and while we revel in each other’s wit we suddenly realize that this battle is over and the real answer we were looking for is that both sides resolve their differences and live in peaceful bliss. We share a profound moment, then proceed to wander off into the darkness from which we came.

I look and look and look for my friends that I know are there and I haven’t encountered yet, and in the seemingly endless streets I can’t seem to find what I’m looking for.

While wandering the Esplanade, I happen upon this geodesic sphere of metal that resonates within me. I can’t resist the urge to ascend its stairs and exist within its framework. Lying upon my back and staring up into the boundless expanse of stars above me through the lattice of human engineering, a peacefulness overcomes me and I find that another soul has been drawn by the same pull that tugged at my being. Few words pass between us as few are needed, and we share an understanding and connection that surpasses vocal expression. When we part ways we talk of reconnecting at another time and place, but that does not come to pass and the moment is all we had.

I search the city for some sign of my family that somehow elude me, and I begin to wonder if I’ll ever find them.

About midday two of my campmates ask me if I would like to join them on an excursion to the outer fence. Never one to turn down a new experience, I strap on my supplies and we venture to the outer expanses. The bike ride seemed to last an eternity with only the sounds of wind in our ears and creating an eerie hush to the surrounding activities. We make our way into the heart of solitude and encounter moments of expression in humanity, spirituality, joyfulness, and sorrow. Having drawn these experiences into ourselves, we trek back to our home. On the way, our mission is thrown to the winds by a chance whiteout, and amid the swirling dusts a locomotive emerges from the haze, and to all of our complete disbelief we find ourselves dancing at a train from the mists while enjoying peach snowcones provided by the engineer.

I have come to accept that I’m not going to find my missing family and while it saddens me, I know that our spirits mingle in this city outside of time.

Another virgin campmate of mine (having had the same Flipside history as I) discusses with me his feelings on the Burning Man experience. He tells me that he was looking for a personal and community connection that we seem to both experience in Austin but that he found lacking here in BRC. I don’t disagree with him, as with this immense number of people the connections can be more difficult to attain, and when they are made it’s a rare chance that you reconnect down the line. However, I was able to offer insight that turned out to be more for myself that for him. If you want cheese, no amount of squeezing will get cheese out of bread. So if you want cheese, go get yourself some cheese. But don’t throw out the bread…because bread can be pretty tasty too. Don’t lose an amazing experience just because you were looking for something else.

Next thing I know…I look around me and see the city I have come to call home fading back into the dust it came from. I hop on my bike and let myself roam free…boundless and unfettered. I have just found the family of mine that I’d been looking for all week, and I’ve just discovered that I was looking for the wrong thing the entire time. I suppose that when you stop looking for it, it finds you. I look into the faces of those around me and see the dusty smiles and tears of the realization we’re going back to our everyday, and the gaining of a timelessness that makes these moments live on in our hearts for the remainder of our existence.

This is only the beginning.

June 21st, 2006  |  Filed under News

BLM Issues 5-Year Permit To Burning Man

Thank you to everyone who sent their public comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding the new stipulations that the BLM wanted to impose this year.  The good news is that we got most of what we wanted, including a 5-year permit.  Following is a summary of the results.

There will be no population cap this year.  The BLM is allowing us 6% growth per year, which is about what we anticipate based on ticket sales and historical data.  If the population exceeds that amount then we will have to address any infrastructural challenges.  As in past years, any evictions of unruly participants will be handled by the Black Rock Rangers in cooperation with law enforcement officers.  Also, we will be allowed to deduct working staff from fee calculations as we have done in the past.  The BLM is still planning to make Burning Man pay the bill for local law enforcement costs on top of the fees that Burning Man already pays.  Black Rock City, LLC is currently deciding whether to appeal this stipulation or not.

On a related issue, the BLM needs to respond to the over 4,000 participants who sent in public comments.  In order to help save some trees, we have agreed to send out the BLM’s response on the JRS, and post on our website.  Following is the BLM’s Notice of Decision including a link to related documents:

United States Department of the Interior
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Winnemucca Field Office
5100 East Winnemucca Boulevard
Winnemucca, Nevada 89445
http://www.nv.blm.gov

6/7/06

NV-020-06-EA-11 (NV25.11)

Dear Interested Public,

The Winnemucca Field Office has authorized a five-year Special Recreation Permit for Black  Rock City LLC to conduct the Burning Man event for the years of 2006-2010.   The permit may be renewed for up to four additional years, subject to satisfactory permit compliance.  The permit  must be authorized annually following an event evaluation, site inspections, and cooperator’s  coordination meetings.  The final decision to authorize a five-year permit was based on analysis  of the potential environmental impacts and public comments.  The decision incorporates  elements of the proposed action and alternatives proposed in the preliminary Environmental  Assessment (EA).

The final Environmental Assessment, Decision Record/Finding of No Significant Impact, and  permit stipulations are posted on-line at the Winnemucca BLM Field Office web-site at  http://www.nv.blm.gov/Winnemucca/.  Please contact the Winnemucca Field Office to request a hard copy.  If you have any questions or require further information, please contact Dave Lefevre, Outdoor Recreation Planner at (775) 623-1500.

Sincerely,
David C. Cooper, NCA Manager

June 12th, 2006  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

The Gauzy Strip

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.


by Boombox

I began this magical night with a group of friends by going to a dance tent that featured retro themes – this night was 70’s glam rock. We got the makeup and glitter on and hit the dance floor. Then we hopped on a double-decked art-bus, and rode around the playa for awhile. At some point, everyone got off the bus, but I could not locate my pals…such was the mystical nature of that eve. I accepted this as divine intervention that I was to wander solo. I soon came upon a tent filled with frenetic music and dancers. There was a beautiful blonde woman standing before me in a fuzzy bikini. Her eyes met mine and we exchanged a few words, something about my not having a Burning Man kiss yet this year. The next thing I knew, she embraced me and gave me a soulful deep tongue kiss – I could feel it all the way to my toes! I bowed to her and drifted off into the dance floor, high on the electricity of the moment.

I made my way down the outer Esplanade, stopping into other dance zones for some more hyper-electric boogaloo. I happened upon an outdoor DJ who was playing some very intense beats. I dove in, and wound up dancing on the outer perimeter – the edge where the crowd met the dark playa. A beautiful 1920’s/goth girl (with some serious dance moves!) loaned me her dark lipstick Soon I was joined by a dancer wrapped in white gauzy material. She moved in a graceful and captivatingly unique style, her head completely obscured by the flimsy material. I gravitated toward her; soon we were dancing together out on the dark playa, away from the throng. I longed to see her face…soon I approached her. We stopped dancing and she drew near to me. Slowly, ever so slowly, she lifted her gauzy veil to reveal the most amazingly cherubic beautiful blue-eyed face. I was stunned. She revealed her name. The veil dropped and we resumed our dance, she eventually spun off into the darkness of the playa, disappearing like an apparition. Ahhhh, Burning Man!

May 18th, 2006  |  Filed under News

Thank You For Your Public Comments To The BLM!

At the end of April, we issued a Call To Action for our community to tell the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that we do not agree with proposed draconian stipulations that would allow the BLM to charge Burning Man even more money and also give law enforcement the unfettered discretion to evict participants from Black Rock City. In less than one week the Burning Man community rallied by sending at least 2,221 emails and 298 letters to the BLM voicing disagreement with the proposed stipulations. (The official number of emails and letters was probably even higher, but we are only able to count the letters and emails where participants also sent copies to Burning Man headquarters. We’ll get the official count from the BLM in the near future.) Thank-you all for the deluge of wonderful comments and support!

Burning Man representatives met with the BLM and the Pershing County Commission to discuss the county’s position about the proposed change in stipulations. The positive outcome was that Pershing County agreed with Burning Man that the BLM should continue to pay local law enforcement costs; not Burning Man.

Thanks to your support and the support of Pershing County, we are confident that we will reach a palatable agreement with the BLM very soon. Stay tuned! The original Call To Action is below if you are interested in more details.


WE NEED YOUR HELP…NOW!

CALL TO ACTION: VOICE YOUR OPINION TO THE BLM ABOUT ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS FEE INCREASES

(posted 4/28/2006)

Have you ever wondered how much money Burning Man pays to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to use the Black Rock Desert? Have you ever wondered where all that money goes? Would you like to give the BLM your opinion about how to use those public funds to better serve the public? Well, not only is this your chance; but it’s also your right. Moreover, we ask that you make it your duty.

Each year we submit our Operating Plan, and each year the BLM replies with an Environmental Assessment (EA) and stipulations.  This results in a signed permit, which puts us in a position of supporting and following the stipulations.  For 10-years we’ve worked with the BLM and successfully negotiated stipulations.  In most cases the stipulations were born from our own initiative in the Operating Plan we submit with our permit request form.  Some of you may remember our permit initially being returned and not processed in 1998. At that time we waged a serious campaign with the BLM, and this included a call to action via the JRS. The BLM was flooded with 500 letters that they are required to painstakingly file and catalog. This action by the Burning Man participant base when there were less than 10,000 on the JRS was a significant part of the push that eventually caused the BLM to relent and process the permit.

Unfortunately, this year’s permit stipulations aren’t going as smoothly as they have in the past. Suggested modifications could cost us in excess of $200,000 in 2006 alone. Here’s where we’re at right now.  The BLM has different options for charging users of public land.  After experimenting with some of these methods, the BLM settled upon a method that is simple to calculate, maximizes funds for the Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area (NCA), and is not too much of a financial burden on Burning Man or its participants.  Most of you know the BLM requires $4 per person per day for the use of the federally owned land.  For the past several years this method has yielded over $700,000 annually for the BLM.  The BLM in turn uses this money to pay for costs associated with Burning Man.  The remainder goes towards stewardship of the NCA land itself.

Since 1998 BLM law enforcement has taken an increasingly larger piece of the pie.  (See Chart 1.)  In 2005 over $500,000 went to law enforcement related costs.  From 1998 to 2004 the cost of law enforcement astronomically increased 616%.  In stark contrast population growth in Black Rock City during this period has only been slight, and has even tapered off in the last couple of years.  What’s more startling is the fact that the already low incidence of crime in Black Rock City has not significantly increased, and has in fact dropped in some of those years. (See Chart 2.)

CHART 1 (click for larger version)
graph 1

CHART 2 (click for larger version)
graph 2

So what’s the need for all this excess law enforcement?  We asked that same question almost a year ago in a report we submitted to the BLM.  Although the BLM sent us a cursory response, to date there has been no full accounting, nor has there been a rational reason given for the increasing costs.

It seems apparent that the increase in LE costs has motivated the local district to do everything to squeeze more permit funds out of Burning Man to help manage the NCA.  For years the BLM has entered into a Law Enforcement Agreement with Pershing County (the county in which Black Rock City sits) to enforce state and local laws at Burning Man.  Each year the BLM has requested assistance from the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, and then reimbursed the county for its costs out of the fees that the BLM is authorized to collect from Burning Man.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhance Act (16 U.S.C. section 6801 et seq.) prevents the BLM from double charging users of public land for expenses that the BLM incurs under other areas of law.  The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. section 1733) names the BLM as the agency authorized to incur local law enforcement costs.  Therefore, these costs cannot be double charged to Burning Man.

Previously, the BLM tried unsuccessfully to pass these local law enforcement costs onto Burning Man.  Our legal team tells us this is an illegal way to double charge Burning Man.  In 2002 a letter from three members of Congress made the BLM reconsider its attempt.  In 2005 the BLM tried to get support for this arrangement from Pershing County.  However, the county chose what Burning Man had to offer instead–donations to charities in Pershing County from ice-sale revenue.  Now for the third time the BLM is again trying to pass these costs onto Burning Man by pretending that the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office is a “vendor,” like Johnny-On-The-Spot, or the company that supplies water trucks for dust abatement.  Never mind that the business of enforcing laws is a GOVERNMENT function; not the responsibility of Black Rock City, LLC–a private company.

Furthermore, the BLM also wants to put a cap on the population of Black Rock City.  The Nevada Department of Transportation and Nevada Highway Patrol stated publicly that Highway 447 is not even near its capacity during Burning Man.  The only reason given by the BLM is that there would not be enough room in the one motel in Gerlach to house the increased number of law enforcement officers at Burning Man.  First, law enforcement levels are already too high and unjustified.  Second, there are other housing options in the area.

The increase in law enforcement costs has motivated the local district to do everything to squeeze more permit funds out of Burning Man to help manage the NCA.  Accordingly, the BLM also wants to start charging the daily $4 per person per day use fee that Burning Man already pays for participants now for the staff members who work during Burning Man as if they were ticket-buying participants.  This would go against a 10-year precedent whereby staff members were not included in fee calculations.  This is even more egregious when one learns that the permit stipulations require many of these staff to be working the event for health and safety purposes.  These staff members include emergency services personnel like fire, medical, Rangers and others who devote their time so that participants can safely enjoy Black Rock City.

There’s one more change the BLM wants to institute in 2006.  The BLM wants to demand that Black Rock City, LLC evicts participants if the police simply say there is “good cause” to evict.  This would give the police much more leeway than is allowed by the civil liberties guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment.  If this change goes into our stipulations then the police can simply ask the organizers to evict a participant without probable cause.

Please note that none of these changes would cause Burning Man to end in the short run.  However, there’s no reason not to believe this is the beginning of a push from a government agency to increasingly change and modify fair arrangements we have had for years.  If you support Burning Man, if you want ticket prices not to increase because of the BLM’s mismanagement, if you care about how your public funds are being spent, if you care about the future of the Black Rock Desert NCA, if you believe government agencies should be held to the letter of the law, if you value your First Amendment right to express yourself and assemble on public land, if you value your civil rights, and if you want your voice to be heard then here’s what we would like you to do:

CALL, SEND AN EMAIL, OR POSTMARK A LETTER TO THE BLM BEFORE MAY 5TH AT 4:30 PM, WHICH IS THE END OF THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD. The public comment period is where the general public can give their feedback about the BLM’s proposed decision about the permit, Environmental Assessment (EA) or the stipulations.  The preliminary EA is located at http://www.nv.blm.gov/Winnemucca/NEPA/burningman/burningman.htm.  The stipulations are not available to the public yet.

First we’ve provided a sample letter, but if you’d like to craft one in your own words (which we encourage) you’ll find important bullet points to consider below the letter.  Please be sure to send it to Dave Cooper so your comments get in the public record.  But, please also send copies to Gail Givens and Ron Wenker, who are also involved in the stipulation decisions.  Finally, be sure to copy Burning Man so we can track this campaign.

It has been 7 years since we’ve asked for your help at this scale. We’ve been careful to ask for your involvement when we really need it. This IS one of those times. Over 50% of participants on the event-bases census admit to being activists. So, let’s activate!

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Dave Cooper, National Conservation Area Manager
Bureau of Land Management
Winnemucca Field Office
5100 East Winnemucca Boulevard
Winnemucca, NV 89445-2921
(775) 623-1516
Dave_Cooper here: Dave_Cooper (at) nv.blm.gov

Dear Mr. Cooper:

Thank you for cooperating with Burning Man over the years.  You have helped to enrich my life by making the Burning Man event a reality.  I enjoy being able to use my public lands for recreation and self-expression as a Burning Man participant.  Moreover, I support Burning Man as the largest Leave No Trace event in the world.

I am troubled by the BLM’s plan to charge Burning Man even more money this year. The BLM already gets over $700,000 from Burning Man, which is more than sufficient.  I want to voice my opinion that this plan is not what the users of public land want.  I see the BLM’s plan to charge Burning Man for local law enforcement costs and staff working at the event as the government’s way of unfairly eroding the cooperation between Burning Man and the BLM.

The Federal Land Policy Management and Management Act (43 U.S.C. section 1733(d)) places the responsibility of enforcing state and local laws on the BLM; not on Burning Man. Also, I am appalled that the BLM would even consider charging fees for fundamental health and safety personnel that are mandated by the permit to work at Burning Man, and who do not purchase a ticket to the event.

The organizers of Burning Man do an incredible job of providing the entire necessary infrastructure for a large temporary city.  I see no valid reason to cap the population of Black Rock City.  I think this attempt is arbitrary and capricious.

Burning Man is an extremely orderly and organized event.  I believe it is the greatest experiment in self-policing community in the world, and it would be difficult for the BLM to disagree with that statement.  Furthermore, the Black Rock Rangers do an excellent job of keeping the event safe.  I strongly oppose the BLM’s plan to dictate who the organizers must evict from Black Rock City.

In summary, please remove the stipulations requiring Burning Man to pay for local law enforcement and staff at the event.  Also, please remove the population cap and the stipulation about evictions.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

Cc:       Ron Wenker, Nevada State Director
Bureau of Land Management
1340 Financial Blvd.
Reno, NV 89502-7147
(775) 861-6590
Ron_Wenker here: Ron_Wenker (at) nv.blm.gov

Gail Givens, Winnemucca Field Director
Bureau of Land Management
Winnemucca Field Office
5100 East Winnemucca Boulevard
Winnemucca, NV 89445-2921
(775) 623-1501
Gail_Givens here: Gail_Givens (at) nv.blm.gov

Black Rock City, LLC
ATTENTION: BLM Public Comment
PO Box 884688
San Francisco, CA 94188-4688
political-letters here: political-letters (at) burningman.com

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Alternatively, if you choose to craft your own letter then here are the salient points to make:

1) You support Burning Man, which the BLM has touted as the largest Leave No Trace event on public land.

2) You strongly oppose the BLM’s attempt to double charge by making Burning Man pay for local law enforcement costs, and for the daily fee for health and safety staff necessary to work and support the event.

3) You believe Burning Man is a peaceful, family, art event and that there is no logical reason to cap population.

4) You oppose any attempt by law enforcement to be able to tell the event organizers to evict participants for a broadly generalized “good cause.”

5) Describe your past personal experience with law enforcement at Burning Man if applicable.

Please be respectful and courteous in your tone.  Respectful and courteous comments will be taken seriously.  Rude comments will only make this crisis worse.

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THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!  We will keep you posted about this issue.  To be continued…

~ The Burning Man Project