It begins again

Welcome (back) home.

You may have heard that tickets have sold out for this year’s event, yes? We’re not going to have that discussion today, but we bring it up only as a way of noting that the city has grown again, and not just in population, but in physical size, too.

Last year, you may recall, the band of hard-ass workers known as the Black Rock City Department of Public Works put up seven miles of fence in a single day, enclosing the perimeter of the city-to-be.

This year, the same crew put up NINE miles of fence. Nine. In a single day. Just think about that for a second. As Coyote said,  “The locals must be saying, ‘Look at those hippies go!'”

And go they did, from well before dawn, through the beautiful morning, through the dust storm that hit around 9am  and simply wouldn’t stop, through the hellish midday, and through the doldrums and tedium and exhaustion that hits in the afternoon.

The “official” numbers were available this morning: The crew pounded  1,600 stakes into the well-baked playa. They used 150,000feet of orange nylon rope to tie the pieces of the trash fence together and then tie it to the stakes. And of course each post was pounded by hand,  and each piece of string was cut and each knot was tied  with fingers that needed to be wrapped in protective tape to fend off blisters.

But still the blisters came, and the sunburn, and the muscle aches, and the heat headaches. But the fence got done, as it always does, because it has to.

Niko addresses the crew as the work is about to begin

It wasn’t always this way. Stinky Pirate was telling us about the Way Things Used to Be, back in the year 2000 or so, when 15 really kickass workers needed three days to get ‘er done. And there weren’t any fluffers or PortaPotties around, either. Just a crew in various stages of dementia determined to build the city and put on the party, and that’s the part that hasn’t changed a bit.

Each year is the same, and each year is different.

This year began when it was still dark out.  Trucks and buses and vans had their headlights on as they rolled out across the desert, and workers had breakfast on the playa at 4:45 a.m. Then the stake truck and two teams of pounders took off, well before the sun appeared from behind the hills. There were whoops and hollers and the energy level was astronomical.

You can’t really capture what it’s like with a camera.

A little more than two hours later, the pounders were done. Nine miles of stakes finished by 8:03. The two crews took a break for a group photo, then joined the people tying the fence to the stakes.

By a little after 3pm, the whole thing was finished. Nine miles of fence done in the same time that it took last year to do two fewer miles. Amazing.

Working by the dawn's early light

Some folks have been out here for weeks already, and we’re all the newcomers to them. They’ve been doing the surveying and putting the flags in the ground that mark the spots where the art and the camps will go. But by Monday afternoon, the Transpo team had hauled out dozens and dozens of containers to the desert. What had been open space just hours before was now a city under construction.

“To me, the city is the largest art project out here,” Coyote said, and how can you argue with him?

For a lot of people, fence day is the beginning of the new year. It’s your birthday and Opening Day and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one.

As Joe the Builder stood watching the big semis hauling lumber and containers to various parts of the playa, and as the fence was going up around the whole thing, he squinted a little and said, “Each year they get a little more dialed in.”

It’s kind of hard to imagine that people will keep getting better at what they do, but it’s likely that they will. The crew did nine miles yesterday. And maybe the good news, given the recent developments, is that they seemed like they could have kept going and done a lot more.

George giving final instructions to the crew

The water trucks weren't in service, and there was plenty of dust kicked up by the semi trucks dropping off stuff all over the desert floor.



When the stake-pounding was finished, the alpha and bravo crews had a group photo taken.

Toad was damn proud of the fact that his hands were blister-free at the end of the pounding. "But what's that one there?" I asked. "Oh, that one was from yesterday," he said.
Rodney is new to the crew this year, out from New York City
Clody cut string after string after string on the fluffer wagon
Roll out the fence, tie those knots, then repeat and repeat and repeat


Poltergeist heads the medical services team on the playa. When one of the workers (cough cough) suffered a head wound, he was Johnny on the Spot. Thanks, Poltergeist and Big Spoon! My wound will heal, but the humiliation will linger.
What it's all about.

A good kind of tired.


When the pounding and tying was finished, George Bush took a dousing.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

92 thoughts on “It begins again

  • Hey Joe…catching and blowing garbage? hunh?…this a no trace festival,no garbage bins to get blown by the wind! and an extra 3 miles of it…this is no doubt to catch people from blowing in. it is a barrier and barriers are to protect lines,lines that which were already drawn.and trust me that fence will be protected like a militant border. negative/angry,no not really cause I will not come this year because this alternate city has more rules than the one I live in…fences are built either to keep them in or keep them out…get a clue…garbage blowing lol!

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  • minutemen? good idea. I like it. Shoot on sight? Like it even more. Love the blog Curley. funny to see it on a screen. hmph… bruno’s stops serving in a minute…gotta go. my art is yer city.

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  • tommy-

    Have you even been to the event? Okay, I’ll even say it’s possible that you went years ago in the days of the drive by shooting range, but have you been recently & have you stayed until at least Tues afterwards? Yes, it’s a leave no trace event, but that’s because DPW is there to clean up after those who have left MORE than a trace. I’ve seen 5 person tents abandoned out there STUFFED with trash. I’ve seen garbage & trailers abandoned on the road (off playa) back to default world.

    Do a little research on who owns the land and what hoops have to be jumped through in order to make this possible. I mean, really, take it ALL in. Then, you can make comments with merit, but if you really understood it all, you’d have very little comments besides kudos. As well, with BRC being 50,000 plus, I doubt the city you live in could host such a thing as goes on for a week during the Burning Man event, annually, comprised of participants & not tourists (like a city hosting a worlds fair or the Olympics…..the city is there while mostly tourists from out of town attend the special event).

    You aren’t coming out. I believe it’s for the best of all parties.

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  • Oh….& there are mostly but two rules. Have a ticket to enter & have consent before doing something to someone else. Otherwise, normal local, state & federal laws apply just like anywhere in the host country.

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  • …I use to work with my Dad in the days of first conception of this thing on the beaches of Northern California…all which were War Vets,shell shocked from Vietnam looking to blow off steam. And then came the the hippies to the party,local police were all ex vets from WW2 and Korea understood what these guys suffered and let them have their fun ,but once the assholes arrived homeowners started to complain and word got out about a massive event…(wrong)…it was not called burningman that’s a name someone came up with to make money off of some poor soul that gave his sanity and future for all of you…and you would not even let them have that. This was stolen by greed heads,nothing more!

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  • …and yes I respected it more as a shooting range than a group of hip-sters,yuppies,so-called artist,and just a bunch of people looking to take drugs and spread their agenda about lifestyles.

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  • thanks to all DPW folks for your epic hard work. john i wish i could be there with you this year…but as kara says, this is a great way to see it and i accept no substitute! xo

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  • thanks for making it so I would not blow away if the wind was too strong.

    I feel much better now that I know that orange net will stop me…

    wow great work

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  • I cant thank the crew enough! once again ( 5 phence projects) i will decorate the far phence, this year with license plates…. george and the crew, 9 miles of fence, all in a day?? playa magic! i like to honor their labors and make the phence an art destinatioin…last year i did CityFish and gifted ALL of them to george to bring back again and again, maybe to the far outposts! no matter where u r from in the us there is a pl8 awa8ing u out there!!!! thanks again, we appreciate you recognizing the efforts of those who concatenate the cacophony !

    dragnet BliNkinGmAn CaMp ’97 – ’11

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  • Thanks, DPW people!!

    And Hey, Tommy: Shit happens. Shit changes. Shit can be serious. Some don’t give a shit. Ultimately: shit is a rite of passage. You have already participated by giving a shit. YAY!!!!!! Carry on you burner in exile.

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  • Awesome job folks. A heartfelt thanks goes out to the DPW crew. A lot of hard work in the heat, wind, and dust. I wish I could have made it out there.

    Love & Peace to all the burners out there,

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  • Tommy,

    I’m a Gulf war Vet and a burner. My dad is a Korean war Vet, ex-police officer, and a burner. We have no problems with how things are managed at Black Rock. There is no agenda on the playa, just a bunch of like-minded people getting together to celebrate life.

    It sounds like you are harboring a lot of hostility. You may want to seek professional help, or try aromatherapy. There are some herbs out there that are very relaxing.

    PS: I hope you picked up your brass while you were out there. Litterbugs are worse than terrorists in my book. ;-P

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  • Awesome job, Thank you, Thank you !
    This is the kind of working community that makes BRC so electrifying !
    “No spectators, only participants” !

    The photos are stunning !

    I will look at that fence line, seeing the energy and hard work that went into it next time, instead of just a fence.

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  • As I swipe the grateful tears from the corner of my eyes, I feel so blessed and honored to be joining everyone on the playa for the first time this year! These picture speak volumes! THANK YOU!!!!!

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  • OMG it just hit me…I’m coming HOME! Too big for words so thank you Thank You THANK YOU all you beautiful people, and for the wonderful writing and photos!! See you SOON! xo

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  • Incredible! I must express my gratitude to all of u in the DPW crew. It is so wonderful to see all the hard work that so many people put in to make the Burning Man experience possible. It’s not all fun and games and that makes it so much more special, so REAL. Its not just a mirage out there!!!! I am a birgin and from the bottom of my heart I thank u for making my dream a reality. Some year I hope to be out there making it happen with ya’all. As for this year, ill see u all inside the fence.

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