Turnkey Camping in Black Rock City

Photo by Lucas Swick

[6/25/12 UPDATE: We’ve changed the nomenclature for these types of camps from “Plug & Play” to “Turnkey” to better reflect the way they function.]

In the last few years, a new phenomenon emerged – an increase in “Turnkey” camping in Black Rock City. What is “Turnkey” camping? It’s a shorthand that has emerged around those camps where a group of people (it could be individuals, or a commercial outfit, we have learned) set up a camp not just for themselves, but in advance of the arrival for others to arrive in Black Rock City and have things ready to go for them. Depending on the camp, this could simply include camp infrastructure, or it could also include food preparation, or it could go so far as providing an art car, a decorated bike, or a schedule of activities, for instance. It’s most often for a fee, ranging from reasonably close-to-cost setups to high dollar luxury style RV camps.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s hard to precisely define Turnkey camping — because we ALL pool resources to survive on the playa, and we all have to take care of each other … so who is to say what someone should bring or how much they should or shouldn’t spend to experience Black Rock City? Paying someone to do your kitchen at the event isn’t new, for example; other camps collaborate on porta-potty rental or other efficiency services. And sometimes, it turns out, these camps are prearranging the setup of their living conditions so that they can focus other contributions -art projects, for example, or a wedding. Or, just having fun without all the sweat equity.

But what are Turnkey camps doing to our culture of radical self-reliance and Leave No Trace? Are Turnkey campers “participating”? And who and what does this BRC camping genre really impact? Perhaps most importantly, how can Black Rock City learn from this and evolve?

It could be said that if these camps are providing everything — what about radical self-reliance? But on the flip side, it could also be said that these camps are providing opportunities for some would-be Burners who wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to survive and thrive in the Black Rock Desert to experience Burning Man. Doesn’t that broaden radical inclusion? A number of these campers bring or support big projects to add to the fabric of Black Rock City in other ways — if one is bringing some other legitimate form of civic participation and communal effort, could it be justifiable to want to offset some of the other effort one’s camp requires?

In order to explore these questions, we need to do some reflecting and some research. Importantly, we’re encouraging your input and dialogue. We know that such camps (and those who use them) are a varied bunch and they’re here to stay. The challenge, then, is to help these camps integrate into the ways of Burning Man and to positively acculturate their participants. We also want the sponsors of these camps to understand how they are perceived and how they affect the event and the rest of the Burning Man community.

We’ve produced a 10-minute video of a conversation here at BMHQ, to frame the conversation on Turnkey camping to help advance our dialog around the issues it presents. After you view this video, join the conversation and become part of what creates a better future. We know there are other Burners with Turnkey camping experience out there. We hope they will join the conversation, too. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments, or on this ePlaya discussion thread.

(Special thanks to Black Rock City Manager Harley K Dubois, Black Rock City Community Services Manager Terry Schoop, and Theme Camp Coordinators Jon La Grace, Andy Tannehill, and Kimberly Morabito for participating. Thanks also to our volunteer video team Ana Grillo and Ana Arcioni.)

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase first attended Burning Man 2001. He was Burning Man's Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004-2009, and the Operations Manager and member of the Art Council for the ARTery (Burning Man's art department headquarters in Black Rock City) from 2003-2008. In 2009, he transitioned into the Communications Department, where his responsibilities include global communication strategy, authoring the Jackrabbit Speaks Newsletter, content management for the Burning Man website, coordination of Burning Man's social networking efforts, and acting as editor for the Burning Blog. Tales of his sordid adventures can be found on his website.

257 thoughts on “Turnkey Camping in Black Rock City

  • If someone wants to experience the burn from an RV, that is their problem and shouldn’t be everyone else’s concern. Also, I have no problem with someone paying operating costs of a camp and arriving after set up. It can be extraordinarily hard for international travelers to bring sufficient infrastructure for the burn. However, camps that charge fees beyond operational costs crosses the line in a major way and cannot be tolerated.

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  • The pivotal moment of this video to me, and the part that makes me completely against plug and play camps comes at around 8:00. As a veteran burner and member of a theme camp, we spend over six months planning our camp. We take virgins on every year, but limit the number we take. Each virgin is part of the planning process, and learns who, what, where why, when, how to do everything at camp throughout the planning process. THAT is as much a part of the burningman experience as the actual event is.

    To show up on the playa and need to have to be shown how to use your RV, and learn about MOOP and leave no trace on day one will not prepare you for what to expect up there. I’m sure some people will get it, but a majority probably won’t – ever. The organization shouldn’t have to help these camps figure out how to get their ‘members’ to prepare for the playa.

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  • @michael from reno:

    there is a reason burning man had core values put in place, and that was to preserve something that it set out to do at the beginning. it’s that simple. all are welcome and no one is better than the other. it’s just that we should all be heading out to the playa adhering to a set of principles to unleash the best possible experience for every person. and a little roughing it is a good thing. and it does serve to weed out the committed from the not-so-committed.

    we often hear from people, like yourself, “oh, well, burners should grow up and realize things evolve, yada yada yada, and if they don’t like it anymore they should go start another festival, yada yada yade.”

    it’s actually the opposite. if people can’t stick to the principles and forgo P&P camping and other such things, THEY are the ones that should be going to other festivals.

    there are plenty of very comfy festivals they can go to. OR they can get their shit together and head out to the playa within the context of the principles that made the playa a great equalizer. and i for one don’t want to see all the issues of the haves and have nots infiltrating burning man. because last year when my wife came a cross a dining room table being set up deep playa and was told she could not join that it was a private catered affair, something changed.

    there’s nothing wrong with moving forward and evolving while maintaining values that made the playa what it is in the first place. evolution without knowing what was good about you in the first place isn’t going to take you very far and likely make you obsolete.

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  • My 14th time in a row this year
    So many people. So much consumption.
    Many “walls of RV’s” – cycling down some streets there was just a blank white wall of huge RVs with no welcome, no ‘hey here’s our camp'” just “fuck off”.

    However, I admire the response of BORG. Don’t knee-jerk ban, discuss. BORG, I have learned to trust your judgement.
    Personally I would prefer all RVs to be banned.
    OTOH, that’s just my opinion, however BORG I trust you (and I really mean this) to Make The Right Decision.
    I’m not just saying that, I actually trust you to look out for all of us. Sincerely. Make me happy about that. Thx.

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  • this was my 10th year via public transportation. forget radical self-reliance. there is very little radical self-reliance (tent camping) space available. “theme camps/ business” get almost all the space. I camped in the BX reserved camping and there was a huge rv, a camp with 8 vehicles/20 very loud rude people, a lone camper with a car, and a truck with campers all in the tent camping area. I am 77 years old and camp in a small tent by myself. I had a miserable time with a huge truck, noisy people and loud music til 2am right next to my small tent. if I go next year I will go to walk in camping and try to get away from all these hateful people. for me it started 3 years ago in walk in camping. people parked their car on the outside and just set up camps to rent and a disco in walk in. last year someone wrote nasty things on the toilets and broke off all the doors to the disabled toilets. I realize nothing stays the same but there is too much space for rvs, paying theme camps and not enough space for tent camping.

    I loved BRC when I started going 10 yeas ago. I probably will go next year because the BM people have weathered worse and I have confidence that they will work this out.

    oh yeah, we rode 11 hours from the playa to san francisco in a full BX bus with no ac. there are no opening windows so the only air was from the two small vents on the roof. I believe that the BX got in a little over their heads and the rain did not help with their schedule. considering how many people they moved they did OK.

    I truly hope there will be a place for me and people like me next year.

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