The Desert Is Spiked

Coyote called people over to begin the ceremonies
Coyote called people over to begin the ceremonies

And so it begins again.

There was a howling wind on the Black Rock Desert on Sunday, and there had been driving rain the night before in Gerlach. But now the sun was blazing and the sky was magnificent as about 75 people gathered to drive the Golden Spike into the desert floor, the first official act of Burning Man.

It doesn’t just happen, you know. Many things must come together, many sacrifices must be made, for Black Rock City to rise. Jobs must be quit, leavings must be taken, and sweat will coat many faces before the festivities begin.

But this, this vast empty timeless place, this is what draws us first. This is the blank canvas. This is where it starts.

Like so many things about Burning Man, it wasn’t always like this. The desert is the only thing that hasn’t changed. Everything else has grown, become more ornate, become layered in ritual and remembrance. The first time a spike was put in the ground to mark the place where the Man would be built, there were only four people around. But now there were words to be said and liquor to be shared. There was a consciousness and intention about the work that was about to start, and the moments did not go unremarked on.

“Are we back here already?” Crimson Rose asked. “Did we ever leave?”

As the years seem to hurtle one into the next, it seemed indeed like we had never left. But again, just as there is sameness, there is difference, too. Last year there heavy hearts, the weight of sadness and loss everywhere. But this year, you could sense acceptance. Time has passed. Distance has been gained. Perspective, and maybe some wisdom, has been achieved.

Miss Stress gave the spike a mighty whack
Miss Stress gave the spike a mighty whack

“You are my friends 365 days a year,” Makeout Queen proclaimed as she held the sledgehammer above her head.

And even though there were laughs and hijinx, there was also a somber gratefulness that those who were out here had made it through another year. “I want to thank you all for staying alive,” someone said. “This year I dedicate this to the people who are here.”

And with that another hammer blow drove the stake a little deeper into the ground. One by one, people stepped up and said what they had to say. Some people were profound, some were sad, some were funny. But everyone seemed to respect the moment, and they were grateful. “I’ve been here a month,” Miss Stress said, “and I still look like this,” she said, pointing to her hugely smiling face.

But pretty soon it was all done.

The blank canvas
The blank canvas


The Morris Hotel: The First Burner Hotel in the World

Jungle Jim in front of the Morris Hotel (YouTube screen capture)
Jungle Jim in front of the Morris Hotel (YouTube screen capture)

If you’d like to see Burning Man’s 10 Principles in action in the real world, just head down to 4th Street in Reno, and have a look at the Morris Hotel. Recently purchased by Jim Gibson (aka Jungle Jim on the playa), The Morris will be the first Burner hotel in the world.

Communal effort, radical inclusion, radical self-expression, gifting, civic responsibility, participation, leave no trace, immediacy — they’re all here in spades, and in a way that makes for an inspiring alchemy.

The hotel boasts 43 rooms, each of which will be designed and decorated by Burner artists. There’s a back lot for fire performers to practice and hone their craft. There are hopes of establishing a community garden to support the local homeless population. And of course, as happens with Burners, there are a slew of other ideas percolating. While the hotel is technically open right now (and will be hosting a small number of international Burning Man artists before this year’s Burn), Jim hopes to have it all spit-and-polished by the end of the year.

They have a long way to go, but Jim sure seems like the kind of guy — together with the incredible Reno community — to make it happen. Jim says he’s fallen in love with Reno and its artists, and we suspect that love will not go unrequited. We’re excited to see how this experiment unfolds.

Here’s a video from Ky Plaskon, where Jim talks about his vision for the Morris Hotel:

If you’d like to get involved, head over to the Morris Burner Hotel Project group on Facebook. We’ll post more as we hear about it.

I’m scared to go to Burning Man

Burning Man 2011

I’m scared to go back.

I’ll be honest. All the joking and blustering I do about Burning Man is just a cover-up. I talk about being “so ready” because I’m not, and I hope your convinced look will convince me. I think Burning Man is really hard, and I’m scared to go back again.

There. I said it. I am afraid of Burning Man. I said it again. I’m going for the fifth time, and I’ll still be scared the sixth. That, I know.


PSA: How Do I Find My Friends at Burning Man?

They wouldn't last a day in the desert.
They wouldn’t last a day in the desert.

It’s tough out there in the desert.  You need your besties watching your back!

But what if you can’t find them?  What do you do?

Today’s Public Service Announcement is here to help answer that question!

You can listen below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Or click here


If you need more information, here are some other recent PSA’s you might enjoy.

Leave no Trace!
Prepare for the Weather!
Cope with Traffic!
Meet the Theme Camps!
Where do I find the Internet?

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man annoys bad people on behalf of organized crime.  His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization. Contact him at Caveat (at)

“This Is Burning Man”

Brian Doherty, Larry Harvey and Michael Mikel at Z Space on Thursday night in San Francisco
Brian Doherty, Larry Harvey and Michael Mikel at Z Space on Thursday night in San Francisco.
(All photos by Erica Bartel)

Larry Harvey his own self got us in a desert mood the other night, talking about the beginnings of Burning Man even as we beat the playa out of our rugs and dodge all the Indiegogo campaigns and get ready to head out to Black Rock City again.

You probably know the story of how Burning Man began. Maybe you’ve read some magazine articles or a book or two. Ok, maybe you’ve only read a bunch of Facebook posts, but you know it all began when Larry was upset about breaking up with a girlfriend, so he burned a wooden effigy on Baker Beach to ease his troubled mind, and things took off from there.

Well, that’s not quite right, but that’s ok. An event that’s stretched its wings so far beyond the desert (twenty-three countries! fifty-five events!) is going to have some myth-making attached to it, and the bad-breakup-with-the-girlfriend story is one of them.

News came this week that the Bureau of Land Management has given the Burning Man organization official permission to hold the event for the next four years, with a maximum population of 68,000 wandering souls in 2013. That’s a big number; bigger than ever, and who could have envisioned that a spontaneous, just-for-the-hell of it Baker Beach bonfire in 1986 would grow into something that has changed the popular culture in unprecedented ways. And that’s not just hyperbole. Burning Man IS different – different than the Summer of Love, different than Woodstock, and way different than Altamont. It has endured, it has changed, and it continues to grow. And as the Burning Man Project pushes outward into the world, there has been an accompanying movement to pull back – a get-back-to-basics effort to remember the beginnings and try, as the Ten Principles do, to describe what happens out there, so that it might be replicated and extended.

So that’s what brought us to Z Space in San Francisco the other night. Harvey was there, and so was Michael Mikel, another of the founders, and Brian Doherty, the author of “This Is Burning Man,” really one of the best things you can read if you’d like to understand the underpinnings of the event. Harley DuBois, another one of the founders, said in her introduction to the evening that while she read the book, “I could almost smell the playa dust again.” (more…)

Larry Harvey Speaks at the Commonwealth Club, July 31

Larry Harvey (photo by Jim Urquhart, c/o Reuters)
Larry Harvey (photo by Jim Urquhart, c/o Reuters)

On July 31st, INFORUM at the Commonwealth Club is hosting an amazing event that gives its attendees unique insight into the founding of Burning Man and inspiration for Black Rock City.

Burning Man: The Story Behind Black Rock City is a one-on-one interview with the founder of Burning Man, Larry Harvey, as he speaks on the effect Burning Man has had on society today, the inspirations for this year’s theme, Cargo Cult, how being headquartered in San Francisco has influenced the event, and plans for the non-profit Burning Man Project to extend Burning Man culture worldwide. The program will begin at 6:30pm, followed by a reception for audience members to mingle with Larry in attendance.

This is a great opportunity for Burners to learn more about Burning Man’s genesis as they prepare for the event itself!

Click for tickets and more info, and to RSVP on Facebook.

Ask, and you shall…have a pickle.

It was Tuesday night, and I had been suffering nose bleeds since Saturday.

We came in early, finally getting to the Greeters’ Gate around 9 at night on Saturday, and I was so stoked. It was my first burn, and my aunt had been trying to get me to go since I’d turned 18. Since it took me 5 years to graduate from college, I had quite a while to get psyched up for the event.

Right away, my mind was blown. The costumes, the lights, the smells, the glaring bi-colored environment beyond the man-made decor — it was exactly where I wanted to be. I was astounded and amazed and gleeful and excited and in love… and unhappy.

I have always been self-conscious. I’ve been self-conscious about looks, about weight, about being picked on, about looking stupid, about getting teased and ridiculed and worse yet, talked about behind my back. All of this combined to make me a prince among wallflowers; I was shy around strangers, paranoid that if I exposed a bit of chub, then everyone would wrinkle their noses distastefully. It was terribly confining to be at Burning Man, with only two shirts packed for the whole week (a clever plan, I thought, to wear only chest accessories and therefore come to terms with being awkwardly chubby and so pale as to be semi-translucent) and this constant, lingering feeling that if I threw my inhibitions aside and really participated, I would get mocked by the people I was coming to love the most.

On Tuesday night, after three days of lurking in the fringe, I rode my bike out to the Temple. I was already moping and glum that I wasn’t brave enough to go into any of the dozens of camps and parties and classes that caught my eye, and then being in a place surrounded by so many happy and sad memories just made me break down and cry. Feeling awash in helplessness, self disgust, and drama, I rode straight out from 12 o’clock to the deep playa. ‘Just one in,’ I asked the universe, weepy and snotty and kind of cold by now. ‘Just one in, and I can see if this place is really for me, or if I’m just a wallflower at an expensive party. Just ONE. Please. Help.’

As constantly happens when beseeching the Universe, nothing happened immediately. I turned around, resigned to the fact that I was too square to be a Burner, and rode back to my camp. It was 10 at night, and I was going to bed.

And then I saw a light just slightly out of my way, surrounded by bikes and people. You know the scene; a crowd forms around an art piece in the deep playa at night, and we are drawn to it like a tiny snack morsel to an anglerfish’s glowing face trap. Yep, just like that. As I got closer, I saw a neon sign rising above the rest of it — Dust City Diner. An slice of a real and true diner perched on a flat bed trailer, straight out of Huey’s. (I hadn’t been to Huey’s in years and years, since they closed it down a decade ago, but the strains of ‘Yakkity Yak’ immediately came to mind.)

I paused, wondering if it was worth it to get off and see what was going on. Such was the tension of my self-consciousness that even just standing around waiting my turn to climb onto a tall, red, spinning stool was a challenge. Why mope around and look hopeful when all the cool people were already participating?

Well, screw it. Screw it, and screw this, and damned if I wasn’t going to stand there like a fool and wait my turn. I waited, and slowly started to realize that if I was a hopeful dope, then… others were too. Or maybe I wasn’t as dopey as I thought, because everyone else was waiting their turn to ascend to the counter as well. It was my turn. I climbed up, and immediately a waitress in a beehive hairdo plopped an elbow down and said in a nasal drawl, “Yew want some cawfee, hon?” Hell yes, I did.

I also enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich and a pickle, and shared some conversation about the unique consistency of American cheese with a pair of fellows from the UK who claimed the seats to either side of me. I had to keep leaning back so that they could pass the gherkin back and forth to share. It was great. It was fun. It was so cool and calm and exciting all at once, because I discovered that the only thing holding me back from participating was stupid, useless, pointless, and utterly beatable fear. Some of you already know the answer to ‘What if they laugh at you?’, but the answer that I discovered that night as I sat between a man in a pink silk slip with a gherkin and a man in a leather jacket with a cheese toasty was ‘…Yeah, and?’

Yeah, and… That’s it. That’s all. And that has completely changed my life. I can honestly think of no greater moment of catharsis in my life than that moment. Yeah, and… it’s not as big as you think. I can do things now that I never could before, because of that one moment that taught me not to fear fear.

We went looking for the Diner every night for the rest of the week, but never found it. I even talked to vets who have been coming for six years, ten years, who have never seen the Diner. I don’t know if they just had rubbish luck or what, but it felt like that moment had been the almost-immediate answer I was looking for, a gift that I didn’t have to share and could hold close to myself like a spark. I want to give the crew of the Diner that Tuesday in August ’11 my utmost thanks, a heartfelt ‘I couldn’t have done it without you’. And you, dear burners, you took it from there, and did the rest.

by Charlie Malarkey

“To Flame” Buses Not Authorized to Enter Black Rock City in 2013

Photo by by Rick Egan
Photo by by Rick Egan

Burning Man organizers want participants to know the To Flame bus operated by Rally Bus will not be granted access to Black Rock City in 2013.

Companies providing bus service to the Burning Man event are required to secure permits from Burning Man and the Bureau of Land Management. To Flame and Rally Bus have not secured these permits.

Additionally, Burning Man issued a Request for Proposals for a bus service to the event earlier this year. To Flame submitted a proposal, but was not selected based on gaps in their operational plan to support the event, previous track record and negative feedback about their bus service from operators and participants.

During the RFP process Burning Man advised To Flame to not sell any additional tickets. To Flame was not selected as the bus service vendor, but continued to advertise bus service during and after the RFP process. On June 26 Burning Man issued a Cease & Desist letter to the company.

Participants have a few options for public transportation to the playa, including the new BRC-supported Burner Express bus service operating from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. For more information on options, visit