These Stunning Photos Bring Burning Man to Life

Burning Man cannot be summed up in a word….it’s difficult to classify and hard to explain. But we’ll try, it’s a yearly end-of-summer extravaganza that takes place in the middle of the Nevada desert. It’s a counterculture phenomenon similar to Woodstock, but then again, not. There are droves of musicians but no scheduled gigs. They play for the love of playing—no money changes hands at Burning Man. And, anyway, it’s about art.
 
Elaborate sculptures, beautifully complex, are vividly pictured here in all their glory, curated to catch your gaze. A massive wood effigy called “the Man” is burned at the climax of the event. An enormous crackling bonfire serves as the conclusion to the week-long festivities.

Burning “The Man” is How Burning Man Started

It was a gathering that became an event. A community that started a tradition. In a 2018 WaPo interview, New Yorker Jim Glaser shared his thoughts. He describes it as “kaleidoscopic magic,” saying, “it is just huge! There’s lasers, there’s art cars, there’s flames shooting out of everything. And people do all of this for basically no money.”  “It is one of the most barren places in the country, and it blossoms with more creativity, life and love than anything ever in the history of mankind,” Glaser explained.

 

It attracts the eccentric, the experimental, the curious, the strange.It’s a barter and trade community where nothing is for sale. It’s about giving and receiving and self-reliance.  People pilgrimage to Black Rock Desert, a remote area two-and-a-half hours north of Reno, to live free in an open and radically inclusive community for nine blissful days.

A Summer Celebration Becomes a Tradition

In 1986, Larry Harvey, a hippie and sometimes vagabond who lived amongst artists in the Haight-Ashbury district, built an 8-foot human effigy out of lumber scraps on Baker Beach and set it ablaze. A crowd of about 100 people gathered around the ball of flames at the nudist beach next to the Presidio military installation, not far from the Golden Gate Bridge. The moment Harvey poured gasoline over “The Man” and struck the match, people came running from every direction. What started as about a dozen of Harvey’s friends and a bonfire, became an instant tradition for celebrating Summer Solstice.

 

As the yearly gathering of eccentrics caught on, Harvey grew accustomed to fielding inquiries about whether Burners are a cult. He sat down with San Francisco Chronical in 1996 and said, “The Burning Man is Disneyland in reverse . . Woodstock turned inside out. It’s anything you want it to be.” Attendance doubled in the 1990s, growing each year. The week-long event went from hundreds to several thousand attendees. The Burning Man sculpture grew too. In 1987, it was 15 feet tall. And it was 40-feet-tall in 1990, five times higher than the original Man. In 1990 the tradition moved to Black Rock Desert where it attracts tens of thousands of people from all over the world each year.

Moving Burning Man to a More Expansive Location

Leading up to the fifth year of Burning Man, the Golden Gate Police got wise and clamped down. In 1990, they put a damper on the celebration because of wildfire concerns. The gathering was allowed, but not the bonfire.  The same year the Bay area authorities informed Harvey the event was banned, Michael Mikel, Kevin Evans, and John Law, friends of Harvey who helped with the construction of the Man, helped move the Man. The entire Burner community was relocated to the desert.

 

Mickel, Evans, and Law, former hippies involved with the Cacophony Society, had meandered out to the federally owned Black Rock Desert in the past. They knew immediately that the vast flat expanse of dirt would be the perfect place to burn the Man and salvage the tradition.  Mickel, a Vietnam veteran from Texas who came to S.F. to free his mind, shared the counterculture Cacophony Society motto. He said the group was organized around a “randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” With that, the beginnings of Burning Man principles took root.

Let There Be Light

With more and more people joining the community each year, the organizers looked for ways to make it as safe as possible for everyone. To brighten things up, Law lit up the Burning Man sculpture with a network of multi-colored neon tubes. Like a beacon of light, it shepherded those who wandered off into the desert, home safe.

 

Another effort was spearheaded by Mikel. He organized a group called Black Rock Rangers. As its top officer, he gained the nickname “Danger Ranger.” The troops served as a makeshift police department to keep campers at the temporary city safe. Danger Rangers intervened in fights and other conflicts.

Making Black Rock Desert Home

In 1991, Burning Man procured a federal permit for the new site. The dry lake bed was now the official home for the annual tradition. For its second year out in the desert, 250 people gathered to pay homage to the burning effigy. Attracting a swelling stream of Burners each year, about 4,000 folks showed up in 1995. By 1997, the word was out. The celebration drew a record crowd of 10,000.

 

It got so popular that in 2000, a whopping 25,000 people made the pilgrimage to the desert community. The number doubled by 2010 with an astounding 50,000 campers. With populations exploding, the gathering took on the feel of a temporary city. Soon enough, it became known as Big Rock City.

Learning the Burning Man Lingo

If you go out to Burning Man, you’ll find the community has its own language. The dry lake bed, long since graced by sandy beaches, serves as center stage for the fiery culmination. They call it the Playa. The name also harks back to the original beach location, that stretch of sand where the first Man was engulfed by a ball of fire visible from the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

The lingo brings the burner community together. It’s a shared experience of common principles held in collaboration by a language of group-identity. Burners go by “playa names,” unique identities for the week, and dress in costumes for self-expression.

The Initiation

First-timers are welcomed into the community by participating in a special ritual. The lingo for a first-time Burner is “virgin.” The initiation is simple. Virgins are required to lay in the sand, roll around, and shout, “I’m not a virgin anymore!” three times.

 

Once initiated, the former virgin is known as a new Burner and is greeted with hugs by veteran Burners. If you’re a veteran burner and in need of a hug, head on over to “Hug Deli” where hugs are freely offered.

Burning Man in Popular Culture

As Burning Man grew more popular, so did its reputation as a congregation of the bizarre. TV shows began introducing it into pop culture. In Malcolm in the Middle, the family heads out to Burning Man for a wild adventure.

Getty Images Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

The Simpsons, South Park, and various video games take viewers to Burning Man. When the town of South Park visits “the biggest party in the world, man,” Cartman unleashes a tyrannical assault on the gathering of hippies.

Money Does No Good at Burning Man

Leave your cash at home. At Big Rock City, participants revel in a barter and trade system that facilitates a communal sharing experience. If you visit Burning Man, the only items you’ll find offered for sale are coffee and ice.

 

It’s anti-commercial and pro-sharing. You will find almost anything you want or need; you’ll just have to trade something for it. This means you must bring your own food, shelter, and necessities, plus a lot of stuff to trade.

A Place For Mourning

The loving and free-spirited community drawn together annually provides for everybody. There is even a special place carved out just for Burners in mourning. A temple constructed by renowned Burning Man artist David Best is erected each year exclusively for folks in grieving. Community members are invited to write a letter to those they lost and leave it at the temple.

 

As part of the ceremonious culmination of the event, the temple is burned along with the letters. Some Burners who lost someone have also spread the ashes of their loved one during the ceremony. A place to vow everlasting marital bliss Big Rock City welcomes Burners who choose to tie the knot amid desert festivities. Countless folks have shared their magical, mystical moment with the desert city community. All you need is $60 per couple and your ID. For best results, head to the Pershing County Clerk’s office on the way to Burning Man and pick up your marriage license. At Burning Man, the sky is the limit. Be as creative as you like planning your ceremony details.

A Place to Vow Everlasting Marital Bliss

Big Rock City welcomes Burners who choose to tie the knot amid desert festivities. Countless folks have shared their magical, mystical moment with the desert city community.

 

All you need is $60 per couple and your ID. For best results, head to the Pershing County Clerk’s office on the way to Burning Man and pick up your marriage license. At Burning Man, the sky is the limit. Be as creative as you like planning your ceremony details.

Free Entertainment For All

Burning Man is not a music festival, yet several stages host musicians all week long. They play for the love of playing and maybe for a trade. One year, P. Ditty performed for free, as did Major Lazer. Recall, goods, and services of all kinds are swapped, not bought. Wine tasting, zip-lining, and massages are just a sampling of treats you can trade for. Burners bicycle to get around the enormous city campus.

 

People go to Burning Man for a good time. Dancing, cooking, creating art, drinking and a lot of partying, in general, fill the days. Drugs are illegal under Burning Man regulations however, a reporter from The New York Times said, “They are easier to find than candy on Halloween.”

Big Rock City Volunteers Hook You Up

The event is so large it hosts an armada of 2,000 volunteers. The Camp Hook Up Service members, as they are called, will hook you up with any necessity.

 

The Hook Up crew make sure Burners are safe and happy. They keep survival kits on hand, which contain glow sticks, condoms, band-aids, Gatorade, Advil, and other glow toys.

Burning Man Big Wigs

Burning Man is not only for the lowly counterculture, alternative folk whose initial bonfire was planned by a small group of 12 friends. In recent years, some of the most influential Silicon Valley names have reverberated in whispers throughout the community.

 

Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt from Google have all been spotted at Burning Man. Zuckerberg is rumored to have stopped by to serve grilled cheese sandwiches, dropping in via helicopter. Musk attended the event more than one time. He told The New York Times, If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it.”

It’s Not Just A Tent City Anymore

To be sure, there are lots of tent campers at Burning Man, but there are also some serious glampers. The richest Burners bring luxury RVs and build private encampments flanked with bodyguards, personal chefs, air conditioning, and any other portable amenity.

 

Known as “Billionaire’s Row,” the lavish encampments house wealthy Burners like Silicon Valley tech execs as well as Wall Street superstars looking for an undisclosed location to escape from the stress of the desk. Celebrities, sports stars, real estate developers, and others congregate dining on meals by celebrity chefs and imbibing the finest liquors and wines. Individuals pay $50,000 to procure a slice of “Billionaire’s Row.”

The Spirit of Burning Man Melts Down on Billionaire’s Row

The sharing spirit of a trade and barter community comes to a dead-end at the luxury encampment. Many long-time Burners doubt wealthy glampers have much to give back to the community, as their cordoned-off gourmet meals serve only VIP guests. One veteran Burner said, “It strikes me as odd to go to Burning Man for the food.” The 8-year camper who goes by the playa name RCT added, “The wonderful things [here] have absolutely nothing to do with fine dining.”

 

Some traditional Burning Man camps serve yummy foods and fine wines, but it’s more in line with county fair cuisine. Before he died, Larry Harvey chose not to discriminate against the club of wealthy Burners. He did acknowledge, however, that their isolated and exclusive camps did not respect Burning Man principles.

Ice Cream at the Playa

Yes! It’s true. Ice cream is now served at Burning Man. Ever since 2012, a group of veteran Burners alongside some virgins, have committed to the task of dragging tanks of liquid nitrogen out to the desert as gifts to thousands of Black Rock City citizens.

 

After a year of research, the ice cream peddlers found a way to get giant cryogenic tanks to the Playa, and more importantly, how to make the frozen treat by hand under the harsh desert sun. Icecycle Creamery offers unique flavors like Strawberry Margarita sorbet, Black Rock Rum Raisin, and, arguably, the most unique, Burning Breakfast, a mix of bourbon and bacon.

Burning Man Affiliations

Believe it or not, Burning Man has affiliate events offered all around the world. Faraway places like New Zealand, Australia, and China celebrate the burning of the Man with corresponding annual celebrations.

 

New England, closer to home, has its own festivities for those East coast Burners who can’t quite make it all the way out to Big Rock Desert. Some are not directly associated with the original Burning Man, but, in spirit, they are very much alike in shared principles and rules.

The Guiding Principles at Big Rock City

In order to bring a sense of order to this otherworldly gathering of thousands of people, founding member Lee Harvey developed 10 basic guidelines.

 

Serving as a reminder of the community’s ethos and the spirit of Burning Man, the 10 principles are like a set of values the organizers agreed upon.

Radical Inclusion

The first principle is Radical Inclusion. It means, in short, anyone can be a Burner. The official definition, found on the Burning Man website, is “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

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Everyone is welcome at Burning Man. Discrimination, for any reason, is left at the entrance arch.

Gifting

Acts of giving are central to Burning Man. No cash changes hands with the exception of ice and coffee. Gifting is encouraged instead.

 

The idea of gifting does not assume or expect an exchange, but oftentimes an exchange is swapped for an act of kindness, a service rendered, or something of value.

Decommodification

In the spirit of gifting, advertising and commercial sponsorships are excluded. The principle of decommodification seeks to protect the Burner culture from commercial exploitation. To the point, do not expect a Starbucks to pop up on the festival perimeter anytime soon.

Getty Images Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

The community of bartering provides for needs and wants. Sharing is celebrated, and caring is too.

Radical Self-Reliance

Individuals rely on inner resources under the principle of Radical Self-reliance.

 

“Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources,” according to the official description. In other words, you’re only as great as your inner spirit, and you’re invited to explore it. Also, Burners are expected to be self-reliant. Bring your own stuff. Make sure you have a shelter and bring in food and other necessities.

Radical Self-Expression

The idea of Radical Self-expression centers around the unique gifts of the individual. Gifts of creativity and individualism are celebrated and encouraged. Many create works of art, jewelry or other gifts. Since there is no limit to the type of gift, the principle also hopes that “the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.”

 

Harking back to the original Burning Man location, the nudist beach at Baker Beach, nudity at the Playa is definitely permitted. While most Burners express their individuality through elaborate costumes, many others feel free to bare all, unencumbered by clothing.

Communal Effort

Creative cooperation and collaboration are highly valued at Burning Man. The Communal Effort principle states, “We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.”

 

Burners look out for each other. If someone is in need, the community comes to his or her aid.

Civic Responsibility

Public welfare comes first when organizing events. This principle states that all federal, state and local laws are to be observed. It’s a code meant to keep the community as safe as possible.

Getty Images Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

Communal events such as live performances are subject to the Civic Responsibility principle. Everyone is expected to be good civic Burner citizens.

Leaving No Trace

The Leaving No Trace principle is all about respecting the environment and cleaning up after the event. Ideally, the dry lake bed should be left in a better state than it was found.

 

A satellite image shows the Leaving No Trace principle in action. You can watch as the temporary city hosting the vibrant community of 80,000 campers, is set up and disassembled within two weeks. A time-lapse photo from the 2019 Burning Man shows the desolate desert becoming a bustling city, and then returning to a dusty and barren desert floor.

Not Always the Case

The Leaving No Trace principle is not always respected by the community. While the desert is generally cleared out, residents in S.F. say Burners come back to town and scatter their trash around the city.

 

Sierra Club criticized the event for littering at the Playa. The organization found hundreds of thousands of empty plastic water bottles in the Nevada desert.

Participation

A radical participatory ethic is encouraged, everyone is invited, and everyone is expected to participate. The principle states, “We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.”

Getty Images Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

They feel that the world is made real and meaningful by actions that open people’s hearts. Members cherish this principle because it makes everyone feel loved and accepted.

Immediacy

As one of the organizers’ most important principles, it hopes attendees overcome human barriers of inner and outer reality and, instead, live in “the now.” An immediate experience opens minds to transcend barriers with the human and natural world. It’s about living freely.

 

It’s about “the experience” and the importance of the experience over any idea. Ideas cannot be a substitute for actual experience. Living as one in nature and among a community of folks who strive for love, acceptance, and immediacy, while forgetting about the outside world, is part of the Burning Man experience.

Diversity

While every Burning Man principle strives for inclusion, acceptance, and respect for fellow humans, the event itself lacks diversity. The counterculture gathering attracts mostly white folks. In 2014, a survey found 87% of Burners were white.

 

Only 6% of attendees surveyed were Latino and just 6% of Burners were Asian. The least diverse segment of the population surveyed was black. Only 1% of members identified as black. Lead organizer Lee Harvey responded by saying, “I don’t think black folks like to camp as much as white folks . . . We’re not going to set racial quotas . . . This has never been imagined by us as a utopian society.”

Matter Out of Place

Matter Out of Place, “moop,” is Burning Man lingo for litter. Volunteers arrive at the event site early to remove any moop. A moop-free desert floor sets the tone for the Leave No Trace principle to be embraced by the incoming flock of Burners.

 

All moop generated during the festivities must be removed from the site. This includes poop. Folks who neglect to use the porta-potties are subject to a $125 fine. Moop and poop are not welcome on the Playa.

Fitness Burners

There is room for everyone at Burning Man. Even fitness fanatics find a way to maintain their workout schedule. The event offers roller skating, pole dancing, meditation classes, and dance parties. The Burning Man marathon is yet another option.

 

At the festival, there is no shortage of activities to participate in. The most popular past times are art, music, drinking, drugs, and sex (not necessarily in that order).

Does Burning Man Have Showers?

Short answer: Yes. But before you enter the Foam Against the Machine tent, you may want to know that it is far from a private shower. It’s been described as Nazi death camp showers and as a human car wash. People walk into the circus-like big top tent, through the water and foam, and come out clean at the other end.

 

It’s nonsexual nudity. You have to agree to be naked among many people. And you have to follow the nonsexual guidelines. “Just because someone is naked doesn’t mean you can touch, grab or do anything else,” Foam Against the Machine volunteer Natalie de Leon warned folks. “This is an intimate experience, but it is not a sexual place. If you want that, you can go to other camps.”

Playa Names

Playa names are a fun way for Burners to experiment with identity. Taking on a unique name for the week offers privacy and a way to immerse into the Burning Man culture.

 

A foodie who loves to cook from Alpharetta, GA, says she took on the Playa name Sauté. While Playa names are traditionally given to Burners by the community, others use the temporary appellation to identify personal characteristics and to identify with the Burning Man experience. Very few Burners use their Playa names outside of the desert soiree.

A Ticket to Ride

Every car entering Burning Man must check-in. If you don’t have a ticket, you will not be admitted. This may be the only time the Radical Inclusion principle is violated.

 

It’s really about the ticket. The festival security personnel only check vehicles, or those entering on a bike for admission tickets. Drugs and any other items are free to enter, with paid admission.

Bikes are Big at Burning Man

Biking into the event is ideal. It gets you around the enormous campus for your stay, and it can become a vehicle of self-expression. Many Burners decorate their bikes with ornate celebrations of individuality. Decorating your bike also makes it easily identifiable among the thousands of bikes at the event.

Getty Images Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

Dust shields and colorful lighting are a couple of popular bike-décor options. At night, lighting is a must. Whether you bike or drive-in, a set of wheels is a Burning Man basic.

A Time to Burn

Artists dedicate themselves to creating elaborate Burning Man sculptures. A single work of art can take a year of extensive planning. At the event’s culmination, the artist watches as flames engulf the labor of love. And it’s not just crafty folks and hobbyists anymore. Burning Man art has come into its own. After just a few decades, Playa art has evolved into the realm of high art. The exhibition, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man premiered at the Smithsonian in 2019.

 

Kim Cooke, director of art and civic engagement at Burning Man, says, “The Burning Man art ethos is grounded in experimentation and big ideas. The Playa is a place to try things and fail, and there’s no penalty for failure. It’s important to pay attention to the fact that these pieces are made in the community.” Burning Man lore has it that artists whose work is awarded by judges receive a kiss, or possibly a joint for their efforts, and no other prize.

Burning Man Photography

It’s no wonder photographers flock to Burning Man to capture otherworldly visual treats. Amazing sights bring the desert to life. Photographers are welcome, naturally. It’s a gathering based on Radically Inclusive ethics, after all. But photographers do have to follow a few rules.

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The rules and etiquette required of photographers start with “Ask First.” Permission must be granted before pictures are taken. Especially in cases of full or partial nudity or any other condition that may invade someone’s privacy. Another etiquette standard is “Don’t Be That Guy;” that guy with a telephoto lens zooming in to take boob shots or that guy who chases down every naked woman like the paparazzi to get a quick snapshot. Photographing illegal conduct is also frowned upon.

Drink Lots of Water

Pack lots of water and stay hydrated. The Nevada desert at the end of August is at its hottest. Weather conditions are unpredictable. Night and day temps may vary wildly.

 

It will be hot and dry at the Playa, so it is important to drink plenty of water. Flash floods and surprise rainstorms are not uncommon. Be prepared!

Beware of Playa Foot

Burners are susceptible to a condition called Playa foot.

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Since the dry lake bed of the Playa holds a high-alkaline content, the sand is filled with the ancient residue. Walking with bare feet in sands laden with alkaline causes a reaction like a chemical burn. The reaction can be worsened if you have cracked skin or an open wound. Wear closed-toe shoes!

Black Rock Observatory

A traveling observatory hosted by a collective of science enthusiasts erects a telescope at Burning Man each year. Packed with knowledge, experts share the best viewing periods for planets and other astronomical phenomena.

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The gear they haul out there includes an enclosed observatory dome and a handmade 20-inch telescope. Take a look at Jupiter’s rings and galaxies far, far away.

A Spiritual Pilgrimage

Not all Burners trek out to Burning Man for a spiritual experience, but many do. Only 24% of attendees surveyed identified as an atheist. A total of 46% of Burners identified as “spiritual but not religious.” It can only be imagined the spiritual sides of these folks are celebrated amongst the Playa community.

 

Some spiritual journeys include the use of psychedelic drugs, no shocker at Burning Man. But meditation is also popular.

Sober Man

While Burning Man is a drug culture mecca, all kinds of people show up. What most people wouldn’t expect, however, is that Burning Man has attracted a growing sober community in recent years.

 

Two official camps have been set up for sober Burners. There is one called Anonymous Village and another camp called Run Free. There is a camp for everyone at Burning Man!

Drugs are Illegal at Burning Man

Yes, it comes as a shock, but federal, state and local laws are still in effect at the Black Rock Desert plateau. Enforcement is another story. At a festival that hosts 70,000 souls, only 43 drug arrests went down in the books during the 2018 festival.

 

It may get a little dicey for future Burners if a controversial drug screening program at the entrance arch goes into effect. But as it is, 99% of users are not cited by the ranks of police officers who patrol the perimeter.

A Ballerina to Burn

This enormous ballerina marionette sculpture graced the sands of Burning Man 2017. The ballerina puppet is held aloft, dancing perpetually, and captured eternally in preternatural beauty with this photo.

 

The 30-foot sculpture was created by an artist in Spain and delivered in parts. Its stated artistic goal is to “represent humanity’s beauty through ballet.”

Artwork Set Against a Burning Sky

This fabulous and dynamic dancer sculpture was introduced to the festival by Marco Cochrane. Called “Bliss Dance,” the 40-feet tall, 7,000-pound artwork was featured at Burning Man 2010. The illuminated figure is filled with 1,000 LED lights making the sculpture just as stunning at night. The inferno-like sunset in this image sets the dancer off with ethereal otherworldliness.

 

Bliss Dance was a favorite of festival judges. The artist was born in Italy and raised in California during the Civil Rights movement. Cochrane’s mission in art is to empower women.

Giant Dancer

Three human-sized women gaze up to this massive dancer sculpture commissioned specially for Burning Man. As part of the “Bliss Project,” Marco Cochrane titled this magnificent work, “Truth is Beauty.”

 

The monumental work of art was awarded Most Gorgeous Sculpture at Burning Man 2011. It is 40-feet high and constructed with welded steel rods.

Stairway to Heaven

This sculpture seems to have been specifically designed to bring out the Burner’s inner child. It’s a giant unicorn rocking horse flanked by a rainbow staircase that leads the way to mount the sparkly beast.

 

What better way to cleanse the Burner’s soul than to take a rocking ride on this plaything?

The Pyramid Jungle Gym

Another way to unleash the Burner’s inner child is to climb away on this gigantic structure. The 21-foot tall sculpture is a work of art called Bat Country. It was chosen as one of the 2013 Burning Man Honorarium Art Projects.

 

The magnificent climbing structure is pieced together by 384 aluminum baseball bats and 130 individual softballs, used as joints. For the brainiacs out there, Bat Country is a mathematical presentation of a third-generation Sierpinski tetrahedron.

The Shark Mobile

At Burning Man, one of the event highlights is decorating vehicles to construct mobile works of art. This neon-accented great white on wheels is one of these spectacular rides.

 

All aboard!! The shark mobile was crafted for Burning Man 2012. Designed to purge the fear of sharks, Burners climb into the gut of this enormous great white, look through the razor-sharp teeth to see where they’re heading, and, most importantly, have a wonderful time traversing the Playa.

A Flaming Recycled Scrap-Metal Octopus

Here is one of the more unique vehicles to have ever cruised the Playa. Enormous flaming tentacles crown this contrivance like no other. It’s a 25-foot high flame shooter. It first visited Burning Man in 2011.

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The contraption of mechanical parts and labor is endearingly named El Pulpo Mecanico, or the Giant Flaming Octopus. It’s a combination of art and technology based on a 1973 Ford 250 pickup truck. The monster artwork consumes 200 gallons of propane per night, so the Humboldt County creators took up donations to bring her back. Here she is at that 2012 event pictured under a magical sky.

The Tower of Pink

Where else might you find a towering flaming neon pink rocket ship, constructed exclusively for adults? Nowhere.

 

And look at its base! Wheels. It’s a mobile rocket structure. Burning Man is a special and unique spectacle.

Tunnel of Lights

Here’s another Burning Man exclusive. It’s a tunnel of light and music, pulsating in sync. Called the Sonic Runway, the 1,000-foot tunnel is constructed of 32 circular steel arches lit with LED light.

 

Lights flash on the arches to the speed of sound. The exhibit is meant to visualize soundwaves. The folks over at Sonic Runway say, “The speed of sound is roughly 767 miles/hour or 343 meters/sec. The Sonic Runway is 1,000’ long, so a single beat will travel the Runway in about a second.”

Flaming Sea Monster

Not to be outdone by a flaming octopus, this sculpture is a fantastical monster inspired by bottom-dweller creatures lurking on the darkest and deepest ocean floors.

 

Imagine commandeering that beast!

A Cosmic Neon Beacon of Light

This structure of brilliant proportions visited Burning Man in 2014. It’s called Cubatrom Evolution or Starway. It looks like a carnival ride or maybe an alien craft from Star Trek

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We think it’s magnificent. It’s a lighted respite from the dark desert landscape and a spiral of light to trip out on.

The Lazy-Burner-Boy section

For Burners looking for the comforts of home, this is the place. Grab a magazine and put your feet up. Or just chill out and hang with your peeps.

 

It looks like a good place to rest weary bones. Sleeping in a tent on rock-hard desert ground for days on end takes its toll.  These people found a comfy oasis.

Arachnophobia

Here’s another sprawling climbing structure, only this one is lorded over by a massive black widow spider. The red dot gives it away.

 

Most people with spider phobias would likely keep their distance from this plaything. But it’s built for exactly those. Climb up through the webs of steel and cable and expunge those fears at once!

Burning the Man

After eight days of living in communal bliss, the Man must burn. Tens of thousands of Burners congregate around the massive wood structure and look on as the ceremonial event commences.

 

Modern Burning Man events culminate with fire dancers and pyrotechnic displays. A drone video of Black Rock City on the final night of Burning Man 2018 gives a bird’s eye view of this bizarre cultural phenomenon.

Lego Truck

One look at this truck made of giant Lego blocks drives home the idea that Burning Man is an adult playground.

 

How many Legos did it take to decorate this Burning Man float? Who knows. Clearly, it’s a fun way to get around the Playa.

Rainbowland

This illuminated rainbow-colored arch served as the entrance for Burning Man 2012. The third eye reminds Burners of the spiritual journey they are commencing upon and to meditate and look within. But it will cost you to walk through the lighted rainbow. Burning Man tickets start at $425. Driving a car in tacks $100 onto the fee, another reason it’s better to bike in. Kids under 12 are free.

 

To reserve a spot before the next Burning Man sells out, you can purchase pre-sale tickets in March for $1,400 each. After that, you may not have any money left to bring to the currency-free event!

Neon Horseless Carriage

This oasis of comfort and opulence features a king-size bed and a luggage rack. Speakers mounted on the bedposts give the ride, suited for a princess, a bumpin’ side.

 

It’s the perfect place for her exhausted highness to catch up with some much-needed sleep.

The Child Inside

This piece called Love by Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov is one of the most striking artworks found at Burning Man. The cage-like sculpture of two adults back to back in disagreement displays the love inside with child figurines reaching out to each other.

 

The artist says Love “demonstrates a conflict between a man and a woman as well as the outer and inner expression of human nature.” The transparent children, he says, reach through the gates, and in the evening, their forms illuminate as if coming out to play.

The Burning Man Sculpture

This is it. The week-long event culminates with the symbolic burning of “The Man.” Standing at center stage, the epicenter of the Burning Man encampment, looking over the communal gathering all week, all congregate around the structure on the last night.

 

The effigy is ignited by a pyrotechnic performance as Burners cheer on the flames. Generally, the Man stands 40-feet high, but in 2019, 80,000 Burners witnessed a 60-foot high man burn to the ground.

The Eternal Carousel

This massive sculpture, the size of a country fair fun zone ride, presumably spins endlessly with human-shaped forms strapped on for dear life. Only the artist knows the meaning, but this one does seem a bit creepy.

 

It’s hard to tell if it represents an amusement park ride or something else. What if it symbolizes corpses hung by meat hooks, a spinning death carousel, like a gloating serial killer’s masterwork?

Not a Festival

The organizers insist it is not a festival. Whatever it is, it is held together by a dedicated community and set of organizational rules and principles. Here we take a peek into Burning Man with extraordinary images of the event’s most mesmerizing moments.

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Over the years, Burning Man has evolved from a bonfire among friends in San Francisco to an international phenomenon attended by modern-day hippies and tech moguls alike.

Departure

Here we see rows of hundreds of cars on their departure back, as they leave Black Rock City to return to the world. Many arrive by car but some arrive by private planes.

 

It’s not an easy place to get to; it’s also not a walk in the park to leave. But for those people who are prepared to make the strenuous journey do it because they want to be there.

Releasing Social Stigma

At its core, this temporary city has forged a permanent community of people who are dedicated to celebrating creativity, self-expression, cultural differences, knowledge sharing, releasing social stigma, and so much more.

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All to create this massive, unique experience, filled with individuals from all over, smack dab in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

A Community

Over the years, Burning Man has evolved and fashioned its own governing organization along with real city problems and opportunities. Nevertheless, the sense of place and community at Burning Man is undeniable.

 

When organizing a community, it’s essential to clearly outline what you expect from the participants if you want them to be willing and active members and advocates.

What to Bring

When one arrives at Burning Man, you are expected to come with absolutely everything that you could possibly need while you’re there and then some for the community.

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That includes water, shelter, a first aid kit, food, flashlights (the desert is very dark at night), apparel to accommodate extreme and unpredictable weather, batteries, a mask for the dust, trash storage.

Daring Costumes

Costumes are encouraged, and the fashion is imaginative, with attendees following trends and lots of colors and creating some of the most daring ensembles ever.

 

For many, Burning Man is a way to disconnect from the ‘real’ world, so when they return to the real world, it can feel like a fresh start.

Let it Burn

Burning artwork has become a traditional activity, which takes place the evening on the event’s last day. It’s also become a tradition to inscribe the piece’s surfaces with personal messages that have continued through all of the temple’s iterations.

 

The original form of the camp was not particularly planned but formed instinctively from the traditional campfire circle.

The Essence of Burning Man

This light-strung vehicle is a mode of transportation. The growth and infrastructure allow for more creativity from the participants, who then bring back Black Rock City’s essence to the “default” world.

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If nothing else, the pure harshness of the dessert will continue to make collective survival a uniting factor for most inhabitants, forcing burners to rely on each other and find commonalities.

A Gifting Economy

Seeing as Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift-giving, the value of these gifts is unconditional. Gifting does not depend on a transaction for something of equal value. Instead of cash, participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to rely on a gift economy.

 

In the beginning days, an underground barter marketplace also existed, in which burners exchanged “favors” with each other. While the Burning Man organization initially approved this, this is now principally discouraged.

Dust Storms

As the festival is held in the desert, it makes sense that there would be a lot of dust storms, so many come prepared with appropriate provisions, such as goggles, bandanas, and masks help reduce dust inhalation.

Getty Images Photo by David McNew

As you can see, these dust storms can be quite brutal and sometimes even dangerous as the storm reduce visibility to a few feet.

Unexpected Luxury

Despite the festival’s essence, elite crowds are widespread throughout the event. Some 79% of the participants were white, and their median household income exceeded $94,000 a year, that’s more than double the county’s norm. When elites invade Burning Man, they bring luxury with them.

 

Ultrarich festivalgoers sometimes charter private planes or helicopters to the event. A week before it starts, volunteers cobble together the Black Rock City Airport on a dusty road.

Accommodation

There is a medley of accommodations to choose from, depending on festivalgoers’ budget. Most participants stay in tents or camp in their vans. Many more have formed small communities and stay in theme camps.

 

These camps developed as a way for groups of burners to create spaces for interactive experiences while also offering shelter. Eventually, luxury camping sites became known as “plug and play” camps made their way to Burning Man.

Crowds

As you can imagine, it can get pretty crowded. Many prefer to be amongst all the people, but some desire to be more secluded and sequestered, so they live in Black Rock City’s “suburbs,” the far-out areas that are less dense.

 

The festival usually gathers in crowds of up to 80,000 people, so yes, that’s a lot of people!

Jumbo Jet Plane

A group of artists called Big Imagination Foundation built this glow-in-the-dark jumbo jet as an art installation in 2017. They converted a Boeing 747 into a moving art experience for Burning Man.

 

Their plane once carried passengers in Brazil. Their goal was to convert the aircraft into a new kind of vehicle inside which dreams, inspired by the same spirit of flight, can come alive.

Artistic Expression

It comes as no surprise that Burning Man is overflowing with artistic expression. Many participants express themselves through extravagant art projects, workshops, costumes, accessories, and themes.

 

This group of burners dressed as furry animals danced on a pier. Radical self-expression can also peak in the form of emotional freedom, allowing people to let their guards down.

Art Installations

Some of the art installations are as wild and imaginative as ever. This family of bears was featured at 2017’s Burning Man, and it was made from pennies. Now that’s a time-consuming task.

 

Hopefully, after seeing all these photos and learning about Burning man, you’ll walk away with a greater sense of appreciation and even the slightest uptick in inspiration to grow into the best member in your community that you can be.