A First Timers Account of What Burning Man Is and What It’s Like to Be There

Burning Man is one of the last places on earth where people from all walks of life, all social strata, and all points of the compass can come together and share a common and primal experience, surviving as a group in a challenging environment, creating a temporary culture of their own design, and sharing one of the most elemental experiences of our species, the awesome mystery of fire. And, on top of that, it’s also one hell of a party.

Stuart Mangrum

I ran across that quote while researching the history of Burning Man and felt it succinctly described the event too perfectly not to be included. But taking it a step further, I wanted to share a little of its history and my experience attending for those interested in more information than what they get from social media channels and YouTube videos. I’m going to try my best to avoid the hyperbole and vast generalizations that often plague descriptions of the event in Facebook statuses and Instagram posts declaring it to be the end all be all life changing human experience; My belief is that a week spent backpacking in the woods or volunteering at a charitable organization has equal potential to bring that change. However, having said that, there is no denying Burning Man’s uncanny ability to challenge the way its participants think and act. It does this by forcing you to step outside your comfort zone, and in that respect it succeeds brilliantly. It requires individuals to be vulnerable, to try things they might never have tried, and to see things that challenge aspects of themselves and society. It didn’t start out that way however. It has steadily grown and transformed into the mega event it is today from a simple bonfire on a California Beach. (If you want to skip the history part, you can jump ahead to my experience attending by clicking HERE.


The event now known as Burning Man found its roots in 1986 when two friends, Larry Harvey and Jerry James, built a human effigy and burned it on a San Francisco beach. For no real reason besides carrying out an interesting idea through completion, they gathered up twelve of their friends and erected a nine foot tall wooden man that was to be burned once the sun had set.

They doused it with gasoline, put fire to fuel, and the rest is history. Within minutes of the man igniting for the first time, their group of twelve had attracted the attention of other beach-goers and drew in a crowd. It was that gathering of wayward souls, who were instinctively drawn to the fire and art, that led them to repeat their antics the following year. This time the man had grown to fifteen feet and the crowd to eighty persons. Those first two years were described almost a strange family picnic, being that most in attendance were friends or relatives of the two men. Year three (1989) is when they decided to up the ante, and constructed a 40 foot tall effigy that attracted a crowd of 200. For the first time the event had expanded outside their circle of friends, and began to take roots as a yearly ordeal. But by 1990 word had gotten out about their yearly gathering, and on the night of the event the burning of the man was shut down by the San Francisco Police Department. They refused to let them torch the man even through the spectator’s continued chants of “burn it anyway!” With that, they realized the event had outgrown the beaches of San Francisco, and decided to move the gathering to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

By moving out to the vast empty desert, they took the first step toward making Burning Man a participatory event. In order to make the pilgrimage out to to the desert and survive for three days, everyone had to bring something to the community. It was survival camping, where every bit of food, water and entertainment needed for enduring the harsh conditions had to be brought in by those attending. This caused a shift in how the event was organized, for now the spectators were full participants in their experiences. However, by 1992 the organizers realized that the gatherers were not always fully prepared for the unforgiving nature of the Black Rock Desert, and that’s when the first Black Rock Rangers appeared on the scene. The Rangers, who are still present at Burning Man today, were a specialized group of seasoned burners who could navigate the desert, locate lost campers, and bring them safely back to camp. Burning Man would continue to expand on it’s growing repertoire as the years rolled on. In 1993 Burning Man saw it’s first theme camp, Christmas Camp. Started by Peter Doty from the Cacophony Society, the camp consisted of Peter dressed up in a Santa Claus outfit (even through the 100 degree days), colored lights, and Christmas carols being played 24 hours a day. If you walked past, they would offer you eggnog with the stipulation that you had to eat the fruitcake first. This sparked the tradition of theme camps that cover the landscape of Burning Man today; Camps with names like Habitat for Insanity, the Pickle Joint, Ski Patrol, Slut Garden, and everything in between. By 1995 the event had really found it’s foothold and had incorporated many of the key features that are visible for those attending today; They had medics, rangers, art cars, theme camps, music, coffee at the center camp café and the event was even covered by CNN. From there, the event grew steadily, adding more participants and bigger and more intricate art cars, theme camps, and infrastructure each year. The event finally reached a tipping point in 2011 when it sold out for the first time. It was becoming a fad, and the number of people wanting to attend had exceeded the limit in their permit with the Bureau of Land Management. This created some animosity within the tight knit community when those who had been there for years helping it grow, no longer had tickets to attend. The organization did what the could to remedy the situation, but it was clear the event was becoming more and more of a pop culture sensation. Every subsequent event since 2011 has continued to sell out and it looks as if that trend will continue.

This meteoric rise in popularity has been a tough pill to swallow for many seasoned burners who feel the event has taken a turn from it’s original values and customs. They argue the rise of the spectator crowd and plug and play camps threaten the participatory nature and inclusivity of Burning man. Plug and play camps, which have seen a rise in recent years, are camps made up of lavish RV’s and luxury compounds set up by hired help so millionaires can fly in whenever they’d like and enjoy all the benefits of home. They get driven to their camps by chauffeurs, are served gourmet meals by private chefs and keep many aspects of their dwellings private. Traditionalists argue that this goes against one of the main principles of Burning Man, radical self-reliance.However, for every dissenter you will still find old school burners who welcome the never ending changes with open arms. They see change for what it is, inevitable. Change is constant, and the growing exposure means the messages behind the event are gaining traction and reaching larger audiences. So what exactly are those messages? A lot of what Burning Man stands for and tries to promote can be found in it’s 10 principles.

The first of these is Radical Inclusion. This means that anyone may be a part of Burning Man. No matter you’re social status, religious beliefs, or favorite NFL team, you are welcomed with open arms. Second comes Gifting. Gifting as opposed to bartering means things are given away without expectation of a return or an exchange for something of equal value. People simply bring what they have to offer to the community. Number three is Decommodification. This relates to the second principle by trying to create a social environment that is free from commercial sponsorship, monetary transactions, or advertising. They don’t want expectations of future gains in money or influence to determine how individuals act and what they decide to bring to the table. Next up is  Radical Self-reliance. This pertains both to the physical, in terms of having what is necessary for you to survive a week in the desert, but also to inner reliance. Burning Man encourages individuals to discover and rely on his or her inner resources. Five is Radical Self-expression.  Radical self-expression means people share their unique selves, offered up as a gift to others. How people act, dress, and communicate is their effort to provide something unique to the community. Principle six is Communal Effort. The community produces social networks, public spaces, and works of art for the betterment of the community as a whole. This community then gives back by adhering to a guide of Civic Responsibility, the 7th principle. Civility is highly valued in Black Rock City, and those looking to destroy that civility are looked down upon. It is the responsibility of anyone who organizes an event or builds a structure to take responsibility for public welfare. Number 8 and my personal favorite is Leave No Trace. The main way you’ll hear about this during the event comes in hearing the word MOOP, or Matter Out of Place. In its permit with the BLM, Burning Man is allowed one square foot of MOOP per acre of land; Once the event is over volunteers spend weeks combing the desert for every scrap of material left behind. The community is committed to leaving no physical trace of its activities and try and leave the area in a better state than when they arrived. Number 9 is Participation. They believe transformative change, whether in an individual or in a society, best occurs through deeply personal participation; To achieve being through doing. And that brings us to principle number 10, Immediacy. Immediate experience is in many ways, the most important value at Burning Man. There is a huge push to have individuals constantly recognize themselves, the reality of those around them, their participation in society, and how they interact with the natural world. These 10 principles are the basic guidelines of what the community strives to live by. Are they perfect, probably not. Are they followed to a tee, no. They are there to facilitate the event in the best way possible and to create an environment where individuals can learn and grow while having fun and respecting the rights of others.

So know that you know a little about the history and principles surrounding Burning man, I’ll share some of my experience with you. You’re not going to get it all, just a fraction, but hopefully you’ll gain some perspective on what brings 70,000 people out to the middle of nowhere for one week a year, and has them clawing to return.

My Journey

My pilgrimage to Burning Man was not one I had been planning for years, months, weeks, or even days. It came as a last minute opportunity that I determined if I let pass, might not come again. So I didn’t let it pass, and instead jumped at it head first, and the week that followed was one of the most interesting ones of my life. Now this opportunity wasn’t a stroke of random luck. It had presented itself due to my growing interest in the event and two people who I had met over the previous six months. The first was Ruston, a fellow snowboard instructor at Mount Bachelor and the first ‘Burner’ I ever talked with about the event. One day while nursing Dos Equis tall boys at the slopeside bar after work, the event came up in our conversation. Now Ruston had never stuck me as the ‘burner’ type, at least my preconceived image of one. He was just a guy like me who loved snowboarding, photography and travel. However, in the hour that followed he filled my head with his tales from the playa, and had me convinced I had to get down there. If that wasn’t enough, I befriended a second Burner, Jesse, just a few months later while attending a Wilderness First Responder Course in Olympic National Park. He confirmed Ruston’s excitement and added nothing but positive praises to the mysterious event.

Eager as I was to see this place for myself, it seemed like the opportunity to attend in 2016 had long passed; Tickets had sold out months earlier, and the ones remaining on Ebay were astronomically priced. However, about two weeks before it began, I saw a post online showing the start date approaching and decided to send my buddy Ruston a text. It simply read “hey, probably unlikely but I’ve got the free time and a sudden desire to head to Burning Man this year. Figured I’d hit you up and see if there was any chance you knew someone with an extra ticket.”  He responded quickly and told me it was unlikely to find a ticket this late, and that everyone he knew who was no longer attending had sold their tickets weeks earlier. It was the response I had expected, so I didn’t push further and went about my life, thinking Burning Man would have to wait a year or two. However, late Friday night, two days before the event began, I received another text from Ruston. He had just gotten word of a last minute ticket and told me to call him back. After that initial call, a few subsequent few phone calls, a little negotiating, and some quick accounting math, I had a face value ticket in my sights…with one catch. I had to pick it up in Truckee, California by Sunday or it would find its way on Craigslist, and I was scheduled to work through the weekend. However, once I arrived at work Saturday morning and told the others about my situation, without hesitation I had nearly everyone offering to help cover my work and telling me to get the hell out of there. So after working through Saturday night, I rushed home, grabbed jars of peanut butter, bags of rice, pots, clothes, camera gear, camping supplies, and anything else I thought I’d need, and packed my motorcycle to its limit; It was brimming with gear, surpassing the load I had for my 2 month cross country trek.

After preparing as much as I thought possible, I tried my best to get some sleep while my mind raced about what I was in for. With no time to question my decision making, I woke Sunday, secured my luggage, and hit the road. I made one stop at Walmart for the things I didn’t have at home, like baby wipes, dust masks, and whisky, and a few more for gas, but had almost a straight 9 hour haul to Truckee. As I pulled off the interstate and my speed slowed to a comfortable 25, my situation finally began to sink in. For the first time I felt like I was actually heading to Burning Man, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

My contact in Truckee was a man named Art, a friend of a friends dad. I was to meet him at his friend Warren’s House, and was a little skeptical about the whole dealing, having never met the men or the person who even knew them. However, my apprehensions subsided quickly once I saw where my GPS was leading me. I pulled off the main traffic circles of Truckee and up a quiet mountain road where I arrived at my destination, a gorgeous 3 story home with views overlooking Northstar Ski Resort. So I parked my bike, removed my helmet and headed for the front door where I was greeted by Art and Warren. Two men in their early 70’s, friends for 50 years since their days at Cal, and quite possibly the the least likely burners I would have ever expected to come across. Mechanical Engineers by trade, skiers and college football fanatics by hobby, they had nothing but warm welcomes and hospitality to share. After some small talk and and the last exchange of money I’d be doing for a week, we settled into talking about plans for heading in. Their plan was to shoot in Tuesday morning around 3 a.m. to avoid the traffic and I told them I was going to try and make the voyage in that night. After hearing that, they proposed an alternative. Seeing my weary body and tired eyes, they offered a room for me to crash in for the night, figuring it might be easier to head in come morning, rather than push on tonight. Anxious as I was to get there, I still had about a two and a half hour drive in, and the the 9 hour, 450 mile trek I had already completed had worn me to the bone. So I graciously accepted their invitation, and was shown to a room to set up in for the night. A short time later we three headed downtown to a local Italian restaurant where I drank cold beer and gorged on a plate of angel hair while talking racial politics and college football. It was an interesting night to say the least, but one just as memorable as those in the desert. When we arrived back at Warren’s, I promptly hit the hay, tired and full, finding sleep quickly.

I woke with the sun the next morning, repacked my belongings, ate a quick breakfast, said my see ya laters, and set off. After a last stop in Reno for some cheese and chocolate milk, into the desert I rode. Once leaving Reno there’s not much to see but empty desert until you get to the town of Gerlach, population 206. Gerlach is a tiny town whose existence would be unknown to most had Burning Man not found it’s home nearby, and it’s where I got my first taste of what was in store for me. As I rolled through the town I could see all sorts of people dressed in unconventional clothing shopping at pop-up stands that lined the roadway filled with brightly colored goods. Curious and ready for a break, I stopped to see what they had to offer. The roadside stands were packed with LED lights, costumes, dust masks, goggles, and everything else one might need for a wild desert party. Overwhelmed and anxious to move on, I passed on purchasing any of the overpriced paraphernalia and continued on my way, passing rental bike shops and indian taco stands as I departed. Now all that was left in front of me was open road through arid landscape. Off in the distance I could make out a cloud of smoke appearing over what appeared to be an empty patch of desert, and I knew that’s where I was heading. I’d finally made it. The marathon two days were about to end. I had my ticket in hand, food, water, camping gear, and Ruston and Jesse’s stories to prepare me for what lie ahead. That would have to do.

About 15 minutes after leaving Gerlach I reached the intersection where the paved road of State Route 34 meets with the start of Gate Road, and I entered the playa for the first time. The playa is the name given to the dry desert lake bed that encompasses the landscape of the Black Rock Desert. There is no water, no plants, no animals, just vast flat emptiness situated between mountain ranges on all sides; It’s so flat that the area is used as an alternate to the Bonneville Salt Flats for land speed records. Gate Road is a temporary passageway that heads out into what would normally be nowhere. It is marked by red, white and blue triangular flags lining it’s sides and cones marking it’s sixteen lanes. Traveling along it following the 10mph speed limit was a slow trek, but eventually I reached the entrance gate. After pulling up to an entrance station I was greeted by three burners who promptly asked if this was my first Burn. After answering yes, they asked me to step off my motorcycle so they could properly welcome me to the community. This began with a hug from each of them and a “Welcome Home”. It was a wonderful way to be ushered in to the event, and set the stage for the kindness and welcomeness that would surround me for the week ahead. But that wasn’t all they had in store for me. After that wonderful greeting, came the real initiation. They first told me I could object to any task they asked of me, before directing me to strip down to my underwear, lay on my back, and make a playa dust angel. Not wanting to seem unadventurous, I did as I was told. As I lay there, I got my first taste of the playa dust that would coat my skin, throat and eyes for the next week. I was then given a wooden mallet, told to scream “I’m a Burner” and bang on a bell with all my might. I did as directed, and felt pretty great about it. Following the initiation, I re-robed, asked for directions, hugged my now fellow burners goodbye and continued on my way. There wasn’t any peer-pressure that caused me to play along, they simply laid it out there and I rolled with it. It was fun for all parties involved, and opened the first door into accepting all the craziness to come. It was the first task into letting go a little and opening up to experiences that I might have otherwise shied away from for fear of embarrassment or ridicule.

Once through the gate, I made my way toward 4:15 D, the location of Ruston’s camp, and saw Black Rock City for the first time. Black Rock City, the temporary city that encompasses the inhabitants of Burning Man, is the third largest city in Nevada while the event is taking place, and is laid out in a circular pattern where the streets are marked like that of a clock. So if you look at the the overhead view of the event where the circle ends on the right is 2, and on the left is 10; The city streets between them mark the rest. The letter following the time indicates the radial street moving outward. So A is closest to the center hole, and as the alphabet goes on, you get further away.

Pretty simple system to follow, but the dust storms will challenge even the best of navigators. As I rounded the streets from the entrance at 6:00 J up and over to 4:15 D, I took in my first sights. Art Cars, geodesic domes, people handing out bacon on trays, and all I could think was where the hell did all of this come from and who brought it here? This was a full fledged city in the middle of the desert that didn’t exist last week and wouldn’t exist a week from today. Trying to focus on piloting my motorcycle while not getting distracted by what was happening around me was a task in itself. Eventually, I arrived at my destination, Brain Freeze got Stickers Camp. Named for the fact that the bar served frozen margaritas and stickers to all those who wanted them. After parking, I immediately ran into Ruston, met some of the other inhabitants of the camp, was given a frozen margarita, and was off on my first adventure.

I trekked out with a group of folks from camp to explore the mostly empty center playa and to see the art that lay in its abyss. Within that first hour, I saw a 30 foot tall gold leafed cube structure, life sized pigeons, a bumblebee diorama, a Chinese temple, a giant spinning vitruvian man made in the honor of DaVinci, and many other art pieces of varying complexities. The pace of the group, although not crazily slow, was much too slow for me. There was so much to see, and I needed to keep moving. So when the group decided to take a break and return to camp for drinks, I kept right on trekking. I rode my bike round and round for hours trying to see as much as possible and in the end may have covered 2%, and that’s a high estimate; I made it out to the trash fence (the playas end), found kitten astronauts, danced at an EDM disco called District, was fed frozen drinks and whisky shots, and ate snow cones from men dressed as penguins, all before I’d even set up up my tent.

Overwhelming would be the only word that comes close to describing those first few hours, as I tried to figure out how in the world I was gonna see everything in a week. It seemed impossible, and in fact it was. It’s a city of 70,000 people each contributing something worth seeing, or a story worth hearing. To try and do it all is not only foolish, but in many ways ignorant. By not stopping and fully enjoying specific pieces, places or people you come across, you become a spectator in an art museum, and not an active participant in the community. But that was to be figured out on Day 2, for after returning to camp, eating dinner, and setting up my tent, we were headed back out to see the town after dark.

The city takes a whole different persona as the sun sets and darkness falls; Camps, people, and art cars alike are lit up like Christmas trees, and the city looks like a scene out of the movie Tron. The first agenda of the night was to help with the firework show that would set off the official start of the first real party night of Burning Man. The camp I was lucky enough to be welcomed into was in charge of many of the burns and pyrotechnics at Burning Man and I was able to help out in small ways throughout the week to add my contribution. That night, a small group of us headed out to the 9:00 key hole to set up a perimeter around the fireworks stationed there. We were in charge of stopping bikers and art cars from riding face first into mortar rounds. It wasn’t a Herculean task and took maybe an hour of my time, but it was a really awesome experience to feel like I was a part of the action on my first day. It introduced me to the benefits of participating in whatever I could. For not only did it improve my experience, but the experience of others as well. After the fireworks launched from each clock number around the playa in a synchronized show, we picked up the trash that fell behind, and set off to see what the night had in store for us.

We began by biking around to different sound camps, being drawn to the music and lights like mosquitoes; Sound camps are full blown concert venues with towering stages, wild light shows, and speakers that would put many music venues to shame. We would dance, laugh, explore the nearby art, rinse and then repeat. As the night rolled on I saw countless amazing things, but one moment stands out the most. It happened when I found myself dancing around an octopus shaped art car that was blasting off fireballs to the beat of a sound stage’s DJ while I stood across the road from a 747 airplane.

Upon this realization, I had to step back for a moment, stop dancing and simply smile. It was outrageous, three days earlier I had no clue I was even going to be attending Burning Man, and here I was in this objectively ridiculous scenario, having the time of my life. With that I turned to Ruston, gave him a big hug and thanked him for sharing this place with me. He knew the feeling all too well, as he had felt the same way the previous year at his first burn. It was indescribable. In less than 12 hours I had fallen in love with the place and thought I’d never want to leave. This attitude would roller coaster throughout the week as I went through different experiences, both good and bad, but that first night is one I think will stay with my for a long time. As the night rolled on, I broke away from the rest of the group and eventually set out on my own. I continued my exploration on my Yellow Bike, the community bikes set out by the Burning Man Organization. The Yellow Bikes are there to be used by everyone with a few simple guidelines; They are not to be locked up and they should be left in public spaces when they’re not in use so others can enjoy them as well. As I rode around, I reflected on just how I’d ended up there. Not just in the last few days, but the months leading up to it, and the years before that; From going to UVM, to moving to Oregon, to working at Mount Bachelor and going through Wilderness First Responder training. And with that I had a sudden thought that I had made all the right decisions to end up where I was, and that was really cool to experience. For at least a few moments I was fully comfortable with who I was, where I was, and where my life was heading. There was no baggage or bullshit, and I think that’s a feeling we all strive for even though we might not know or realize it. To try and live a life free from regret, and just live in the best way we know how.

Day 2 arrived around 8 am when the sun tried to bake me out of my tent. I resisted and quickly shed every layer I had on, ripped open my tent doors and eased back to sleep for a couple more hours. After finally succumbing to the heat, I wandered into our camps central area where pancakes and orange juice were waiting, this wasn’t going to be so bad. After moseying around home camp for a while I decided to head over and check out the Center Camp Café. Located front and center at 6:00 D, the Center Camp Café is a freestanding shade structure that provides an acre of shade filled with entertainment, art and coffee. I sat there for much of the morning listening to the singers sing, the musicians play and the orators talk. It was a great way to ease my body and mind awake, but once my lust for adventure overtook my need for rest, I set off once again. This time I roamed the streets of Black Rock City, stopping at everything that peaked my interest or for anyone who flagged me down. This was no time for no, everyone had something to share. My favorite stop happened when I rounded a corner and was stopped in my tracks by yellow caution tape and under dressed men and women wearing hardhats. They told me about a road block on on the obviously empty road ahead due to a flamingo crossing, and that I’d have to pull over. I was then directed to their bar where I was served tequila mixers and chatted with the other displaced commuters. We discussed traffic and the growing flamingo problem reaking havoc on the city streets, before moving on to more personal bits about how each of ended up there. One kid had driven out from Florida, another woman was up from Mexico, and a 15th year Burner had made her voyage from the Bay Area. Each of them had a different story to tell, and vastly different lives, but somehow we found ourselves sitting together sipping tequila at a pop up desert bar due to a group of folks and their imaginary flamingo crossing. As I sat there listening and talking, I noticed my Yellow Bike being ridden away by a topless girl in a tutu, and it almost seemed normal.

In the days that followed I was treated to watermelon, bacon tamales, grilled cheese, tri-tip steak, pizza, snow cones, ice pops, and a multitude of other gifts simply by saying hello. The gift economy of Burning Man is remarkable, everyone comes with something to share and isn’t afraid to do so. For our camp it was pyrotechnics, frozen margaritas and stickers. But smaller camps and individuals brought necklaces, t-shirts, food, drink, dance, music, art, or simply their wonderful smiling faces. The only thing it seemed you were solely responsible for was water. The gifts didn’t stop at physical nick-nacks, but also came in the form of mass entertainment as well. People built skate parks with half pipes, playgrounds with seesaws and swings, giant geodesic domes filled with light shows, bike parks with ramps and teeter totters, trampolines for bouncing, and anything else that could be dreamed up and successfully transported out to the desert. One of the most extreme examples of this I found was at the Thunderdome. The Thunderdome is a metal dome in which two participants are strung up on bungee cords, handed nerf bats, pulled away from each other, and then swung into each other to battle until a winner is decided. As I approached the dome for the first time I was in utter shock. The primal nature of the event, with the rowdy crowd not only encircling but covering the geodesic dome, is enough to get even the most modest of people shouting. The first battle I witnessed was between two men dressed in T-rex suits, and as I watched them fly toward each other bats in hand, anticipating their first strikes, my hands clenched the metal trusses and my heart skipped a beat. As the week rolled on, I began to realize that in this place anything was possible within the laws of physics and the bounds of human imagination. This was because ordinary people were willing to put in tremendous amounts of effort without expecting anything in return. They built their art cars, designed their structures, or provided food and entertainment because it contributed to the greater community. It was remarkable to witness, and the experience had me marveling at the power of human ingenuity and spirit.

While many other things happened during my week on the playa, some of which I’d rather not put in print, I think that gives a decent summary of my experience. While it’s easy to paint a picture of Burning Man as a gathering of hippies in the desert, I hope I’ve given some indication that it’s much more.

While there I met doctors, lawyers, engineers, stock brokers, warehouse workers, homeless travelers and people from all walks of life in-between. I danced to techno music, jammed out to rock n’ roll, sipped Whisky in a Jazz Club, attended talks on sustainability and nuclear fusion, climbed towers, created art, watched pyramids, lighthouses, and temples burn to the ground, rode on the Flintstones car, swung on swings, tried acrobatics, and had one hell of a time. And that’s really what it’s about. Yes, there are take home messages from the event that challenge you to question things like your use of time and how you participate in your communities, but those are secondary to the immediate experience happening while there. The festival works so well because people care deeply about its potential and work together to make it succeed year in and year out; The secret recipe is simply participation and collaboration.

As much as I’d like to say I was a fully active participant, I must admit my time at Burning Man was skewed toward that of a spectator. In the future, if my journey takes me back to Black Rock City, I’ll be ready to tip the scale in the other direction. It was the folks that gave the most that made my burn one worth remembering. By giving, I don’t just mean the physical gifts, but also the intangible gifts that all humans are capable of providing. So is Burning Man right for you? I’d dare to say yes. I don’t know who you are reading this now, but if you go into the event with an open mind and a loving heart you can’t help but take something from it. It is an experiment in an alternate way of living, where 70,000 people can gather in relative peace for a week, and when it all comes to an end, leave no trace they were ever there. Now hopefully you have a better picture of what Black Rock City is and what it means to the people who call it home. Maybe I’ll see you out there one day!