What is Burning Man?


Burning Man is unlike any other festival or concert. It is described as 'a network of people inspired by the values reflected in the Ten Principles and united in the pursuit of a more creative and connected existence in the world'.

The yearly Burning Man event is held in Black Rock Desert. It is about 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada and covers about 300,000 acres. The temporary city is built on a playa or a dry lake bed. The temperature in the region is semi-arid. The days can be pretty hot and dry, but the temperature can quickly drop as night falls.

Because it is located in Nevada’s desert, you will need to prepare very well for it. The event runs for nine days, so in addition to the tickets, you also have to plan for your transportation, food and drinks, temporary shelter, costume, and gifts, among others.

What is Burning Man about?

Burning Man is a yearly event where people gather in the Black Rock City for nine days of love, peace, harmony, and creative self-expression. It is a community that has been built on selfless giving and sharing, not bound by money and self-interest. Here, you can be free to express your creative side and share it with the whole community.

Because of the community’s unique spirit and it’s very accepting atmosphere, the event draws thousands of people from all over the globe each year.

When and where was the first Burning Man Held?

The event started out as a small gathering of friends. Hosted originally by Mary Grauberger, a sculptor, the friends would meet on Baker’s Beach in San Francisco during summer’s longest day. As sunset approached, they would build a bonfire to celebrate the summer solstice.

But then Grauberger stopped hosting the event. So in 1986, Larry Harvey and his friends decided to host the event themselves. However, this time, instead of just a simple bonfire, they decided to build a wooden effigy.

Built on scrap wood, the tall and imposing wooden figure stood at a height of 15 feet. And each year, the effigy would grow until, in 1988, it stood a whopping 30 feet. It was also that same year that Harvey decided to formally name their summer solstice bonfire, the Burning Man. The burning of the effigy drew crowds of people on the beach.

Why is Burning Man held at Black Rock City?

From Baker’s Beach San Francisco, Burning Man was relocated to Nevada in 1990, specifically the Black Rock Desert’s playa. The playa is a large dry lakebed, a remnant of an ancient lake called Lake Lahontan.

In 1990, Harvey and his friends’ annual Burning Man was cut short by the police. They had no permit and so were forced to take down their effigy and disassemble it. At around the same time, another group made up of Dadaists, an art movement, was also planning to go to Black Rock Desert, Reno, Nevada for a separate event. Headed by Kevin Evans and John Law, their event was to be a sort of temporary autonomous zone where there are no political and formal structures but a place where you can freely express your creative side and share it with the community.

Having heard of the event, Harvey and company took the deconstructed effigy to the Black Rock Desert with them. There, the two groups met and collaborated, and Burning Man found a home in the playa. The burning of the effigy was so bright that it lit up the dark sky. It was like a beacon at night, calling people and drawing them to the community.

How did Burning Man’s city grid start?

At first, there was no organizational structure to the camps of Burning Man. The friends would simply gather in a circle around the bonfire. But as the attendees grew in number, the need to maintain safety became a real concern. Driving on open land with camps scattered around the center proved to be dangerous, even resulting in an accident in 1996.

To prevent another incident, Burning Man was moved to Fly Ranch in 1997 at the Hualapai dry lakebed. It was during that time that the city grid layout was first implemented as well as the ban on driving. All vehicles, according to the new rule, should remain parked throughout the event, with the exception of emergency vehicles, law enforcement vehicles, PVTs, approved mutant vehicles, and approved art cars. The ban on driving was to reduce accidents and preserve the bicycle and pedestrian only event.

In 1998, the event was moved back to the Black Rock Desert’s playa with an improved arced city grid layout that mimics the original camping circle. A temporary perimeter fence was also erected.

It is back at the Black Rock Desert that Burning Man has remained ever since, attracting tens of thousands of people with one sole purpose – selfless self-expression guided by the founder’s 10 fundamental principles.

How to navigate around Burning Man’s Black Rock City?

The current layout of Burning Man’s city grid was created by Rod Garrett to manage the increasing number of attendees as well as provide ample road for emergency vehicles. Because of its success, especially in controlling vehicular incidents, the city grid layout remained ever since.

Each year, the organizers of the Burning Man as well as its volunteers would recreate the city. In only a couple of months, the once blank and barren land would transform into a temporary city that can accommodate 70,000 to 80,000 people. The city would include not only the roads and electrical grids but an airport as well. The city is so massive that it can even be seen from space.

Navigating around the Black Rock City is easy. As it has always been in its early years, the Man is at the center of the city with the Center Camp directly in front of it. There’s also the Temple, which was first built in 2000. The Temple serves as the city’s meditative place. Attendees usually spend a few hours here, remembering past loves and lost friends and loved ones. They can also leave personal letters, photographs, or other special items at the temple. The Temple is where you let go of past hurts, grieve for lost loved ones, celebrate blessings, renew vows and promises, or simply reflect on your life.

Surrounding the Man are the camps with its annular and radial streets. There were five annular streets in 1997. As more people join the event, the streets grew to 13 by 2007. The names of the annular streets change yearly, depending on the theme of that year. The radial streets, on the other hand, are named according to their clock position, starting with 2:00 to 10:00 with the Center Camp at the 6:00 position.

Navigating around the city and looking for your camp is relatively easy. You only have to remember the name of the annular street as well as the clock position of the radial street. Should you get lost, there’s always the Man as the central figure of the whole city to serve as your landmark.

If you do get lost, don't worry, people at Burning Man are very friendly and are always ready to lend a helping hand. You can also always go to the Center Camp where most services are located. Getting lost in the city is one of the attractions of Burning Man. You get to know more people this way and enjoy their company. You also get to know the city more and explore its thousands of camps.

The vast desert is, indeed, the perfect place for the ever-growing community of Burning Man. It has ample space for growth and can easily accommodate more attendees. The vibrant and colorful neighborhoods are in stark contrast to the vast land, especially during the darkness of the night. It lends color to the blank canvass that is the desert. The arced city grid layout also stays true to the initial camps of the Burning Man with the bonfire at its center.

Burning Man will draw people from all over the world to participate in the joyous event, celebrating life and the act of selfless giving. There will be a variety of musical performances, beautiful art pieces and art cars to see, interactive art pieces to enjoy, and wild, creative costumes to marvel at. There will also be gifting as people share their creative artworks and pieces, and there will be sharing of resources to those who need it. And for nine days, millions of colorful lights will light up the evening sky, with the burning of the Man and the Temple shining the brightest as the event draws to a close.

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