More than 65,000 art and music enthusiasts from all over the globe, including this Digital Journal contributor (for the fifth time), gathered in the high Nevada desert for the annual weeklong experiment in participatory community known as Burning Man.
Burners from near and far re-created Black Rock City (BRC), for a week the fifth-largest city in Nevada, under this year's theme, 'Cargo Cult.' Some were part of large theme camps; others braved the unforgiving desert environment on their own or in small groups, but all Burners united under the Ten Principles enumerated by Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. Foremost among these are radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, decommodification, self-expression and participation.
And oh, how they participated! From constructing 'mutant vehicles,' also known as art cars, and mind-blowing art installations, to throwing legendary parties day and night, gifting, another of the Ten Principles, is a way of life in BRC.
Some theme camps, such as Kostume Kult, are built around gifting; in this case, giving away hundreds, if not thousands, of free costumes. Other camps gifted morning coffee and pancakes, ice cream, pee funnels, massages, yoga lessons-- even simultaneous wine and spankings.
Playa gifting takes many forms, such as this sensual 'Buffer Zone' at Spanky's Wine Bar.
On the playa, as the desert which hosts the event is known among Burners, art comes in all sizes. Art is even mobile in BRC, with incredible mutant vehicles, often themed, seemingly floating across the flat, dusty ancient lakebed.
Nautical-themed mutant vehicles are common in BRC. It is a surreal experience to witness a ship-of-the-line sailing out of a whiteout dust storm towards you in the middle of the desert.
As with much of the art in BRC, mutant vehicles are often at their best after the sun sets beyond the mountains. Below is a YouTube video of the 'Pulpo Mechanico,' a steampunk octopus that's fast become a favorite among Burning Man attendees.
Although mutant vehicles are a great way to get around the playa, most BRC residents rely upon bicycles as their primary means of long-distance transport. And some of the main destinations are the many parties, big and small, thrown day and night throughout the city.
Of course, the biggest parties happen from dusk 'til dawn, when tens of thousands of Burners dance the nights away to dozens of superstar international and regional DJs like Paul Oakenfold, Deekline, Kimba, Subsqwad, and Bootie's Adrian Roberts, and lesser-known artists like DJ Vaughn, who rocked the party at Spanky's Wine Bar, an S&M-themed wine bar camp on the Esplanade.
It's not all about partying at Burning Man. There are also many theme camps dedicated to spirituality, healing and just chilling out. The Temple, arguably the second-most prominent structure on the playa, is a place of quiet contemplation, reflection and remembrance of loved ones who've passed on over the course of the year.
Burners of all ages gather in the Temple, one of BRC's most spiritual spaces.
The 'main event' at Burning Man is the annual Saturday burning of The Man, the towering, centrally-located effigy that's been the focal point of the event since Larry Harvey burned the first one on Baker Beach in San Francisco more than a quarter century ago. This is followed by the burning of the Temple shortly after sunset on Sunday, a solemn and cathartic affair that marks the beginning of the end of the Burn.
Attempting to describe Burning Man to one who's never been is a bit like trying to describe a sunrise to a blind person. Although it may sound cliché, it is truly a life-changing experience. Burning Man is many things to many people, but the tens of thousands of Black Rock City residents who unite in the dust each year, from wide-eyed "Burgins" to grisly veterans like this reporter, know that they're part of something truly special, quite possibly one of the greatest gatherings of humanity on earth. If you've never been, my one word of advice to you would be simply... go!