Burning Man 2012: Lies, exaggerations, misconceptions and the truth revealed.

Published: September 13th 2012
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Note: This article is written primarily for those who have never been to the Burning Man festival. If you have been, you do not need my advice, and it may not apply to you. In fact, if you're an experienced, hard core "Burner", you will probably disagree with much of what I have written. So, rather than getting irritated, maybe you shouldn't read this, and just enjoy the pictures.

I knew Burning Man (from here on - BM) went mainstream when, after my last trip in 2007, I was sitting at the buffet table in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas (we made the huge mistake of thinking Vegas was kind of close to BM, since both are in Nevada; 12 hours of driving the RV later, we found out Nevada was a big state) next to an overweight, middle aged, white couple from the Midwest, and mentioned we had just gotten back from a festival. They said: "Oh, Burning Man? We saw a story about it on TV". I mean, these people were as middle America as it gets. So the secret is definitely out. But for an event that is arguably America's best known annual festival, there sure are a lot of misconceptions, exaggerations, and lies. I want to clear the air on that, so those who have never gone know what to expect, and what not to expect... But more on that later.

Let me first recap our crazy 2012 BM trip. Crazy because, unlike most people who plan their trip to Black Rock City (abbreviated as BRC, this is the name of the temporary "city" where the Burning Man Festival takes place, the other 51 weeks of the year it's a vacant desert) 6 months to a year in advance, we decided to go about 2 weeks before the event. Burning Man is a festival that is held in the Black Rock desert, about 100 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada. My best description of it is that it is a giant outdoor art and music festival. You can find many other people to describe it in many other ways, from a giant rave to a huge drug induced party.
Anyway, we decided to go this year. For my girlfriend this was her first time, and for me it was the 4th time, the others being 1999, 2002, and 2007. We decided to keep it short and sweet, arrive Sat. morning, and leave Sunday night. Sat. morning became 6 PM, and Sunday night became noon. We spent both Friday and Sunday nights in Reno, and on Sat. camped in our rented SUV at BM. Fortunately, my friend Yan went a few days earlier, and was camped in a very convenient location. We parked our SUV there for the night. Walking around on the "playa" (from the Spanish word for beach), the open space beyond where people are camped and where all the art installations are located and art cars roam is the highlight of the experience at BM as far as art is concerned. And for me, it's the art that is the most impressive thing about BM. Yes, it is an alternative way of life, and I guess that's impressive too; but it's not something sustainable in the real world. It works because people bring in a ton of resources from the outside world for their few days at BM. Nevertheless, the experimental art, which people spend so much time, energy, and money on, to often burn after a week at BM, is amazing. Yes, much of the art is burned on the final night of BM.
So, we were at Burning Man for only 18 hours, but we got to ride in 4 different art cars - replicas of a Mississippi riverboat, a sardine can, train and fish. We got to see countless others. We visited the temple and read some of the moving inscriptions. We walked the playa multiple times at all different hours and saw most of the art that was out there. We talked to some interesting people. We got to see "the man" burn and the preceding fire dance and fireworks. We spent a little time at center camp. Yes, it was short, but it was a great experience and well worth it. I've never gone for more than 72 hours, and wouldn't really want to. But everyone is different.
It would be impossible to describe all the art we saw, so please check out these photos. What I do want to tell you is I have known people from toddlers to senior citizens and from all walks of life and lifestyles that have gone, and all have enjoyed it. So... GO!

Now I want to talk about the big lies about Burning Man. Unfortunately, there are many of these that have been circulating. I want to break these down, because I think they keep a lot of people from going, who would otherwise go and have a great time. I know this because, I have spoken with a few friends who haven't gone, and the reason/s they tell me they haven't gone, is one or more of these inaccurate statements, which for some reason (mostly because drama is exciting - truth be damned) get continuously perpetuated.

* (This also includes exaggerations and misconceptions, but for the sake of sensationalism, let's just call them all "lies")

LIE #1. You need a lot of money to go
Truth: Well, you do need a ticket ($350 give or take) and transportation and food and camping gear. Plan on about $1000. Is that a lot? Depends who you are. It's no more than most vacations.

LIE #2. You need a lot of time to go
Truth: No, you can experience a lot in 24 or 48 hours. You do not need to go for a week, or take any time off work. A week will be too much for many people. 2 or 3 days is plenty. If you love it that much, you can go for longer the next time. I've never wanted more than a couple days there, and I really like it.

LIE #3. The weather is terrible
Truth: Well, the weather IS unpredictable. You can have dust storms, rain, heat, cold... But it's usually not that bad. They told us the weather was terrible this year, but we experienced perfect weather. Sunny and high 80's, no dust storms. And most the time it's pretty nice. But yeah, it can change.

LIE #4. It takes forever to get in or out
Truth: Usually not that long to get in. To get out, it takes a long time if you leave after the temple burns Sunday night. Before that, it's usually fine. Allow 4 hours to Reno. From there, it's normal traffic, but more congested on Monday, Labor Day.

LIE #5. It's impossible to get tickets
Truth: There are always tickets to be had, if you are willing to buy them. They seem to change the rules on getting tickets every year. This year was tough at first, then they released a lot more tickets, and it got easier. You can buy ticket directly through the official website when they first release them (usually January). If not, you can usually get one through Craigslist, etc. It keeps changing, so just research it a bit.

LIE #6. Everyone is naked
Truth: We saw about 5 fully nude people, out of thousands. That's maybe 1 in 1000. Of course, you can go to certain events, like "critical tits" and see hundreds of topless women riding bikes, or more nudity at certain camps, including one we saw where they wash you. But generally, 99% of people walking around are wearing funky outfits, rather than being nude.

LIE #7. Everyone is on drugs
Truth: There is a lot of drug taking, and I have no idea what the percentage is, but it doesn't seem like most people are stoned. It certainly is not a necessary part of the experience. Just like at a rock concert, some do, some don't.

LIE #8. You need to do a ton of preparation

Truth: OK... sigh... This is the one that will probably be most controversial. I think most people overprepare. But it depends how long you go for. We brought too much food, chairs and other gear we didn't need and didn't use, too much water, and just spent and prepared too much. I've gone 4 times, and I think I have overprepared in some way every time. On the other hand, you are going into a desert environment where the weather is changeable and where you can't buy anything, except for (crappy) coffee and ice. This obviously depends how long you are going for. Bring plenty of food and water regardless. This is very individual as well.

My advice: If you have never been, don't overprepare, don't overstress, and don't go for more than 2 or 3 days. But go. Just get a ticket and go. You won't regret it. You will see and experience things you can't see or experience anywhere else, no matter how seasoned a traveler you are. GO!

Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 28


18th September 2012

Enjoyed your article and...
the "not sure what this was supposed to be" sculpture was Zoa by Flux. You caught it after the burn. Google "Zoa Burning Man" for cool before and after pics. Here's a good link as well if interested: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fluxfoundation/flux-presents-zoa-a-metamorphosis-in-three-parts
22nd October 2012

true about the lies
I like the top 8 lies. As you say at the end don't over stress and over prepare, just go(a bit prepared) with the flow. If you want to go back without the dust and the dubstep you can check out this blog about the Black Rock City http://thisisblackrockcity.blogspot.com/ Enjoy the visit Oxygen

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