By far, the nicest, friendliest people I have ever met reside in Black Rock City, NV.
It’s a city that moves at a small town’s pace during the day, where neighborhood cafes serve up piping hot cappuccinos and pastries, and local pubs pour generous pints of pilsners and porters; where adults and children alike pedal bikes around dusty roads, and colorful, fanciful four-wheeled vehicles crawl along at a max speed of 5 mph.
At dusk, the city transforms into a bustling metropolis with hip clubs hosting world-class DJs and live bands, and even livelier revelers. No cover, no VIP lines, no pretense.
Residents let loose in true bacchanalian fashion, with herds hopping from one party to the next, or racing to the horizon to greet the dawn. 30-foot structures explode with dancing fire and the Esplanade glows Vegas-like with its line-up of neon lit car and characters. Lovers wander hand-in-hand through a circus of light and spectacle.
In this city, art is king. From mobile museums and makeshift galleries featuring paintings and photography; to interactive art that pulsate with light or breath fire with a touch of a button; to massive installations – three-story balsa wood temples, large-scale serpentine sculptures, and computer-controlled propane cannons that explode in rhythm.
Black Rock City is located about 100 miles northwest of Reno near the southern end of the Black Rock Desert, past the towns of Empire and Gerlach. It is the site of Burning Man: an experiment in temporary community, a practice in radical self reliance, an opportunity for self-expression for a society of artists and activists, a collective effort with its own culture and traditions, where “transactions of value take place without money, advertising, or hype.”
The city is laid out like a giant wheel where the “spokes” are numbered radial streets which cross concentric lettered streets. And smack-dab in the middle is an 80-foot high anthropomorphic wooden structure that symbolizes different things to different people. It is neither deity nor demon, a towering effigy affectionately known as “the Man,” the spiritual center for the city’s inhabitants who abide by Ten Principles that include Radical Inclusion, Self-Reliance, and Self-Expression.
With the exception of ice offered for sale, no vending is allowed. Gifts, talent, and companionship become currency. Bartering, while frowned upon, occurs by mutual consent. No trash cans are provided, and yet there is no trash to be found. Everyone takes care of their own, and each other. Despite the dust and dirt of the desert, it is one of the most pristine places I have ever seen. The mind-altering experience feels like visiting another planet.
Unfortunately, it’s an evanescent city that only exists for one week out of the year, in the days leading up to Labor Day weekend. Covering less than five square miles, it is a fully functioning city of 50,000 locals, with a central post office, airport, mobile clinics, media mecca, law enforcement headquarters, volunteer medics and rangers, a department of public works, and even its own DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles).
At the end of the week, the entire city is completely disassembled, many of its sculptures and structures burned, leaving no trace of the thriving city or its inhabitants. All that is left is a wide expanse of deserted flatlands, bookended by mountain ranges in the distance, sporadically attacked by hurricane-force winds and dust storms, and pierced by triple digit heat. 400 square miles of stark desert lake bed, the largest alkali/mud flats on Earth, simply known as “The Playa.” No running water, no electricity. Nothing.
In just a couple of days, my husband and I will be making our fourth annual pilgrimage to Black Rock City, joining a group of 43 other individuals from across the globe. Organized into a theme camp called DeMentha, our little footprint at 3:00 and D will be serving up “minty goodness” with afternoon Mojitos and music to chill by, all under a large shade structure equipped with a cooling mister.
I look forward to days spent riding bikes around with friends, and checking out music and art at every stop. Family-style dinners in our communal dining tent at sunset. Free shows, snow cones, movies, popcorn, popsicles. Freedom.
Participation in Burning Man continues to test our ability for self-sufficiency and allows us to explore our own eccentricities. Being forced to go without so many creature comforts, one becomes more appreciative of the simple things in life. Giving thanks takes on new meaning.
I look forward to my seven days in the dust.