A photographic essay of Burning Man 2008.

A two-day snapshot of one of the biggest cities in Nevada

Black Rock City opened its gates last week to nearly 50,000 people for Burning Man. I arrived on Friday morning, leaving Sunday— just long enough to establish a healthy coat of dust on myself and soak in some of the art and spirit of the denizens here.

This year’s theme—the American Dream—seemed to inspire less impressive artwork than in previous years, the main attraction being a sturdy but drab-looking skyscraper tower made of recycled steel, 10-stories high. Other works were playful or featured ideas of multiculturalism and disdain for consumption and commercialism.

With “playa serpents”—dust mounds creeping along the playa floor—creating unfriendly bicycle conditions, multiple-hour whiteouts, sun-baked bodies and sore feet, this year’s Burning Man also provided an opportunity for another part of the American Dream: the idea of neighbors coming to your aid when needed. When I was cold, people I barely knew gave me a coat (or three). When my feet hurt, a man called “Dr. Bob” appeared from nowhere to coat them with hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin and bandages. When I was thirsty, I got water (and Margaritas). And when I needed shelter from incessant, whiteout dust, an RV door flung open wide.

What can two days in the desert tell you about the American Dream?

The answer is something found at every Burning Man: That people, not just Americans, like freedom, and it’s embraced wholeheartedly here—the freedom to dress, dance, say and do almost anything you want.