Report from the playa

It’s safe to say that the 25,000 citizens of Black Rock City, the most outrageous, psychedelic and good-natured town on Earth, were completely delighted to broil this year in the heat of the Labor Day sun. Some were so delighted to broil they chose to subject themselves to gluteal sunscreen testing in the ultra-violet abundance. It had been unseasonably cool at night two years ago, and last year just plain sucked the big weather weenie as we Burners were forced to cope with a brutal and freakazoid low-pressure system that brought wind, rain and bone-chilling cold to the Black Rock Desert. Which is why it was very nice to once again see people passing out in the streets from good old-fashioned dehydration.

Black Rock City looked terrific this year—full of wild, colorful beauty. Noteworthy were the huge towers of Emerald City, often framed by green laser beams that spanned the playa for miles; the colossal Mausoleum, an incredibly ornate pagoda made from thousands of carved pieces of wood that burned with a breathtaking fury; Azteca, the Mexican pyramids framed by 15-foot toadstools glowing with shafts of black light; and the indescribable Mandala, which had you peer through three different spinning sculptures to get a kaleidoscopic view of the fires of enlightenment. Such outstanding artistic achievements inspired dozens of folks to take their pants off.

And yes, it was dusty. Big-time dusty. Dustier than normal, a direct result of the extreme lack of moisture we’ve experienced in Northern Nevada over the last year. One of the more memorable sights of this year’s Burning Man was visible not in Black Rock City, but on the approach from Gerlach. The 12 miles of playa between Bruno-ville and The Man were calm and clear, but the area surrounding Black Rock City was often enveloped by clouds of dust up to 100 feet high, dust unleashed by the bustling activities of the multitude. This made it possible for many Burners to experience the exquisite gnarliness of being caught in a dust storm while wearing only a birthday suit.

The Burning of The Man was a mighty spectacle, one that, as usual, made your standard Super Bowl halftime show look pitifully puny by comparison. This year’s pyre was highlighted by the spooky-weird appearances of at least 20 spinning, cyclonic smoke devils that danced away from the flames of The Man, one after the other, as if they were headless ectomorphic show girls in Lucifer’s Follies. It was a wicked little side spectacle that had thousands of us wondering if it was designed by some pyromaniacal genius or just a freaky phenomenon arising naturally from intense fire conditions. Whatever it was, it was extraordinarily cool.

And it inspired many to howl with larynx-stretching volume at the full moon; others, to power down larynx-bobbling slugs of tequila; and still others to remove their hand-painted ceremonial loincloths.