To Burning Man and Back 2013:
The Rim Fire and the Playa

08/26/13 - 09/02/13

photos and story by Kristine Bonner

Coyote, by BryanTedrick

Coyote, by Bryan Tedrick

 

View of the Walker River August 2013

View of the Walker River from the 395 on August 27, 2013.

The Rim Fire of 2013 - One of the largest fires in California's history, the Rim Fire started on August 17th and was still blazing as Burning Man 2013 took place. The fire has burned over 235,000 acres.

The trip on US395 towards Reno, and eventually to Black Rock City at Burning Man was much different this year. After encountering rain in the California desert, I drove into a gray pall of smoke that hung in the air all the way from Mono Lake to Topaz Lake. People there said it was worse in Reno. I worried that the intense blue skies I was looking forward to seeing as I biked across the playa would be filled with ashes from the Rim Fire.

I spent the night at the Topaz Lodge. Topaz Lake was invisible from my room, which faced it. The wind whipped the trees and the ashy air, and I wore sunglasses even though the light was dimming, to protect my eyes. It was ladies' night and I got a free drink at the casino. I won $8.27 - I hoped that was a good omen.

Crashed spaceship

There was a crashed spaceship on the playa. (Crash Site_Alpha-13, by Aphidoidea)

Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane

The lady and some of her many admirers. (Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane)

The next day found me traveling long stretches of Highway 227 towards Gerlach. Reno had indeed been even smokier than Topaz Lake; I hoped to drive into clearer skies. There were campers and other vehicles on the road, but not as many as I expected. I reached the festival gate a little after 2pm, and didn't have to wait at all to enter. My vehicle became progressively more dusty as I slowly drove forward at Black Rock City's 10 mph speed limit. I learned later that my easy entrance had been very lucky. I heard from one person that it took them 10 hours to get in! The population reached the cap of 68,000 on Friday morning, and anyone wanting to enter had to wait until someone left, to be admitted.

Disc Temple

A disc temple
(artist unknown, please contact us if you can identify!)

Key to You

"You are the key to everything in your life. What do you believe in? Who are you?"
asked this art piece. (You Are the Key, by Ralitsa Ivanova)

Black Rock City 2013I found my camp and got my car stowed away, vowing not to open a door till I left. Luckily, the air was a lot clearer on the playa than I had feared. The dust was just dust, not smoke. I grabbed my bike and headed out to the playa to see the art.

This year's playa was less "out there" than before. The population had increased in density, and this year Black Rock City had a smaller, more negotiable central playa, bringing the playa art in closer to the burning masses. There was more art too, it seemed to me.

I hadn't been to Burning Man since 2008. A lot had changed.

Here's an aerial view of
Burning Man 2013
.

 

Flowers at Burning Man

Flower Sculpture at Burning Man (artist unknown, please contact us if you can identify!)

Plane at Burning Man

Plane, like a call to the Cargo Cult's gods at Burning Man
(artist unknown, please contact us if you can identify!)

House made of luggage

This shrine made of luggage had a box in it asking, "What's your baggage?"
with strips like fortune cookie answers in it. (Excess Baggage art piece by Warren Lisser, Susie Lisser and Anita Grunder. Anita Grunder contacted us, writing, "The concept was that we find our baggage to be defining of ourselves and while we say we wish to shed it, it is also a part of us. So why not acknowledge it/worship it? It can of course mean many things and the responses were varied and wonderful. While we three built the exterior, with help, the interior was a variety of individual pieces done by friends-- their interpretions of their baggage. So glad you liked it. It was a rewarding piece to work on, especially as my mother just died and it was a good avenue for me to examine my baggage. I now look at luggage in a whole new way." Thanks for writing Anita, I learned about my own baggage from interacting with your art piece. It was great to find it out on the playa!)

I saw more burners out during the daytime, viewing the weird, the interesting, the incongruous and the beautiful, all the strangeness that makes up the art out there. There was a crashed spaceship, a lounge chair covered in fabric with a spaceship print, a strange kind of disc chapel with flowers made of melted records and giant ball made of toothbrushes. There was a great key asking questions like, "What drives your passion?" and "Who unleashes your power?" Stonehenge-like pillars and a giant steel coyote, as well as an elegant feminine form appeared silhouetted against the blue sky. A prop plane, propeller wind-driven and whirring, was poised on top of a pyramid, a plea to the cargo cult's gods I supposed. "INSANITY" and "BELIEVE" read two different sets of capital letters about as tall as a man and half out on the alkali sand.

Drifts by Michael Christian
Alien shapes loomed overhead. (Drifts, by Michael Christian)

Lounge Chair with Spaceship Print and Side Table
Lounge chair with spaceship print and side table.
(by Dr. Deb)

More different people were there too. Along with the scantily garbed youthful set, there was an older crowd, sometimes equally alternative in their dress. There was a mother with her ten year old son viewing art, riding their bikes far out on the alkaline sand. The long suffering boy said, "but Mom I don't want to look at any more art on the playa. You said we could go to the post office." I did go to the post office, I had a couple of post cards to send. They were going to the only addresses I could remember without my phone's contact list, since I had locked it in my car which I had vowed not to open. The postmaster's name was "General". He was full of information about life, and advice about postage from the playa. You can't send anyone letters with the playa sand enclosed by the way. It jams up the postal machine.

Actual Contact by Jason WA Tucker
Stonehenge like shapes on the playa. (Actual Contact by Jason WA Tucker)
Click here to see this art lit at night.

The Man at Dusk
The Man at dusk, atop his space ship this year.

And of course, there was the temple. The temple is the kind of holy spot of Burning Man. You'd think the Man would be that, but for me, it's the temple. People bring notes, pictures, clothing, all kinds of things that remind them of departed loved ones to place there. They write notes on every available space on the beams of the structure. They cry. The temple is burned a couple days after the Man burns, releasing all its notes to their heavenly destinations.

The Temple of Wholleyness by SYNTHESIS LLC
The Temple of Wholleyness by SYNTHESIS LLC:
Gregg Fleischman, Melissa Barron, Lightning Clearwater III
-
note no painterly effect was used on this photo. it really looked like that.

One note - even though the playa is closer in, it still takes an effort to return from it. The wind is against you coming back. Take a look at this (very) short video. This installation was close to the orange barrier that marks the outer edge of the event.

 

 

And this year I made sure to ride out at night. The art blooms at night, lights come up everywhere like neon flowers. It's very dreamlike, riding along. Until you come upon deep sand that is, unfortunately, not lit. That will stop your bike cold, leaving you looking about for your companions, who may be riding on without you. Still, it's very worth the experience!

The art lights up at night.

The art lights up at night.
(artist unknown, please contact us if you can identify!)

The pillars as they appeared at night.
(Actual Contact, by Jason WA Tucker, photo by Jason WA Tucker)

The pillars as they appeared at night.
(Actual Contact, by Jason WA Tucker, photo by Jason WA Tucker,
thanks to Jason for letting us use this great photo of his wonderful art!)

 

Midburn CORE: The Hand of Inspiration by Midburn

Mystical hand lights up.
(Midburn CORE: The Hand of Inspiration by Midburn)

The playa lights up at night.

You could lose your bearings riding out at night!
Most people keep an eye on the Man at the center of the playa (see the lit up figure above).

On the way home, Reno was still smoky. But Mono Lake was clear.

Mono Lake Sept 2, 2013

Mono Lake on September 2, 2013

 

 

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