To Burning Man and Back 2013:
The Rim Fire and the Playa
08/26/13 - 09/02/13
photos and story by Kristine Bonner
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
On the way home, Reno was still smoky. But Mono Lake was clear.
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DesertUSA is a comprehensive resource about the North American deserts and Southwest destinations. Learn about desert biomes while you discover how desert plants and animals learn to adapt to the harsh desert environment. Find travel information about national parks, state parks, BLM land, and Southwest cities and towns located in or near the desert regions of the United States. Access maps and information about the Sonoran Desert, Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert, and Chihuahuan Desert.