Burning Man 2014: Caravansary

08/25/14 - 09/01/14

Design by Larry Harvey and Don Clarke,
illustration by Andrew Johnstone and Jim Pire


Unpredictable Weather - Word has it that this might be the year for weather at Burning Man. Black Rock City, currently under construction, got hit with rain and hail, yes HAIL on August 12th, according to the Burning Man website. Check the current weather here: http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/live_weather.html#.U-00HVYiO9p

On August 24, 2014, the Black Rock City gate opens. The builders of this alternative metropolis have been busy laying out roads, securing the perimeter, and surviving the various windstorms and thunderstorms that have reportedly been hitting the Black Rock Desert's playa this year. Playa, you ask? This playa is no beach, but a barren, alkaline stretch of white, cracked sand that stretches over about 100,000 acres. Friends of Black Rock states the Burning Man Festival, as large as it is, takes up only about 3% of the playa surface.

How large is the festival? Well, the Bureau of Land Management's Burning Man 2012·2016 Special Recreation Permit states the maximum number to be 70,000 people. Imagine the entire city of Santa Fe, New Mexico deciding to go camp out together in the desert. That's how big.

The plan for Black Rock City 2014

The plan for Black Rock City

Burners, as the attendees are called, are busy packing up their artwork, sewing last minute frippery onto their furry costumes, ensuring they still have last year's goggles to protect their eyes from sandstorms, and tuning up their vehicles for the trek out to the desert. This year however, there will be less cars, trucks and vans at the event, as part of a vehicle mitigation effort.

The 2014 theme is Caravansary

Theme and text by Larry Harvey and Stuart Mangrum with acknowledgments to David Normal, illustration by DA of Black Rock (aka Dominic Tinio), model/photo: Stardust Magick

"Burning Man is under pressure from the Bureau of Land Management and Nevada Department of Transportation to reduce the number of cars entering the event. Highways 447 and 34 are at max capacity during the event and we’re being asked to pay for road damage caused by participant vehicles... All vehicles entering Black Rock City will be required to purchase a Vehicle Pass for $40. Our goal is to incentivize participants to reduce the number of vehicles entering BRC by increasing the number of participants per vehicle.... There are 35,000 passes available this year." (Burning Man website)

It will be interesting to see how this affects traffic through the small towns of Nixon, Empire and finally, Gerlach, the last opportunity to fill a gas tank. Lines of campers and RVs with festive, oddly decorated bikes attached snake over the two lane roads year after year. It's easy to see how the BLM and DOT would want some extra cash to help maintain the roadways.

This year's theme is Caravansary, a very old term meaning a caravan inn. Before there were cars, trains and our modern transportation conveniences, a journey to another part of the world often meant long tortuous travel over dangerous, difficult routes through strange and exotic territories. A caravansary was the inn or the oasis found along the way, where the traveler could rest, and would most likely find a population of curious and alien wayfarers with whom to exchange tales and trades.

It's an especially appropriate theme for Burning Man since people come from all over the world to the event, and theirs is often a trek confronting the traveler with some serious personal challenges and not a small degree of trepidation.

In addition, the Burning Man website quotes Jayson Barangan, BLM’s Public Information Officer for Burning Man 2014, with an interesting bit of synchronicity,

“There is a very interesting nexus between Burning Man’s theme this year, ‘Caravansary,’ and the Black Rock High Rock Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA), Jayson writes. “One of the cultural resources contained within the NCA is the Applegate Historic Trail, which is an emigrant trail used by early pioneers. It is the longest stretch of protected and intact emigrant trail in the USA. I think this particular resource dovetails very nicely with this year’s theme. The NCA also contains several designated wilderness areas; 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.” Read more...

The centerpiece of the festival, the Man, who is destined to be burned on August 30th will be standing on the ground this year instead of on a structure. He will be surrounded by a kind of souk, a marketplace meet up of performers and art that will be created by Burning Man's far flung communities around the world, who have been invited to showcase their culture in art and experience installations here.

All kinds of art will erupt out of the white alkaline sand, from a colossal volcano (by the Paha'oha'o Community here's their facebook page for more information) to "a tiny tessellated palace named for love and open to the sky, a miniature caravanserai to welcome the weary traveller." (Hayam Sun Temple by Josh Haywood)

Paha'oha'o Community's vision of the volcano

Here's an interesting video the BLM made of the 2013 event and how they coordinated with Burning Man to protect the desert:


DesertUSA will bring you more coverage as it becomes available!

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