Burning Man 2004 posted 17 September 2004 It is Sunday, August 29, 2004, not long before midnight. I am in a hotel in Reno, about to catch some winks before driving to the playa in the morning. JB, my good friend and guide in this venture, greeted me downstairs decked out for the playa. He’s already feeling the buzz. I am too excited to sleep. Monday morning. We are playa-bound. This beast greets us in Empire, the second-to-last town before you hit the playa. Arrival. We are near the corner of 7:30 and Neptune in Black Rock City, which is beginning to grow all around us. Time to build a home. A look in another direction from our spot that first afternoon on the playa. Three of my campmates preparing to build our shade structure, which I ended up taking no pictures of. A photographic oversight, and one of many: Taking pictures was rarely the first thing on my mind out there. A look at the Man, my first night on the playa. Imagine a clock face superimposed on the dry lakebed the event takes place on. The Man is in the center. The Temple (coming up) is at 12:00. Black Rock City, where all the camps are, inhabits the area from 10:00 to 2:00. Oh, and there is a half-mile radius of empty space around the Man. That’s where all the playa art is. (Here’s a map that makes it all clearer.) I took this shot of my tent when I got back to it that first night. Not sure why. Toward the left of the shot you can see a white PVC pipe sticking up into the air. This is part of the skeleton of our shade structure. A blue tarp hangs down behind that pipe, but it just looks like darkness here. Let’s get down to business. Let’s see some playa action. I am Matthew, and I will be your guide. I am seated at my favorite spot on the playa. More on that soon. I’m looking across part of the playa, toward 3:00 Plaza. Ooh. Some playa art on the move. The playa is a harsh environment. It can be hotter than hell, or it can rain. The wind can come out of nowhere and kick up so much dust that visibility drops to nothing in a matter of seconds. And then, there are these damned dust devils. My favorite spot on the playa. A nice park bench, and a fine metal tree. Oh, and a semi-sturdy fence. At night, the tree is illuminated from below in various changing colors, but I never had my camera with me when I stopped by here at night, so I have no shot of that effect. The only motorized vehicles allowed out on the open playa are art cars, or Mutant Vehicles — which, by the way, must be registered with the Black Rock City Department of Mutant Vehicles. No kidding. Sometimes it is easy to tell what a mutant vehicle used to be … … and other times it’s less clear what the original vehicle was. This mutant vehicle hailed from a camp called Muppetville. Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 1: Seated at my spot one afternoon, an art car parade happened by. Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 2 Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 3 Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 4 Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 5 Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 6 Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 7 Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 8 Mutant Vehicles on Parade, Part 9 To the left is a bit of playa art we’ll see more of shortly. To the right is an installation called Jadu Beta. It was made of a multitude of translucent air-filled plastic bags. There were low tunnels you crawled through to get to the inside of this ring of bags. A nice wind-free environment in there, and one night, a band inside Jadu Beta played George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” and clobbered my soul. In a good way. Closer to the thing on the left in the previous shot. A look inside the thing we’ve been drawing closer to. Posted near the commodes at 7:30 and Earth. I guess someone thought there was a connection. Let’s go see the Temple of Stars. A different Temple is built each year, and at week’s end, it Burns. This year the facades were made of something quite extraordinary. Have you ever made one of those dinosaur skeleton models? You punch balsa wood bones out of a pre-cut sheet, and you toss the frames left behind. Or you collect thousands of such frames somehow and build Temple facades out of ‘em. Closer to the Temple, still under construction. This shot was taken on Thursday. The Man will Burn on Saturday; the Temple will Burn on Sunday. Lotsa folks hanging out, watching the construction, mingling, and so on. The Temple of Stars by night. The camera I had was not up to this task; bear with me in all night shots in this gallery. The Temple of Stars by night. The neon in the foreground? Attached to folks who don’t want to be “darkwads.” Next year, I take more glowy stuff for at night. It’s just what you do. The Temple of Stars by night. Blurry. The Temple of Stars by night. Blurrier still. A shot across the playa at night, with the Man at center. In the foreground is a bed of electrical flowers that are flashing and blinking and being most beautiful in all sorts of ways that my camera cannot capture. But of course, I will try… Same shot as previous, but with a nifty art car cruising through. The mutant vehicle spotted in the previous shot. A Burner dares to approach the captain of this mutant vehicle. An old Gulfstream trailer, playa-ified. Spinning globe o’ flame to its left. A close-up of the flowerbed seen a few shots back. Same as previous shot, a few seconds later. The Man is along the horizon to the left. A couple of the blooms have changed color. How ‘bout some shots that actually prove that I was there? Here’s me one afternoon after a dust storm… . … And here is me another afternoon, after another dust storm. Me on the playa, outfitted for a day of exploring. The road to my left, flanked by oil lamps on temporary light standards, leads out to the Man from the intersection of 6:00 and Esplanade (Black Rock City’s main drag). You see a lot of dudes in sarongs on the playa, and once I’d given this one a shot, I understood why. This is the perfect playa garment. I ran into this cool chick out on the playa who was dressed up like a freaking tennis player. Oh, wait! That’s my ex! Hi, Alex! You go, girl. You may have seen this thing lurking in previous frames. Three folks sit in the middle of this contraption, peddling like crazy, making the thing roll forward. That description actually doesn’t even begin to explain what-all happens with this thing, or how hard the peddlers have to pedal to make it roll. Another view of the circle vehicle. Yes, taken from my favorite spot on the playa. By checking out the three shots you’ve seen now, perhaps you can see how the folks inside the circle are moving around inside it as they pedal. They’re on hanging chairs, you see, and … drat, this thing is impossible to explain. Enough with vehicles and art for a moment. Sometimes, you meet the most beautiful people on the playa. This shot was taken at Absinthia, an absinthe bar, the afternoon prior to the Burning of the Man. Was it really Leonardo DiCaprio hanging out a few feet away from me in this place, or did the green fairy make me think so?(Answer: It doesn’t matter in the slightest.) You run into all sorts of damned people on the playa. Especially in Center Camp. Because sooner or later, everybody needs ice, and this is the one place you can get it. I don’t recall what Rumsfeld was saying, but I think he was shouting questions at himself and answering them. Cheney. Menacing! “Stop right there, citizen. Surrender your ice!” Rumsfeld is explaining to the young lady the wrongheadedness of the entire playa scene. Dubya is staring at her tits. Back out to the playa, the day after the Burn of the Man. Trudging across the sand, I suddenly heard the ocean. And seagulls. Now this is just silly: There are no birds on the playa. There are not even very many insects on the playa. It is a desolate place. But here, in this spot, standing next to this tiny little grate in the ground, you can hear the ocean. And seagulls. Great piece. “Playa Art With Dust Devil” The crowd ahead is gathered around the remains of the Man, the morning after the Burn. (I didn’t have my camera at my disposal at the time of the Burn, so I have no shots of that.) Some folks come to take away bits of ash. Some come just to look. One dude came to repeat, over and over, “Yeah, man! Fucking Man Burned!” To each his own. Some ad-hoc artwork had been erected from the charred remains. The Man is dead! Long live the Man. After checking out the Man’s remains, I headed out to see the Temple one last time. Spotted this on my way. Didn’t get closer; I wasn’t on bike this day. Approaching the Temple, on Sunday, its last day. The completed Temple of Stars, Burning Man 2004. This shot is taken from the Temple’s main platform, a good stretch off the desert floor. I’m looking down through the center of the structure. There are magic markers all around. People write all kinds of things on the Temple. Some prayers, some personal messages, some initials, some declarations of love, some rants against reality, some anger, some hurt, some joy. All of it will Burn. It is now sunset, Sunday night. The final night of the event. Time to Burn the Temple. On our way out there, we passed these platforms. They ring this part of the playa; you can bring Burnable trash here. The fires will Burn for hours. Some performance art going on as we sat waiting for the Temple Burn. In the moment I took this shot, the wind kicked up, stirring the dust. I love the effect it had on this shot. The Temple just after it was set afire. We startin’ to cook. Next year, a better camera. Or perhaps none. The heat was intense. Large segments of the crowd scampered away from the inferno. The Temple Burn, Burning Man 2004. After a while, all that was left was a metal skeleton. We sat watching this skeleton hang on for a very long time before the Temple crew finally attached a winch to one leg and pulled the last bits down. Thus ended my week in the Black Rock Desert.