Burning Man - a short explanation

Temple of Rudra, 1998 Burning Man happens annually on and before Labor Day weekend, typically in Nevada's Black Rock Dessert. About 15.000 people (in 1998; our numbers increase greatly every year) gather for several days to express their artistic creativity, to loose their inhibitions and behave as weirdly as they feel like, to be friends with all of the other participants, and to play and party day and night. There are hundreds of theme camps, some of which must have taken a year to prepare. Ammonite, 1997 At most of them you can participate in some activity (creeping through a giant spiral ammonite whose corridor becomes narrower and narrower, receiving a relaxing massage, jumping a trampoline, having your body painted, getting henna tattoos that stay for three weeks, getting flogged with soothing soft foam rubber bars, doing various games, etc. etc.). There are impressive works of art, like a scale model of the solar system that stretches for kilometers, statutes of all kinds, and structures and vehicles that defy description. Performances of all kinds are going on, including an opera with a cast of hundreds and a decor involving a life-size castle. Living rooms are driving through the streets of the temporary city/campground, a tank-sized flamethrower causes impressive ignitions, 20 meter long balloons float in the sky, people are walking around and dancing naked, or in the most outrageous costumes, and music of various kinds is generated at many sources during the nights. The Nebulous Entity, 1998 The Nebulous Entity, 1998 There is no division between organizers and spectators; everybody participates one way or another. No money is charged at any attractions - the participants enjoy sharing their creativity and goods with others. In fact everybody is welcome everywhere; you can walk into almost anybodies private camp, and be welcomed heartily. People share their food and supplies with their neighbors, and are really nice to everybody else. The atmosphere is exceedingly peaceful; there are no fights and not much theft. All of this happens in the middle of nowhere, in a flat alkali dessert, on which not even a single strand of grass would grow. Everyone has to bring food, water, and shade for the entire time with them, and prepare seriously for surviving in the harsh climate of the dessert. In the end, everything that has had its use is burned - fires everywhere, a pyromaniac's dream coming true. The climax of the event is the burning of the Man, a giant wooden structure filled with fireworks that has guarded the event.
In 1997 Black Rock City moved to
 private land close to these beautiful hot springs In 1997 Black Rock City moved to
 private land close to these beautiful hot springs
A pretty good description of one hour of burning man can be found at Catweasl's site.
More information (and links to thousands of pictures by me and many others) can be found on the "official" burning man site and in the Burning Man Archive.
Rob van Glabbeek rvg@cs.stanford.edu