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Building Burning Man
The Official Journal of the Burning Man Project - Summer 1997 Newsletter

The Living Land
By Darryl Van Rhey

To describe Burning Man, the great upwelling of creative energy that occurs in the Nevada desert every year preceding Labor Day, is like describing the abundance — the sheer, prodigal, and superfluous fertility — of Nature itself. Costumes seem to be everywhere, strange, various and wonderful as blossoming flowers — prodigious sculptures heave out of the earth, appearing overnight like fungal growths — and everywhere there is a constant thrumming buzz, this electrically intense exchange of energy, like bees in a meadow. It has been called a festival of excess, a potlatch of useless gift-giving, an orgy of random kindnesses — for all of these things have been freely contributed, fashioned from inner necessity, and none of it, astoundingly, is for sale.

The new setting of Burning Man in 1997 will be a study in contrasts: the rugged land, a vast and featureless playa, an abundant oasis. The site of our new campground is the shoreline of Hualapai [WALL-A-PIE] Playa. It forms an alluvial apron, a spreading plain of sandy soil. This terrain, though generally flat, is pocked with small irregularities and sparsely covered by a crouching growth of shrubs and salt grass. There are new hazards here: spiked branches that project from bushes, snakes, rabbits, owls, centipedes, ticks — an entire cast of living characters.

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about this photo
They are diligent forces and bent on their business (which might not be yours). Beyond the pale of our campsite, to north and south, there are marshes laced with quicksand. Make no mistake: Nature's challenge is more than a metaphor here. And yet this land is equally the scene of new abundance. The pools of Fly Geyser are among the most vivid and amply comfortable hot springs you will ever experience. (A separate fee will be charged by the landholder for their use). This is a living land, a place of many presences. Come here prepared to camp and cope in a wilderness setting.

Secondly, there will be civilized rules. They address our collective survival and we have made them very simple. Don't use fire in our campground (except to stay warm). Don't drive your car around — anchor it to your campsite. Our town is for people, not engines. (We suggest you bring a bike. We'll also provide some public transportation.) In order to reduce traffic passing in and out of our settlement, supplies can be directly ordered and delivered daily at our frontier store. With the exception of special service vehicles, no cars will be allowed on the playa. Lastly, there will be no rave camp at our event in 1997. If you accept these public rules, then Burning Man is definitely for you.

The city that awaits you is being planned on a prodigious scale and will retain the name of Black Rock City. Although we occupy the shoreline of a playa that is neighbor to the Black Rock Desert, we have inherited a new "black rock." It is upon this distant somber peak, located to the east of our city, that we'll align the central axis of the new metropolis.

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Marked by flags and monumental spires, it will extend outward onto Hualapai Playa, forming the ceremonial gateway that connects our city center to the temple and towering figure of Burning Man. [Note: In answer to an often asked question, Burning Man will be immolated, as always, on Sunday night of our festival.]

A second great avenue, the Grand Boulevard, will extend upon right angles at a bearing north and south, traversing the edge of the playa. Here participants may stroll like vacationers at a seaside resort. To the east, the desolate plain of the desert will contain one of the world's largest open-air art galleries. Immediately to the west, along the picturesque "beach front" of the fossil lake, we will locate many of Black Rock City's colorful theme camps. The main residential district of our community will extend landward, occupying an area more than twice the size of last year's central encampment, and will be serviced by a system of satellite roads. These will be plotted as concentric circles, like planetary tracks, that orbit our cafe and central plaza. In addition, Hualapai Playa may be unsuitable for landing planes. However, a nearby private road may be available for setting down aircraft. Contact us for more information.

There is majesty in this conception that is equal to the place itself. It is our hope in coming years to create a space that will be home to many of the far-flung creative activities that our festival has inspired. If you would like to aid us in this effort, please call the Burning Man Hotline or email us at volunteers(at)burningman(com) or visit our page on volunteer opportunities. Strenuous and exacting, this is labor: we want only workers. We have discovered a new land; it is a place, a home, a living earth we can possess. And just as surely as our sweat will saturate this soil, it will possess us.