Burning Man may take place in a small town in Nevada, but there's more to do at the week-long festival than in most major cities in the U.S. Black Rock City takes on a life of its own as 60,000 burners descend on the desert, lovingly referred to as the "playa," from August 30 through September 7 this year for an anything goes experience that makes Alice in Wonderland look like child's play. And with the "leave no trace" policy, everything vanishes into the dust making it hard to believe what you've just seen. Don your best get-up and take part in these 10 things during Burning Man.
Set off and explore the playa by bike. — Photo courtesy of BLM Nevada via Flickr
1. Hop on a Bike
Since the festival takes place on the flat desert, one of the most common modes of transportation is by bike, which are just as much a work of art as the installations in the playa. Spend the week pedaling through the camps admiring the creative ways people decked out their bikes and carriages, wrapping them with lights and transforming them into animals shapes or fire-blowing creatures (obviously a boring old beach cruiser won't cut it here). Take off on two wheels and explore the deep playa by night–you never know what you'll find out there.
2. Step Inside the Carnival of Mirrors
This year's art theme is Carnival of Mirrors, so get ready for a classic carnival complete with a funhouse filled with masks and mirrors. Explore the art installations and chambers all throughout the maze leading to the courtyard with the Burning Man himself, where you'll also run into mind readers, fortune tellers, patent medicine vendors and barkers.
3. Watch the Fire Dancers
The theme of Burning Man surrounds the element of fire, and you'll find these fire performers dancing around the playa throughout the week before the burn. On Saturday night, head to the Burning Man and watch the Fire Conclave circling the statue with choreographed dancing creating a ring of light with their flames.
4. Join a Center Camp Café Performance
While you could technically perform anywhere in Black Rock City, at any hour of the day, perhaps the most traditional meeting point for performances is at the Center Camp Café, where you'll catch jugglers, marching bands, comedy and even theater productions. Of course like most things at Burning Man, acts don't even have to perform on a traditional stage–so you can even take to the sky in an aerial show if you'd like.
Explore all of the different camps and installations at the festival. — Photo courtesy of Bexx Brown-Spinelli via Flickr
5. Explore the Camps in Black Rock City
The built-up city with over 60,000 festival-goers is divided into villages and camps that spiral out from the center–if you've ever seen the time lapse video on YouTube, you’d be impressed with how quickly and strategically the event is set up. All part of the community-based aspect, the camps can be as crazy or practical as they want to be with their theme, so set off and explore what this year has in store, with themed camps such as Bad Idea Theater's gin joint and "third-rate" movie house.
6. Unleash Your Inner Photographer
Since Burning Man is built from scratch each year in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, no two festivals will ever look the same. With the combination of crazy costumes and characters, art cars cruising along the sand, over-the-top art installations, themed camps and, of course, the main event–the burn itself–the festival is the ideal setting for characteristic photos that would be hard to recreate anywhere else.
7. Admire (or Create) Playa Art
Participation is one of the 10 principles at Burning Man allowing everyone to take form in some type of art, whether you'd rather be the creator or the observer. All over the playa, you'll find art installations that inspire some sort of interactive element, whether it's climbing on the tongue of a 20-foot-tall copper screen warrior face or taking in views of the universe from the Black Rock Observatory, a series of wooden spheres with mirrors, art and other exhibits. Artists spend months crafting these pieces as their gift to the playa so don't be afraid to interact with the artwork–it's designed just for that purpose.
The temple at Burning Man. — Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson via Flickr
8. Head to the Temple
Art isn’t limited to installations and cars–it also takes temple form in one of the more spiritual spots on the playa. No matter what you believe, the temple really adds that element of a community feeling to the festival. Spend a night at the temple in a space designed for self-reflection and healing catharsis.
9. Give a Gift
Part of the festival's community aspect, and another one of its 10 principles, is gifting. While many people think that Burning Man runs off of a bartering system–trading ice cubes for a home-cooked meal, for example–the experience is a much more spiritual one than that, and doesn’t always come in material form. Some burners gift cocktails from their camp's bar or pass along a homemade bracelet, while others make connections with new friends offering their skills of massage or healing energy.
10. Deliver the Mail
Since Black Rock City operates as a living, breathing town, it's only natural that it would have its own post office. Spend an hour volunteering as a Delivery Specialist at the Black Rock City International Post Office, delivering mail from friends and family to burners on the playa. The job not only allows you to see the crafty mailboxes around the camps, it also allows you to discover parts of the festival you may not have visited before.