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Photo: mr. nightshade

They don’t call it Burning Man for nothing. Virgin burner Joshua Johnson takes us for a walk beside the flames.

Tonight the tents and RVs and camps are empty.

Tonight ice melts in unattended coolers. Filthy lawn chairs hold silent counsel over vacant plots of dust.

Tonight 43,000 burners gather in ever widening, concentric circles. The Man stands with neon and lumber arms stretched toward the sky.

This is what I have been waiting for.

Flicking a cigarette into the desert wind, a veteran burner tells me he could almost skip it. He says it has become a passe spectacle, that the Burning of The Man isn’t the point.

But I wouldn’t miss it.

And from the bursts of fire, a quarter mile distant, comes glimpses of the tens of thousands who wouldn’t miss it either.

Even the jaded old burners, a little bored, a little self important, wait restlessly for the fire.

We stoke the collective need for The Man to Burn with our upturned eyes and raised hands and dancing feet.

Firefighters in haz-mat suits and shiny beetle shell helmets hold a wide perimeter around the Man.

Are the firefighters apart of this?

Are they too feeding the fire, or merely waiting to clock off?

As the call comes through on the walkie talkie does their breath catch? Even a little?



Red gold green works of fire explode above the Man. Downwind smoldering debris falls.

We scream.

For the joy, the slaked anticipation, for the thing that was built to burn, we scream and scream.

The fireworks conclude in an inferno, a torrent of flame curling in on itself in a roiling plume, breathing heat and light on the upturned (screaming) faces.

For a moment everything is fire.

The Man burns to the ground and we rush in, ignoring the commands of the firefighters to stay back. It’s not time! they shout. They only shout once then look on helplessly, shrugging at each other.

Counterclockwise we circle the fire.The air is warped with heat.

A perfect, naked pixie twirls her lithe frame before the curtain of fire.

Community Connection

Have you had an experience at Burning Man you would like to share? Please hit us up in the comments below.

Get your Burning Man fix all year right here on Matador: The First-Timer’s Guide to Participating at Burning Man, BNT’s Best Of The Week: Burning Man Roundup,13 of the Coolest Art Installations in the History of Burning Man.



About The Author


Joshywashington is a Travel Media Ninja from Seattle who enjoys writing, climbing trees and strong coffee.

  • david miller

    Thanks for sharing this with us Josh.

  • Christina

    “Flicking a cigarette into the desert wind, a veteran burner tells me he could almost skip it…”

    He did what! This is why Burning Man may be in danger of closing down, because of people who are so blasé about it that they toss their trash around. Never forget that you are a guest on the Playa. Treat it (and the hard-working people who clean up your crap) with respect, or don’t come back!

    Josh, no offense, but you should have made him go pick up that cigarette butt…

    A veteran Burner.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for sharing this story! I was there last year (and I also shared my virgin-burn on Matador), but I missed the actual man burn because I was keeping a sick friend company. I got to see some of the end of it, but from a distance. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the point for me either, and even if I miss it next time I still won’t be disappointed because it pales in comparison to what can happen the rest of the week. How did you feel about the Temple burn? That was my favourite part.
    Note that I also have to agree with Christina; if this is a veteran burner he should surely know not to treat the playa like that. I didn’t meet many smokers during my week, but I would hope that they wouldn’t just be MOOP machines.

    • Josh Johnson

      I remember seeing your footage Benny… the shot of you in the dust storm gave me a glimpse of mother natures madness that we were willingly stepping into!

  • Josh Johnson

    Don’t worry dear burners, I cleaned up enough MOOP for the two of us!
    The last 48 hours of Burning Man was a endless dust storm, filling my tent endangering our equipment and making its way into the folds of my gray matter. to try and beat the exodus we left before the temple burned.
    I was sorry to do this but it had been a long week and I knew i would be back next year (with an RV)…

  • Michelle

    This is the first time I’ve seen video of Burning Man! Very cool- thanks for sharing!

  • Candice

    Incredibly, insanely jealous. Adding this to my lifelist!

    • Josh Johnson

      You should. The whole week long experience cannot really be expressed in words or otherwise…that was the overwhelming feeling I got while there…that I would never be able to really truly let people know what it was like. Above all it was a felt experience ( especially the sand in my creases!

      • Candice

        One of my friends said exactly the same thing, it’s impossible to express in words…the video helps!

  • Megan Hill

    Way cool, Josh!

  • Shawn

    Hey great piece… I’ve been writing about my experiences as a first-timer too.

    • Josh Johnson

      right on! i would love to hear what you have to say on the whole shebang…shoot any video?

  • JoAnna

    Great piece Josh!

    Pretty crazy stuff going on in Black Rock City … and yet it’s all so real!

    Thanks for sharing … can’t wait to see more of Black Rock TV’s footage!

    • Josh Johnson

      Thanks Joanna, so good sharing a camp with you!
      now is the time to register and upload your burning man footage at!

  • Kyle Smith

    It was my utmost pleasure to get to camp with you Josh. I can’t wait to see more of your footage!

    • Josh Johnson

      Same to you Kyle. You and Kristin were aces, he had some laughs, huh? Thanks for all the snacks and good conversations!

  • Flirt

    It was a long and beautiful burn , and the intensity of the flame !! I am no longer a Virgin say it 3 times!!!!!

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