The First-Timer's Guide to Participating at Burning Man

Nevada Travel
by Lucia Stewart Apr 17, 2008

Photo by Lucia Stewart

As my fellow burner Merv Swankerton always says, trying to explain Burning Man to someone who has never been is like trying to explain color to a blind person.

Burning Man is a gathering of the spicy, creative people who “come home” to Black Rock City, Nevada, for one week a year to share wildly artistic creations and to play, dance, and live in the moment dressed, or undressed, in whatever style suits them.

It was originally created on the beaches of San Francisco before moving to the Black Rock Desert, a dried-up lake bed known as the playa. This is where some 48,000 people gather to create a bustling city that breathes art and interaction 24 hours a day for seven days each year.

photo by Lucia Stewart

Hardcore burners spend months, if not all year, planning, scheming, building, and sewing for Black Rock City’s art cars, art installations, and elaborate camps.


Whatever you desire, the city has to offer. It’s afternoon… Want to go Disco Roller Skating? Or how about learning to pole dance? There’s a 2,000-person meditation session over yonder? Or look, there’s someone serving popsicles out of a cooler on his lizard bike.

I heard there’s a phone booth where you can talk to God, or you might want to enjoy the Sweat Lodge Camp before playing the life-size Operator game that gives you quite a VOLT.

And of course, a stop at the Deep End for a few house DJ grooves with 1,200 other afternoon revelers is definitely in order.

Fire-dancing circuses and 3,000-person Light Saber wars last for hours.

Evenings and late nights are spent exploring the city that has transformed into a glowing, fiery, seemingly endless landscape. DJs’ sound systems pulsate in every direction. Fire-dancing circuses and 3,000-person light saber wars last for hours.

A fireball-blowing elephant hosting 45 dancers rolls past with a groove that makes you jump on board, where you find a full bar on the carpeted second story. The elephant dance bar is one of hundreds of art cars rolling around the playa.


Mornings find you watching the sunrise in the deep playa and slowly wandering home on your bike, exploring art installations of large hands reaching towards the sky or a series of smoke rings that greet the sun, shooting hundreds of feet in the air, high and wide.

Or how about one last dance at the giant golden dragon that is welcoming the day with smooth electronic grooves next to the intricately carved Temple.

Any time of day or night, set off into the city to discover whatever you desire — it will be found, plus more.

Essential things to bring

photo by Lucia Stewart

Bring what you would take to be a self-sufficient camping unit, complete with loads of water and sunscreen.

In addition, your checklist should include: plenty lively costumes, warm clothes, goggles, a dust mask, a method to light yourself up or your bike at night (very important!), and of course, a way to contribute to the community (OK, even more important!).

Burning Man is based on a society that thrives on community contributions. Without this, the city would not function. There are over 2,000 volunteers for the event, along with tens of thousands of others who bring their own unique contributions.

Observers vs. Participants

See, there are observers and there are participants at Burning Man. Those who are observers do not invigorate the society, and therefore really don’t experience Burning Man for what it truly is.

As a participant, you bring something to offer others — be it an art installation, an open conversation, or a hundred Bloody Mary’s. The most crucial and basic contribution is to respect and honor all that is around you.

Everything is free; everyone is welcome; just be a contributor.

Myself, I am a member of Camp Hook-up — making sure you have what you need. As Hookers, we all carry portable briefcases and beauty kits filled with: toothpicks, glowing toys, chapstick, finger lights, goggles, sunscreen, zip-ties, permission slips, bike repair kits, dinosaur flashcards, and so much more.

Photo by Lucia Stewart

You name it, we have what you need. Even if it’s just a drink. We carry portable bars, too.

We roam the city, meeting new people, exploring the depths of the sexy artistic energy in Black Rock City and in every true Burner you meet on the street.

Can you see a bit of color now?

Oh yeah, don’t forget to bring a fresh name. I’m Luscious.

Burning Man happens annually the last week of August at Black Rock City, the third largest city in Nevada for one week a year. There’s also a yearly theme, so be sure to visit the website before you go. Tickets are not sold at the door: purchase them in advance:

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