7 Surprising Facts About Burning Man

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                                                                                        (image via Big Picture)

Every year, tens of thousands of free-minded folks migrate to the desert in northern Nevada to participate in the week-long festival of “radical self-expression" known as Burning Man. Thoughts of rowdy neon-clad and dust-covered freaks may come to mind when many people think of this celebration, but it’s much more than that. 

Tickets for this year’s extravaganza just went on sale this week, so here are seven facts you may not know about Burning Man.

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                                                                    (image via Jason and Jennifer Phipps)

1. The festival’s temporary town, Black Rock City, becomes Nevada’s third-largest city for a week. When the inaugural Burning Man festival kicked off in 1986, there were a grand total of 20 attendees. Fast forward thirty years, and an astounding 65,922 people attended in 2014. And about that many are expected to attend in 2015, as the Burn shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

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2. If it’s your first time at the fest, be prepared to get dirty immediately. When you enter the gate to the celebration, you’ll be asked to raise your hand if you’re a Burning Man virgin. And then those first-timers are told to dive onto the ground (called the playa here), roll around in the dust and yell, “I’m a virgin no more!” So…there’s that to look forward to right off the bat!

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3. Dust gets absolutely everywhere. If you do make it to the Burn this year, know that the dust of Black Rock City knows no boundaries. It’s an absolute inevitability that you will be covered form head to toe in the fine soot that rises from the dry playa. As author Wells Tower remarked on day three of his visit, “our filthiness is profound. There is no part of my body I cannot rub with my thumb to raise a gray cigar of silt.” But it’s so much a part of the experience, most attendees inure themselves to it quite quickly.

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3. But there is a bathing stationHowever, there is one small drawback, or bonus, depending on who you are: You have to wash a dozen people before you get washed yourself. You’ll go through an organized rotation of being first a rinser, scrubber, and soaper until you finally get to be scrubbed clean by fellow soot-caked Burners. You should have no problem making friends here!

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4. You can see Saturn from the playa. In 2014, a group going by the name of the Desert Wizards of Mars, debuted the Black Rock Observatory. The star-gazing center consists of two 21’ domes and houses a 20” telescope. Participants are able to see the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, icecaps on Mars, plus faraway galaxies and nebulae. Pretty impressive. But why bother to erect such a complex structure that’ll be in use for only one week out of the year? Well, the lead artist on the project, Tom Varden told the Contra Costa Times, “If you can show someone a decent view of the rings of Saturn, you change someone’s life forever. You know the moment it comes into focus and they see it because they don’t just take it in — they make noises, they say things, they move, they get uncomfortable. It is exactly Burning Man.” Well, when you put it like that.

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5.  Participants rely on a Gift Economy. Except for coffee and ice, there aren’t any vendors at Burning Man. From hair cuts to hot dogs everything is gifted from one Burner to another. Given the sheer size of the event, it’s truly astonishing that such an agreement works. But it does. And it’s all right in line with the unifying spirit of the festival. As founder Larry Harvey told the Atlantic, “Burning Man is like a big family picnic. Would you sell things to one another at a family picnic? No, you’d share things.”

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6. Although Burning Man is a week-long celebration, there’s a more solemn structure there known as the Temple. Every year a Temple is erected on the playa as a place for Burners to commemorate and mourn those they have lost in the past year. Burners are encouraged to leave a written message to these loved ones before the Temple is burned in a ritual ceremony that’s both cathartic and soul-stirring.

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                                                                                    (image via Oliver Fluck)

7. The art here isn’t just big and colorful, it’s world-class. Internationally-known artists and local craftsmen alike descend upon the playa to contribute some of the most-impressive art on the globe. From Marco Cochrane’s stunning steel sculpture, Truth Is Beauty, to the Pier Group’s awe-inspring 70-foot wooden statue Embrace, the installations will absolutely blow you away. There are countless offerings to take in, and they vary in style as much as the participants do. And of course, the week long fête culminates in the burning of the pièce de résistance, The Man himself.

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