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Every year, in the middle of nowhere, Nevada, the capital city of modern counter-culture is formed from dust (and recreational vehicles), exists for a week and then vanishes without a trace.
This is Black Rock City, home of the festival called Burning Man.
I went in 1998, and wrote many of my virgin's impressions in a photo essay and made a special page for my first giant panoramic photo. In 1999, I returned with much better photographic equipment and captured more panoramas and other aspects of the event.
To read my text impressions of Burning Man, read the report from 1998. In this section, I mostly include my new photographs, with captions, and reports on what was new and how my perceptions changed.
After Burning Man we continued on into Utah, Northern Arizona and Colorado. There's a collection of the best photos from that journey available.
What did I find different about Burning Man 1999?
Well of course it was larger, around 28,000 people, with more rules but not too many problems. They're working to stop the size from growing quite that fast.
Everybody loved the use of planets and times for street names, and many times I got to give directions to people like "Go down Venus, up 3 o'clock then make a left at Mars." We were out at 2:30 and Venus, which was a long way from center camp and most other things. Supposed to be the quieter side but that didn't work out. We were a satellite of Oregon Country Fair Embassy, a fine group of folks. They even had a megabit internet connection. We're doing this again this year but should be more central.
In 1999 it was cold. Everybody bundled up at night and there was far less nudity because of that. And though the first two days had bad windstorms, there were no serious dust storms after that.
My experienced was changed by the piece of crap new bike that I bought on the internet and brought to BRC. 30 minutes after getting there, the cranks stripped, leaving it useless. The price ($129 for a folding bike) was clearly too good to be true. Not having a bike in the new large city is a serious problem, and meant we had to use borrowed bikes or go out one at a time.
However, the bike episode taught a couple of lessons. First, I had a good time, going around, talking to neighbours near and far about how to get the bike working. There was no pedal camp, and I can't blame them, since with the city so large they could spend all their time repairing bikes to little thanks. Eventually, days later, I got some carriage bolts and used them for pedals. It's a bit strange but OK if you don't have to go far. Your foot moves on the pedal and must be replaced with each stroke.
It also encouraged me to sit around my camp more. This wasn't so bad, since I had put up the giant panoramic picture in a diorama. Lots of people came by, even though we were at the far end of camp, and everybody wanted to chat and take a look. I got to meet and talk with all sorts of people, part of the great essence of Burning Man participation.
As you'll read on the Burn page there were problems with the Burn. I imagined the thoughts of a BM Virgin who arrived after the first two days...
"What a strange experience. It's so cold there in the Black Rock Desert, almost froze my ass off. No wind, though, and that's good. And the Burning of the Man -- it's nice but you think they could have more ceremony to it."
The city seemed more lighted up this time. The ring of 2000 LED pods around the Man was nice but didn't quite end up being as spectacular as one might hope.
Each year, Burning Man is larger, and different. It gets more rules and every year long-time participants rail at the dying of the old, "true" Burning Man. And they're right -- the old one does die each year. But it gets replaced with something different, with different things to appreciate. Some worse, some better. Still no experience like it.