After The Dust Settles – Burning Man

Several thousand years from now, alien archeologists will examine the burnt strata of our planet and conclude we were a shallow species, bent on self destruction. They will judge us on our mummified remains, adorned with metal piercings, body art and bong resin.

After careful analysis, the archeologists will sanitize and quarantine the planet to prevent the spread of the cosmic spores that hastened our demise. It won’t be climate change, mutant anthrax, or a nuclear apocalypse that caused our extinction. We will be written off to extreme weirdness. The archeologists had no way of knowing they landed at Burning Man.

What will the aliens think? image by matt via flickr creative commons

What will the aliens think?
image by matt via flickr creative commons

Let me just get it out of the way. I have never attended the Burning Man gathering in the Northern Desert. I have, however seen and suffered the aftermath…

Those of you who are not familiar with the standard by which we shall be judged, Burning Man is an annual gathering in a remote, barren swath of desert. Participants create a temporary city dedicated to art, self reliance and self expression. Think Woodstock with Hipsters and without the music. Now I know some of you might get a bit defensive about the Hipster label, but “Burners” tend to play up the “I’ve been Burning since before it was cool, angle.” You know who I’m talking about.

image by duncan rawlinson via flickr creative commons

image by duncan rawlinson via flickr creative commons

Since I don’t follow the annual pilgrimage to the temporary city on the Playa (Burner term for dust filled dry lake bed), I didn’t know their annual exodus from the festival leaves a Charlie Brown character dust trail through Reno, Nevada. I found myself in the midst of Burners while checking into my hotel. The hotel had mandatory stations set up outside and required guests coming in from the Playa to hose off their luggage (and themselves) with compressed air before entering the facilities. It looked like a radiation decontamination set up after Fukushima.


I learned that one’s personal hygiene is not among a Burner’s priorities. Perhaps this is the self expression they hype so much. Now, if you or I were camping in the dirt for a week, what would be one of the very first things you do? Apparently, taking a shower, changing clothes, or even applying a hint of deodorant would diminish the experience. So, they collapse at the casino bars, suck up a few Pabst Blue Ribbons and commune with their fellow Burner Refugees in a cloud of smoke (purely medicinal, I’m sure).

image by jessica reeder via flickr creative commons

image by jessica reeder via flickr creative commons

Some migrated like a herd of wildebeest, very dirty wildebeest, to the hotel pool. I overheard someone describe the pool water turning from crystal clear, to gray brown…

The future alien archeologists will uncover that clothing, in our time, was somewhere between nonexistent and just plain odd. Top hats, no pants, or combat boots, fishnets and a tutu with lights. WTF… The whole, “We welcome anyone to the Burner culture,” is not exactly accurate either. A small gathering of the smelly folk on the elevator pointed out I wasn’t a Burner–and they laughed.  What about this face doesn’t say fun-loving Burning Man?


If you’re into people watching, there was plenty to watch.

image by christoper michel via flickr creative commons

image by christoper michel via flickr creative commons

image by nil grilling via flickr creative commons

image by nil grilling via flickr creative commons

So, centuries from now, when the dust settles over the Playa, our species may be judged by the smoldering remains of a Burning Man in the Northern Nevada desert. Well, it could be worse, I suppose. The archeologists could have stumbled onto the remains of a Congressional session–Burners look pretty good in comparison.

Burn On!

Burn On! image by duncan rawlinson via flickr creative commons

Burn On!
image by duncan rawlinson via flickr creative commons


  1. I was up in Reno during Burning Man also – we heard that people were leaving early because the place was infested with particularly nasty bugs – bugs so desperate for water that they were crawling into people’s eyes! Ugh! The glamour of this event is totally lost on me!

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised about the bug infestation. Wasn’t Reno a trip with all the additional color roaming the streets?

  2. I get enough burning sitting around a bonfire in my back yard.

    The ex-husband of a friend of mine was into this for years. Not sure what the allure is but if the aftermath involves lack of hygiene when hygiene is available… Maybe that’s why he’s an ex-husband. I never asked.

    1. Okay, I’ll admit to the backyard burner too. The attraction is lost on me…dirt, sweat and desert sand in every bodily orifice…gee, sign me up.

  3. If you want to experience the desert sand in Nevada, hike Sand Mountain on a full moon night, straddle the crest and feel the cool desert night air, run down it like a child and go home and shower. Best Nevada experience next to jeeping in the mountains, pushing cattle on a drive, cheering the ostrich races at Virginia City or picking gooseberries in the canyons. Those who flock to Burning Man are an invasive species to the basin and range country.

    1. I’ve heard about Sand Mountain and the Virginia City ostrich races. I’m way overdue for a Virginia City visit. And a very good call on the invasive species comparison!

      1. Try Sand Mountain in the spring or fall, as it too can grow an evasive species in the form of dune buggies and dirt bikes during the summer. Virginia City has cool pockets among its touristy outer shell. You have the perfect face for what most locals think of Burning Man!

      2. Thanks for the suggestion! And this is the first time the words perfect and my face have been in the same sentence – ever.

  4. My former roommate went last year. I’d rather stay home and watch Mad Max. And let Tina Turner be Tina Turner. Lots easier, and I have access to completely dust-free scotch.

    1. Dust-free AND insect free scotch is the only way to go…

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