Updated September 3, 2020
By Jeryl and David Marcus
Every year in August we pack our camping gear and head to the Black Rock desert just outside of the little town of Gerlach, Nevada. We are among the 70,000 people (yes: 70,000!) who trek to this dry lakebed located 140 miles North of Reno, Nevada. Once a year, on this remote and desolate piece of land Black Rock City rises from the dust to become the temporary home of Burning Man.
The week-long event begins the last week of August through Labor Day. Participants bring everything they will need: all the necessities to spend seven days in the desert. We attended Burning Man for the first time in 2010. At that time, the event attracted 50,000 people. Over the past ten years it has grown to become the largest participant-driven event in the world.
With the flat desert “playa” as our canvas, we build the city together. There are dramatic, over-the-top art pieces; music performed by both novices and professionals, performance art, workshops, lectures — you name it. Burning Man has it all. The number of activities is overwhelming. It’s like every festival you’ve ever been to – only on steroids!
The imposing wooden structure that is The Man looms out of the dust as the focal point of Burning Man. The event comes to a dramatic close when The Man structure is ceremoniously consumed in an explosion of flames and fireworks.
There are also “Regional Burns” held at various times of the year in communities all across the globe, from New Zealand to Israel –and on nearly every continent with the exception of the Antarctica.
Some Burning Man terms to know:
The Burn – Refers to the Burning Man event as in: “Are you going to the burn this year? “
The playa – The flat desert landscape that is the setting for the annual burn. The playa is the canvas upon which Burners create their temporary world.
MOOP – the acronym for “Matter Out of Place” otherwise known as litter and trash. Burners never leave MOOP behind.
Burner – someone who has attended Burning Man. Burners share a special bond.
Home – What we call Burning Man as a destination. Coined to encompass the general disconnect from the outside world. “Welcome Home!” is a traditional greeting upon arrival.
Default world –the place in which we live for the rest of the year when we aren’t at Burning Man
Black Rock City – the name of the community that is the temporary home to Burning Man
Burning Man goes digital!
The 2020 event was projected to be the largest yet; and then COVID 19 happened. By the middle of March, we knew that hosting an event with 72,000 attendees in the middle of the Blackrock Desert was untenable.
In normal times, we take off for our annual trek to the Black Rock desert in August. This year, we head to Burning Man by way of virtual reality! Leave it to burners to create an alternative Burning Man Universe. We, along with thousands of others around the world can now attend and participate in the burn virtually. There are eight recognized virtual worlds – or “multiverses” created by some of the most inventive people in the world. You can learn about each universe at: https://journal.burningman.org/2020/07/news/official-announcements/new-universes-discovered-in-the-multiverse/
All will be open and populated with intrepid adventurers during Burn Week beginning August, 30th and ending September 6, 2020.
El Paso native Doug Jacobson, is a founder of Black Rock Creative Virtual Reality (BRCvr). BRCvr is supported by AltspaceVR, a free virtual reality platform where you can meet and socially engage with others in real-time. The BRCvr is a recognized universe of the Burning Man Multiverse and is one of eight virtual universes. Please email email@example.com if you have any questions or need help entering BRCvr!
In order to experience this world’s art, events and to interact with other burners you will need the appropriate hardware. Some are accessible through any broadband connection and some require full virtual reality headsets to experience the full 3D effect.
Black Rock City in virtual reality is a magical journey. And next year, perhaps we’ll see you in the dust in Black Rock City, Nevada!
We invite you to take a moment to visit our El Paso/Las Cruces Facebook page. Look for “Border Burners.” Border Burners meet periodically throughout the year, but even more often as August rolls around.
One cool clear afternoon, we rode our tricked out bicycles- covered in lights, fur and flowers – and rode out to the Man where we parked our bikes, and climbed to a landing place on the structure. From this perch, we gazed over the landscape. As the sun was about to sink below the horizon, a coyote like howl rose from the playa as thousands of gatherers took a moment to pause and hail the sunset as coyotes do in the wild.
Jeryl and David Marcus are the Regional Contacts for Burning Man. Find our group on Facebook at Border Burners or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive periodic information, updates and to ask to join our listserve.
In any other year since 1999, Burning Man has been the Home to hundreds of thousands of Burners. This year, in the midst of the pandemic, the gathering was cancelled. But leave it to Burner creativity and gumption, Burning Man lives on in the virtual reality environment. El Paso native Doug Jacobson helped make it happen. See Wired article about how his team used the Altspace platform to transform the desert experience.