Aug 29, 2022 - News

Burning Man returns to the playa

Burning Man
Two people embrace on the playa. Photo: Jordan England-Nelson/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register, via Getty Images

About 80,000 people descended on a dry desert roughly 100 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada, this past weekend to participate in a cultural phenomenon with roots in San Francisco.

What's happening: Burning Man.

  • After a three-year hiatus from the playa, the nine-day event — described as "a city," "not a festival" — started Sunday, running through the coming Labor Day weekend.

Context: Burning Man originated in 1986 on San Francisco's Baker Beach when two friends built an 8-foot "man" out of scrap lumber, doused it with gasoline, and set it on fire in front of a group of around 35 people.

  • The Golden Gate Park Police eventually raised concerns over the annual fires, and by the early 1990s, the event found a new home in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
  • Burning Man revolves around 10 principles, including "radical self-reliance," "radical self-expression" and "radical inclusion."
  • Famously, there are no trash cans in the pop-up city — known as Black Rock City — since one of its principles is "leaving no trace."

Why it matters: A return to the playa — and all its eccentricities — is, ironically, a return to normalcy for many.

Last week, Adam Simons, a San Francisco resident who attended his first Burning Man in 2000, told us "most people are really excited to get back."

  • "A lot of these friends are friends that we really don't get to see except for at the Burn," he said. "People in San Francisco are particularly happy because we're here all summer in the fog and then we get out there and it's real summer for the first time."

Details: Burning Man 2022 marks Simons' 14th trip to Black Rock City, and for the past decade or so, he's been a part of "Salty Jacks" — a nautical-themed camp that "functions as a bar and dance club," he said.

  • The camp also has a "mutant vehicle," described by Simons as a "heavily modified bus" that drives around the playa, plays music and picks people up who want to go on "cruises."

What they're saying: "There's like 1,000 different scenes going on out there [in the desert] and a lot of them are [put on by people from San Francisco]," Simons said. "So it's pretty cool to go out there and see a different version of the city's creativity."

  • By the numbers: In 2019, the last time Burning Man happened in the desert, just over 10% of the 78,850 people there were from San Francisco, a Burning Man spokesperson told Axios.

As for the drive to Black Rock City, Simons says from San Francisco it can take about seven hours to get there and about seven hours of waiting in the car to enter.

  • "You just got to be prepared for a long haul," he said. "Once you're there it's kind of best to just be present and have your vacation start in line."
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