Burning Man Festival: Tips For Surviving the Desert

A guide for surviving extreme weather conditions.

ByLyneka Little
August 30, 2011, 4:54 PM

Aug. 31, 2011— -- Are you headed out to the desert? It's that time of the year again. The Burning Man Festival has begun and 50,000 people will head to the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles North of Reno, to build an experimental art community while weathering extreme conditions.

"Conditions here range from excellent to treacherous," said Jake Markow, a Seattle resident and fourth year attendee. "There is no doubt the desert is a difficult place to survive, but something about the openness and emptiness seems to make people want to fill it with themselves."

In a the makeshift city of 50,000, people are invited to openly express themselves through art and other means. "Not everyone accepts that invitation, but enough do that you see amazing new things every year," said Markow, who is currently at Black Rock desert as the team leader for the Temple of Transition.

"I think that the emptiness and harshness of the desert really makes us look inside of ourselves, takes us out of our comfort zone and allows for that opening to happen. "

To participate in the Burning Man event attendees shelled out up to $350 per person for the weeklong desert event. On Stubhub, only one ticket is available to the desert art event that sold out for the first time ever this year. The price? $895. It's a hot ticket event where members of the makeshift communities gather from Aug 29 to Sept 5 to practice the 10 principles of the organization such as radical inclusion, gifting, decommidification, radical self-reliance and more.

"It is amazing how overwhelmingly huge in scale the desert can be, and it is quite inspiring to wander toward a tiny speck out in the distance and find it to be some delightful new kind of art you have never seen or experience before," said Markow.

Artists, musicians, painters, and observers that converge in the desert to take part in the 25-year-old event are required to leave no trace, including dirty water, of their presence when the event is over.

The super fine sand and dirt can become a gummy mud when mixed with water, and attendees are expected to have no impact on the desert.

"It's this flat, white ancient lake bed so for as far as you can see there is no blade of grass, ant or even a rock . It's an unbelievable canvas with huge art pieces," says Jen Lewin, an artist from Boulder, Colo., who began attending the event in 1996. "The art is much more open, and accessible at the festival," said Lewin. "If it's a sculpture it's intended to be climbed and touched. Much of the art is meant to be touched or climbed, which can be any other organizations insurance nightmare."

One huge part of the festival is the Temple, which will eventually burn at the event. A large-scale project that requires months of planning and 80 days to complete is a journey of the human spirit.

"People leave offerings, pictures, they write on the Temple walls, and what you see there is this amazing expression of the entirety of the human spirit. You see pain and sorrow as well as joy and ecstasy," says Markow.

"When the Temple burns there is utter silence, just the sound of fire and the participants around it going through every range of emotion you can imagine you can image and then some. And that transition between moments of intense celebration and intense reverence really reveals a side of Burning Man that many who have never been to a Temple burn would likely never imagine," he continued.

We took a peek at the Burning Man Website Survival Guide, talked to attendees, and spoke to Bethany Drysdale, a spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Tourism, to create an Ultimate Survival Guide for the week-long festival:

Water: Festival organizers require 1.5 gallons of water per day for drinking, washing and cooking. "It's the desert," says Drysdale, "dehydration is a serious concern."

Gatorade: Drinks such as Gatorade, Smart Water and other thirst quenchers can help because it's "very easy to become dehydrate and not be aware," says Drysdale. Look for drinks with electrolytes when packing up for the festival in the desert.

Headlamp or Flashlight: Attendees can use light to walk around the big, open desert that is Black Rock City. At night there are dark corners, portable lighting devices can help you travel from camp to camp or see your surroundings.

Sit During Dust Storms: During a dust storm visibility can go from perfectly clear to zero in a couple of minutes, says Dysdale. "If it's dark, and a dust storm starts, you want to sit down." Dust storms vary in length, lasting anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour in Black Rock City. "Last year, over the course of the week, we had two really serious dust storms and then little flurries that would kick up," says Drysdale.

First Aid Kit: The Burning Man festival organizers make first aid preparations mandatory. Make sure your kit includes items such as band aids, gauze, ointment and other medical supplies.

Goggles: During a dust storm goggles can help to keep the dust out of your eyes and make it easier to see.

Painters Mask/Dust Mask: "I once used a bandana for protection but I got into trouble when I was stuck in a bad dust storm. [Due to limited protection], I ended up coughing up dust," says Lewin. Remember: Keep a mask on your person.

RV or Tent: Sleeping arrangements are required by the organization. "An RV is obviously much nicer because Burning Man is a leave no trace festival," says Lewin. A typical camping trip allows campers to dispose of normal dirty water on the group but at Burning Man dirty, or grey, water must be retained and disposed of outside of the desert. Unlike a tent, an RV provides holding tanks to store dirty water. If you bring a tent, "take some pop up shades to put over you tent because tents bake in the shade all day," said Drysdale. "Placing something over the tent would help."

Sunscreen:"There is absolutely no shade other than what you bring for yourself," said Drysdale.

Hat: Bring a hat for extra protection from the sun's rays.

Food: Self-explanatory. The dine in or dine out experience is not an option the desert. The organizations survival guide makes enough food and beverage for your group a must.

Baby Wipes: The bathrooms at large scale events can become quite messy. Baby wipes offer a quick solution if you're stay requires porta-potty usage. Also, dirty hands or feet, can be cleansed using these wipes that minimize waste and water use.

A Bike: There is quite a distance between camps. If you're looking for an easy way to transport your goggles, water, and dust mask, a bike is an easy option.

A Portable Bag or Bike Basket: A basket for your bike or a small portable bag to store necessary desert items is a plus. "Burning Man is really, really big," said Lewin. "You can very easily go off and be looking at art and be a couple of miles from you camp. You really need to think through everything you need when you go out. You can't just grab a bottle of water."Wear Socks and Shoes: There's a condition on the camp called Playa Foot, says Drysdale. "Your feet crack because of the dry climate, and the dust can get into your feet and cause an infection," says Drysdale. Wearing shoes and socks as much as possible to keep your feet protected and apply a really rich lotion on your feet at night.

Check-In: Use the camp's intermittent wifi to send an email to friends or relatives.

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