2004 was my first burn. For years I wanted to go out to the playa, but I had never managed to pull it off. It seemed I was condemned to hear about it once a year; usually the week after it ended.
I was first introduced to Burning Man in 1996. A friend I knew in San Francisco was building some kind of a project for which he was collecting old doors. As fate would have it I came across a stack of old wooden doors. I knew that Fred would be pleased. I loaded them up and took them over to drop them off. He was ecstatic.
“Hey Tone,” he said after he thanked me profusely. “Maybe you ought to think of coming out to the burn and helping me put this thing up.”
“The burn?” I said, inquisitively. “What the heck is the burn?”
“It’s this crazy art festival out in the desert. All these artists and musicians go out there for one week and set up art and do whatever the hell they want for seven days. At the end of the week they set everything on fire and then they go home.”
“Wow. That sounds pretty cool. Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Thought so. We’ll have plenty of room so you’re welcome to come with us.”
“When is it anyway?”
“In August. You have to bring—”
I held up my hand. “Wait. Didn’t you just say August?”
“Right, the last week of August.”
“And didn’t you just say the desert?”
“Yeah,” Fred said. “It’s in Nevada, out in the Black Rock desert.”
“Isn’t it kind of hot though?”
“Oh hell yeah. It hits in the hundreds every day.”
“Uh uh,” I murmured.
“Uh uh, what?”
“No way in hell I’m going out to the desert in August. You’re crazy.”
From that point on I kept hearing about it and how much I was missing. When I moved to the Sacramento back in 1999 I realized that the heat there really wasn’t any more severe than the heat here during the last week of August.
One year after another I missed the event. That is until 2004. Things converged and for the first time I was reminded that the burn was approaching two weeks before it actually started. I bought a ticket, packed my truck and headed out to the desert.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what Burning Man is and what it is not. Burning Man is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t all fun and games. It’s a lot of work out in one of the harshest environments you are likely to find on this planet.
I have heard people—usually people who have never been to Burning Man—refer to it as a bunch of dirty hippies running around naked for a week long party in the desert.
To generalize Burning Man in that manner is ridiculous. Burning Man is like any other large city on this planet—only more concentrated. Anything you can find in a city you can find there. The irony is that when you look out beyond the city limits you see a flat desert plain.
In fact, if you have a firm understanding of irony, you are half way to understanding what Burning Man is. Ten words that describe Burning Man: Irony, passion, beauty, danger, love, enthusiasm, amazement, discovery, emotional and sensational.
I like to say, A picture is worth a thousand words, like being there is worth ten thousand pictures.
I added several hundred more images to the 2004 Burning Man image gallery.