What It Was Like to Go to Burning Man With My Parents
I never joined. I was pretty sure I never needed to see my 60-year-old father scantily clad, drinking slushy cocktails, and smoking hookah in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
This year, though, my father explicitly extended an invitation to me and my mother, and somehow I couldn't resist the call to Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis erected every year in an uninhabited dust bowl.
I joined my parents four days after the festival began. Leading up to my arrival, I received cryptic text messages from my father, including “find us at 445 and E, Pineapple Motel.” It took nearly two hours for me to find my parents. When I did, they were chatting with two naked men and drinking Bloody Marys.
Burning Man is surreal, to say the least. Tens of thousands of people congregate in the middle of a wasteland to form a temporary community. During the event, the whimsical art installations (towering pagodas, askew lighthouses rising out of the dust, a giant kaleidoscopic whale) provide a fitting backdrop. Most of the scenery is literally burned when the festival ends.
My parents and I rode bicycles around the massive complex, and danced with strangers while a bus in the shape of a dragon breathed fire in time with the music. Perhaps the only thing more outrageous than the festival itself was experiencing all the madness with the people who raised me. But it very quickly began to feel normal, even as we got lost in the very fluffy Billion Bunny March.
Together, my parents and I became something like burners—or at least Sparkle Ponies. And we're already looking forward to returning to the playa. Below, my favorite shots from the experience.
The snake heads on this 27-foot-tall Medusa could spew fire at a rate of 100 gallons of propane per hour while her eyes blinked, rolled, and glowed.
Riders in the Storm
Biking is one of the primary ways of getting between installations on the playa.
Almost all the art structures at Burning Man are fully interactive—it's not uncommon to find burners sleeping, climbing, dancing, and doing yoga on the artworks.
Black Rock Lighthouse Service.
This structure, which guided burners around the playa in the dark, was burned at the end of the event.
These serpentine dust storms appear frequently in the desert. Often, when the art structures are ceremoniously burned, dust devils intertwine with the embers to form miniature, flaming tornadoes.
An open-air art exhibition on the playa.
My mother, wearing a fuzzy hat with attached mittens, takes a deep breath as sun sets on the playa.
My father, riding a bicycle at the edge of the playa.
Art becomes increasingly out-of-this-world at Burning Man. Here, Space Cars read: We Are Here For Daft Punk.
Whole families—not unlike mine—spend time in Black Rock City.
My father, waiting for a tow truck. Our rental car engine was clogged with playa dust.
My mother and father watch the sun set over Black Rock City.