50 Captivating Facts and Photos from Burning Man

By: Calla Conway | Published: Dec 29, 2021

Burning Man is an annual gathering in the deserts of the American West that celebrates individuality, creativity, and self-reliance. Summer ends in style in the Nevada Desert with a massive end-of-season event. In some ways, it’s comparable to Woodstock. However, the musical performances aren’t organized in quite the same way, and the style of music differs. Since it is an artistic endeavor, there is no cash involved at Burning Man. Instead, everyone plays as their way of contributing value.

Beautifully intricate sculptures are captured here in rich detail and artfully arranged to pique your interest and grab your attention. The main event is the burning of a giant wooden effigy known as “the Man.” The week-long celebrations come to an end with this huge bonfire. Read on to learn what goes on in between the creation and destruction of Burning Man.

1. It’s About More Than Just Burning “The Man”

Jim Glaser, a New Yorker, spoke to WaPo in 2018, describing the burn as “kaleidoscopic magic that is just huge! There’s lasers, there’s art cars, there’s flames shooting out of everything. And people do all of this for basically no money.” According to Glaser, one of the most barren regions in America “blossoms with more creativity, life and love than anything ever in the history of mankind.”

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The event draws the odd, the curious, and the experimental. Nothing is for sale in this barter and trade society. It’s about self-reliance and generosity. People travel to Black Rock Desert, two and a half hours north of Reno, to spend nine wonderful days in an open and radically inclusive society.

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2. A Summer Tradition

Larry Harvey fashioned an 8-foot human figure out of wood scraps and set it on fire on Baker Beach in 1986. A crowd of roughly 100 people gathered around the flaming effigy on the nudist beach near the Presidio military post. People ran from all directions as soon as Harvey poured gasoline on “The Man” and lit it on fire.

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In the 1990s, attendance more than doubled year after year. The week-long celebration grew from hundreds to thousands. The Burning Man sculpture grew too. The tradition was relocated to the Black Rock Desert in 1990 and now attracts thousands of visitors worldwide.

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3. The Relocation of Burning Man

The Golden Gate Police got wise and clamped down before the fifth Burning Man. Concerns about wildfires halted the event in 1990. There was no restriction on the gathering, only on the bonfire. Friends of Harvey who helped build The Man also helped him transport it to the desert.

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Former Cacophony Society members Mickel, Evans, and Law had visited the federally owned Black Rock Desert. They knew exactly where to burn the Man and save the tradition. Mickel described the group as a “randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” Those were the first Burning Man principles.

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4. Beacon of Light

More and more people joined the community each year, so organizers sought measures to ensure everyone’s safety. John Law brightened up the Burning Man sculpture with a neon tube network. It led people who had wandered into the desert back to safety like a lighthouse.

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Mikel led another initiative. He formed the Black Rock Rangers. As its commander, he earned the title “Danger Ranger.” The troops acted as a temporary police force to keep the campers secure. The Danger Rangers were sent in to break up fights and other disputes.

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5. The Black Rock Desert

Burning Man obtained a federal permit for the new site in 1991. The annual tradition had officially moved to the dry lake bed. Around 250 people attended to pay tribute to the burning effigy for the second year. Annually, more and more Burners attended, with 4,000 people showing up in 1995. 

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Word had spread far and wide by 1997, and the event gathered a record 10,000 people. Around 25,000 people visited the desert town in the year 2000. By 2010, numbers had doubled to 50,000. With a growing population, the gathering felt like a temporary city. It was soon dubbed Black Rock City.

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6. Burning Man Lingo

The Burning Man community has its own language. The blazing finale takes place on the dry lake bed, which used to have sandy beaches. The festival ground is known as the Playa, named after the beach near San Francisco, where the first Man was enveloped by a ball of fire.

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The language unites the Burner community. It’s a shared experience of similar values held together by a common language and group identity. Burners adopt “playa names” during the week and wear costumes that allow them to express themselves.

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7. The Initiation Ceremony

First-time Burners are greeted with a particular rite which includes using the term “virgin” to describe themselves. The initiation process is straightforward. “I’m not a virgin anymore!” is screamed three times by first-time visitors as they lay on the sand and roll around.

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Veteran Burners greet the new Burners with hugs once they have completed the initiation process. “Hug Deli” is a great place to get a hug if you’re a seasoned Burner in need of one.

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8. Pop Culture's Take on Burning Man

As Burning Man became more famous, its reputation as a gathering place for the weird and wonderful also grew. As a result, television shows began to introduce it into popular culture. In Malcolm in the Middle, for example, the family goes on a spectacular trip to Burning Man.

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Getty Images Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

The Simpsons, South Park, and many other cartoons and video games have taken their audiences to Burning Man. Cartman launches a violent attack on a hippy gathering when the town of South Park attends “the biggest party in the world, man.”

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9. Famous People Attend Burning Man

Though it was a small group of 12 friends who planned the first Burning Man bonfire, the festival has since grown to include a wide range of people from all walks of life. Recently, some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent names have been visiting Black Rock City.

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Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt have all been seen at Burning Man. Zuckerberg is said to have dropped in via helicopter to serve grilled cheese sandwiches. Musk has attended the event multiple times.

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10. Money Is Worthless at Burning Man

If you’re going to Burning Man, leave your money at home. Barter and trade are encouraged at Black Rock City, allowing everyone to participate in the experience together. Coffee and ice are the only products available for purchase during Burning Man.

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In contrast to commercialism, the Burning Man spirit is all about sharing. You’ll be able to get just about anything you want or need, but you’ll have to give up something in exchange. This means, aside from the necessities, you’ll need to pack a lot of goods to trade.

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11. All-Inclusive Entertainment

Though Burning Man is not exclusively a music event, multiple stages welcome musicians all week. These musicians play for fun and maybe for trade. In one year, both P. Diddy and Major Lazer played for free. 

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Burning Man is primarily attended by those seeking a good time. Everything is traded, not bought. Wine tasting, zip-lining, and massages are among the tradeable luxuries. The days are filled with dancing, cooking, art, drinking, and partying. Burning Man prohibits drugs, but with so many people in attendance, such rules are impossible to police. 

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12. Black Rock City Volunteers Are Ready to Help

In order to accommodate the sheer scale of the event, an entourage of 2,000 volunteers is gathered each year. You may rely on the members of the Camp Hook Up Service to help you with whatever you need.

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The Hook Up crew is responsible for ensuring all Burners are safe and satisfied. It is their policy to always have survival kits on hand, and these are stocked with items such as glow sticks, condoms, bandages, Gatorade, Advil, and additional lights.

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13. A Mourning Place

Each year, a caring and free-spirited community come together to provide for everyone. There’s even an area for mourning Burners. Year after year, a temple built by renowned Burning Man artist David Best is dedicated to those who are grieving.

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People can write a message to their lost loved ones and leave it at the temple. The temple is torched each year, along with the letters, as part of the event’s conclusion. Over the years, several Burners who have lost loved ones have scattered their ashes on the Playa.

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14. A Wedding Location

Black Rock City is a popular wedding destination for Burners. Thousands of people have come forward to share their vows in front of the people of the desert city. It only costs $60 per pair, and you will only need your ID to be able to proceed. 

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You can stop by the Pershing County Clerk’s office and get your marriage license on the route to Burning Man. At Burning Man, nothing is impossible. Make use of your imagination when putting together the details of your wedding.

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15. No Longer a Tent City

There are, of course, plenty of tent-based campers at Burning Man. However, there are also a few hardcore glampers. The wealthiest Burners bring luxury RVs and set up exclusive camps with security guards, cooks, air conditioning, and other amenities.

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“Billionaire’s Row” is a posh area of Burning Man that attracts high-rolling Burners from Silicon Valley and Wall Street who are looking for a secret retreat from the pressures of the office. Celebrities, sports stars, real estate developers, and others gather to eat and drink the most sumptuous cuisine and wines. Each space in “Billionaire’s Row” costs $50,000.

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16. Burning Man's Spirit Is Dim on Billionaire's Row

At the luxury campground, the sharing spirit of a trade and barter society comes to a halt. Burners who have attended the festival often believe that wealthier glampers do not have much to offer back to the community because their gourmet meals are served only to VIPs.

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Larry Harvey was against the segregated, wealthy camps as he felt they did not honor the Burning Man principles. Some wealthy Burners are with him, making their camps more like county fairs where they provide gourmet food and exquisite wine to everyone.

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17. Black Rock City's Guiding Principles

A set of basic standards was devised by the founding member, Larry Harvey, to maintain some sense of order in this extraordinary event attended by thousands of people. There are ten basic guidelines that should be followed by Burners.

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The ten principles, which serve as a reminder of the community’s ethics and the spirit of Burning Man, are based on a set of principles that the organizers came to an agreement on long before they knew how big Burning Man would become. Having guidelines is a good move to ensure peace and harmony in the community.

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18. Other Burning Man Festivals

Nowadays, there are Burning Man affiliate gatherings all over the world. The annual tradition of burning a large wooden effigy can be found in regions as far away as New Zealand, Australia, and China.

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East Coast Burners who can’t go all the way to Black Rock Desert can still participate in activities in New England, which are closer to home. Although some are not directly affiliated with the original Burning Man, the concepts and regulations they follow are very much in line with those of the Burning Man festival.

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19. Ice Cream in the Desert

Ice cream is indeed available at Burning Man now. Starting in 2012, a group of Burners has been delivering liquid nitrogen to the desert as a present to thousands of Black Rock City residents.

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In less than a year of researching, the ice cream vendors figured out how to bring enormous cryogenic tanks to the Playa and prepare the frozen treat by hand in the hot sun. Flavors include Strawberry Margarita Sorbet, Black Rock Rum Raisin, and the most peculiar of all, Burning Breakfast, which features bourbon and bacon.

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20. Self-Expression

As a concept, Radical Self-expression focuses on the individual’s unique talents and abilities. Gifts of individuality and inventiveness are appreciated. Art, jewelry, and other presents can be handmade by many people. While it is said that “the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient,” there is no limit on the sorts of gifts that can be given.

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Nudity on the Playa is undoubtedly allowed, harkening back to the previous Burning Man venue: the nudist beach at Baker Beach. In contrast to the majority of Burners, some like to go naked and exhibit their individuality.

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21. The Act of Giving

Giving is an essential part of the Burning Man experience. With the exception of ice and coffee, there is no exchange of money. Instead, people are encouraged to give gifts. It’s one big community of givers and barterers. 

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Generally speaking, the concept of gifting does not presuppose or require an exchange. However, it is common practice to exchange something of value for any act of kindness offered, service given, or valuable item shared.

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22. Discrimination Is Prohibited

The first principle is Radical Inclusion. It essentially means that anyone can become a Burner. The official definition, which may be seen on the Burning Man website, is “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

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Burning Man is a place where everyone is welcome. It is prohibited to discriminate against anyone or anything for any reason. It must be a breath of fresh air to be in a place where you can feel such a welcoming ambiance.

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23. Principle of Decommodification

Promotional and commercial endorsement deals are prohibited in the spirit of gifting. The principle of decommodification aims to safeguard the Burner culture from being exploited for commercial gain in any way. 

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To get straight to the point, don’t hold your breath for a Starbucks to open up on the festival grounds anytime soon. The bartering community meets the needs and desires of all its members. Sharing is praised, and caring is appreciated as well.

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24. Self-Reliance Rules on the Playa

According to the Radical Self-reliance Principle, individuals rely on their own internal resources. In accordance with the official description, “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

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You are only as great as your inner spirit, and you are encouraged to discover more about your inner self at Burning Man. Furthermore, Burners are required to be self-sufficient. You must cater to your own needs. Preparing a shelter and bringing sufficient food, water, and other essentials is on you.

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25. A Communal Effort

Burning Man places great importance on teamwork and creative interaction among its participants. As stated in the Communal Effort principle, “We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.”

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It is important for Burners to look out for one another. This also helps ensure that everyone is safe and has access to the necessities of life. Whenever someone is in need, the entire community comes to their assistance. 

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26. The “Leave No Trace” Principle

In order to adhere to the Leave No Trace concept, participants are expected to clean up after themselves and respect the environment. The dry lake bed should be left in a better condition than when it was found.

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An entire temporary city that houses 80,000 campers can be put up and taken down in only two weeks. At Burning Man 2019, the bleak desert was transformed into a busy city before returning to its original state as a dusty, barren surface. While Burning Man 2020 and 2021 took place online, the desert city will rise once again in the future. 

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27. Things That Don't Belong

Litter is referred to as “moop” in Burning Man slang. Before the start time, volunteers clean any moop that may have been unintentionally dropped during the build. Having the desert floor free of moop serves as an example for arriving Burners to embrace the Leave No Trace philosophy.

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There must be no moop left on the site after the event. Everything, even human excrement, falls under this category. A $125 fee is levied on anyone who does not utilize the porta-potties. On the Playa, moop and dung have no place.

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28. The Truth About Burning Man’s Diversity

Even though the Burning Man ideology emphasizes inclusivity, acceptance, and respect for all people, the gathering itself is surprisingly homogeneous. White people dominate the crowd at this counterculture gathering. 

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A poll in 2014 indicated that 87 percent of Burners were Caucasian. Only 6% of attendees identified as Latino, and 6% of Burners identified as Asian. The black population was the least represented, with fewer than 1 percent of Burners identifying as being of African descent.

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29. Radical Participatory

A radical participation principle is fostered, and everyone is asked to engage and expected to do so. According to the principle, “We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.”

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Burners believe deeds that open people’s hearts bring the world to life and give it purpose. Members hold this value in high regard since it allows them to feel appreciated and welcomed by one another.

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30. Playa Names

For Burners, the Playa name is a creative way to experiment with their identity. Burning Man is an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture by taking on a new identity for the duration of the festival.

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Cooking enthusiast Sauté claims she adopted the Playa name because of her passion for cuisine. Although the community generally hands out playa names, some people use the temporary appellation to define personal attributes and connect with the Burning Man festival experience.

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31. Transcending Personal Obstacles

Organizers believe that participants will be able to transcend their own personal and external barriers and live in the present moment. The human and natural worlds can be bridged through direct experience. It’s all about freedom.

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It’s all about “the experience” and how it’s more important than any concept or theory. Imagination is not a substitute for real-world immersion. As a part of the Burning Man experience, participants live as one with nature and a community of people who aim for love, acceptance, and immediacy.

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32. Is There a Shower at Burning Man?

Yes. That’s the short answer. However, the nature of this shower requires a little more explanation. Before entering the Foam Against The Machine tent, be aware that it is not a private bath. It’s been described as a human car wash. Burners enter the big top tent, walk through the water and foam, and emerge clean on the other side.

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It’s a form of non-sexual nudity, and you will be exposed in front of a large group of people. You must also adhere to the non-sexual rules. Foam Against The Machine volunteers reminded people that “just because someone is naked does not mean you may touch, grab, or do anything else.”

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33. Drugs Are Prohibited at Burning Man

Laws enacted by the federal, state, and local governments still apply to the Black Rock Desert. Enforcing the law is another matter. Only 43 drug arrests were made during the 2018 festival, despite the fact that the event drew over 70,000 people.

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If a proposed drug screening protocol for the Burning Man entrance arch is implemented, things could become a little hairy for future Burners. According to police officials, 99 percent of people receive no citations from the police officers who do security patrols.

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34. Decorative Bikes at Burning Man

If you’re going to Burning Man, you’ll need wheels of some sort to get around. Getting around this festival on a bicycle is perfect. You can use it as a mode of transportation and a means of self-expression while you’re visiting. Ornate displays of uniqueness are standard for Burner bikes. 

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Getty Images Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

Decorating your bike helps it stand out among the thousands of other bikes at the event, making it easier to spot. Popular bike-decor options include dust shields and brightly-colored lighting. Lighting is essential in the dark. 

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35. Photographs from Burning Man

If you’ve never been to Burning Man, you’re missing out on a unique opportunity to snap some stunning images. Photographers are welcome; after all, it’s a Radically Inclusive event. However, photographers must obey some guidelines.

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The first guideline of photography etiquette is “Ask First.” Consent is necessary before taking photos. It’s especially important when someone’s privacy is at risk due to full or partial nudity. Photographing illicit activities is likewise forbidden.

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36. Burning Time

Artists devote themselves to Burning Man sculptures. A single artwork can take a year to develop. At the end of the event, the artist watches as their labor of love burns. Through the years, Burning Man art has matured. Playa art has risen to the level of an abstract art exhibit in just a few years.

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In 2019, the Smithsonian opened an exhibit called No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. According to Burning Man lore, artists whose work is recognized by judges are given a kiss in appreciation for their efforts. They receive no additional reward.

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37. The Bliss Dance

Marco Cochrane introduced the audience to this fantastic and vibrant dancer sculpture. The 40-foot-tall, 7,000-pound artwork, titled “Bliss Dance,” was displayed at the Burning Man festival in 2010. It was lit by 1,000 LED lights, which made the sculpture extra impressive at night.

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In front of this inferno-like sunset, the dancer takes on an otherworldly aura. The judges of the festival favored Bliss Dance. The artist was born in Italy and grew up in California during the Civil Rights era. With his artwork, Cochrane aims to empower women.

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38. Bat Country

Climbing all over this massive edifice offered an opportunity for Burners to express their inner children. Bat Country was a piece of art that stood 21 feet tall. It was selected as one of the Honorarium Art Projects for the 2013 Burning Man festival.

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The beautiful climbing structure comprised 384 aluminum baseball bats and 130 individual softballs, the latter of which were employed as joints to hold everything together. Mathematicians will appreciate Bat Country, which is a third-generation representation of a Sierpinski tetrahedron.

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39. The Giant Flaming Octopus

This is one of the most unusual automobiles to have ever driven on the Playa. This contraption is unlike any other, with its most prominent feature being its crown of enormous fiery tentacles. It’s a flamethrower that stands 25 feet tall. In 2011, it made its first appearance at Burning Man.

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In Spanish, the Giant Flaming Octopus is called El Pulpo Mecanico. A 1973 Ford F-250 pickup truck serves as the basis for this work of art and technology. It takes 200 gallons of propane a night to power the giant artwork, which lives in Humboldt County for most of the year. The Burning Man crew raised money to bring her back.

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40. The Shark Mobile

One of the most famous features of the event is the decoration of vehicles in order to create mobile works of art. One of these outstanding rides is this magnificent great white shark on wheels, which features neon accents.

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The shark mobile was built for Burning Man 2012 and was a huge success. This giant great white shark is designed to help Burners overcome their phobia of sharks by allowing them to crawl inside its gut and peer through its razor-sharp teeth to see where they’re going. Most importantly, it allows them to have a fantastic time exploring the Playa.

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41. The Sonic Runway

This is yet another exclusive from Burning Man. It’s a kaleidoscope of light and sound, throbbing in perfect harmony. It’s known as the Sonic Runway, and it’s made up of 32 circular steel arches illuminated by LEDs.

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The arches’ lights flicker at near-lightning speed. The exhibit’s purpose is to depict soundwaves in a visual form. Considering that the Sonic Runway is 1,000 feet long, a single beat can travel the Runway in around a second, according to the experts at the Sonic Runway.

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42. The Eternal Carousel

This enormous sculpture is the size of an amusement park ride. It revolves on its axis endlessly. Only the artist knows what this piece is supposed to signify, but if you ask us, it has a psychedelic jellyfish vibe.

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It isn’t easy to discern if the image depicts an amusement park attraction, a deep ocean creature, or something else entirely. What if it represents a whirling death carousel or perhaps the masterpiece of a gloating serial killer? We may never know.

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43. A Culture of Giving

Since Burning Man is all about giving, the gifts have an infinite worth to everyone there. Giving does not necessitate the exchange of something of equal worth for something of the same value. It’s all up to the people involved in the exchange. 

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Attendees at Burning Man are encouraged to rely on gifts rather than money. Bartering “favors” was a common practice among early Burners in an underground economy that rebelled against capitalism. Although this underground market was once authorized by the Burning Man organization, it is now officially discouraged.

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44. Not a Festival

The organizers are adamant that this is not a festival. They claim they are held together by a committed community and a set of organizational norms and principles. Let’s take a look at some more details about this event that may seem like a festival, even though they are strictly against such a term.

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Conceived initially as a bonfire amongst friends in San Francisco, Burning Man has grown into an international event enjoyed by modern-day hippies as well as web tycoons and other corporate executives.

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45. Surprisingly Expensive

Some Burners claim to be rebellious outcasts from a capitalist society, but elite attendees may be found in every corner. In a recent survey, over 79% of the visitors were found to be Caucasian, and their average annual household income was over $94,000, more than double the US national average. Luxuries are brought to Burning Man by the wealthy and famous.

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Attendees who are particularly well-off may bring their own private jets or choppers to the festival. On a deserted road, volunteers put together the Black Rock City Airport a week before the event begins to make it easier for visitors to arrive.

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46. Welcome to Rainbowland

The 2012 Burning Man festival’s entrance was lit with a rainbow-colored arch. The third eye invited Burners to concentrate and look inside as they embarked on their “spiritual” journey. But you had to pay to traverse the rainbow’s lighted path. 

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Tickets for Burning Man start at $425. Another reason it’s preferable to ride a bike is that driving costs an additional $100. Those under the age of 12 are not required to pay for their admission. You can buy presale tickets for $1,400 each in March to guarantee a spot at the next Burning Man before it sells out. 

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47. Plug and Play

Accommodation is available in a variety of price ranges to suit different budgets. Tents and van camping are the preferred lodging options for the majority of participants. There are many more people who have formed tiny communities called theme camps.

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Initially, these camps were established as a way for groups of Burners to create venues for participatory experiences while also providing a safe haven. Luxurious camping grounds that came to be known as “plug and play” camps eventually found their way to the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man.

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48. Burn, Burn, Burn

The burning of artwork has become a yearly ritual, and it takes place in the evening on the final day of the festival. Another custom is that people inscribe personal inscriptions on the piece’s surfaces, which has been carried on through all of the temple’s iterations.

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People often gather around the bonfire, which results in the shape of a campfire. The initial formation of the camp was not explicitly designed but evolved naturally from the conventional campfire circle that served as its focal point.

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49. The Burning of the Man

The symbolic burning of “The Man” marks the culmination of the week-long celebration. Standing at the main stage, the core of the Burning Man campground, “The Man” gazes over the community. Everyone congregates around the structure on the final night.

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The effigy is ignited by a pyrotechnic display, with Burners clapping and cheering as the flames spread. The Man is typically 40 feet tall, but in 2019, 80,000 Burners watched a 60-foot high man burn down.

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50. Burning the Man

The Man must be burned after eight days of blissful community existence. A large crowd of Burners gathers around the giant wood structure to witness the ceremonial event. It is quite the collective experience.

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Taking a bird’s eye perspective of Black Rock City on the penultimate night of Burning Man, drones are now able to capture the surreal cultural phenomenon from above. New technology and advancements help make Burning Man an increasingly unique event year after year.

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