Burning Man 2023: A Chaotic and Muddy Adventure in the Black Rock Desert
The Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, Nevada, was the site of an extraordinary event in 2023 – Burning Man. This annual gathering, known for its art, self-expression, and community, attracted tens of thousands of people from all over the world. However, this year's Burning Man was unlike any other, as heavy rains turned the desert into a sludgy wasteland, leaving attendees stranded and struggling to navigate the muddy terrain.
The troubles began on Friday, September 1, when torrential rain, spurred by a late-August hurricane and the onset of monsoon season, transformed Black Rock City and the surrounding desert into a muddy mess. The festival organizers were forced to cancel most of the scheduled events and performances, and roads in and out of the area were closed. This left attendees, including celebrities like Diplo and Chris Rock, stuck in the mud, rationing their food and waiting for the main road to open on Monday.
During this chaotic period, wild rumors spread among the attendees. Some believed there was an Ebola contagion, which turned out to be false. However, there was some truth to the rumors of a condition called “playa foot,” caused by the alkaline soil touching the skin and resulting in chemical burns.
The rain and subsequent flooding caught many festival-goers off guard, but experts say that events like this are predicted consequences of climate change. The desert floor, usually hot and dusty, turned into a thick mud that made driving impossible. People were instructed to shelter in place, conserve resources, and wait for the conditions to improve.
The festival finally ended on Monday, September 4th, when the ground began to dry, and attendees were able to leave. Many shared their experiences online, with Diplo and Chris Rock documenting their escape on Instagram. Diplo mentioned walking for hours with his thumb out, hitching a ride with a stranger to make it to his show in DC that night. He also praised someone for making the smart purchase of a truck, not knowing it would come in handy during this exact moment.
The flooding and mud created significant challenges for Burning Man's temporary city, Black Rock City. It became a test of endurance and resilience for the attendees, as they had to shelter in place, ration supplies, and find alternative ways to navigate the muddy landscape. Triops, also known as dinosaur shrimp, even emerged from the bog to join the chaotic scene.
Burning Man has evolved significantly since its humble beginnings in 1986. Originally a gathering of San Francisco counterculture types, it has transformed into a playground for the wealthy, particularly tech moguls from Silicon Valley. However, this year's events, with the flooding and mud, felt like a punishment for the hubris of the ultra-rich. It was a reminder that even the most extravagant events can be humbled by the forces of nature.
The festival's environmental impact has also come under scrutiny in recent years. Burning Man has set a goal of becoming “carbon negative” by 2030, but achieving this seems challenging, given the event's size and resource requirements. The festival's principles of gifting, self-reliance, and decommodification remain in place, but the demographic of attendees has shifted, with more wealthy individuals seeking unique experiences.
Despite the challenges, Burning Man continues to attract a massive crowd each year. Over 70,000 people attended the 2023 event, making it one of the largest gatherings in the festival's history. The festival's website describes it as a global ecosystem of artists, makers, and community organizers who come together to co-create art and events. While this year's Burning Man was marked by mud and chaos, it remains an unparalleled experience for those seeking self-expression and connection in the desert.
As the festival came to an end, it was marred by a tragic incident. On September 1st, a man was found unresponsive at Burning Man, and despite efforts to revive him, he was pronounced dead. The cause of death is still under investigation, but drug intoxication is suspected.
Burning Man 2023 will be remembered as a tumultuous and challenging year. The weather, the mud, and the unexpected obstacles tested the resilience of attendees, but it also served as a reminder of the importance of adaptability and community in the face of adversity. The event may have evolved and faced criticism over the years, but its core principles and the spirit of self-expression continue to attract people from all walks of life. Burning Man remains an enigmatic and transformative experience in the heart of the Black Rock Desert.
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1. “Burning Man's climate reckoning has begun” Grist, 5 Sep. 2023, https://grist.org/culture/burning-man-protest-mud-geothermal
2. “What happened at Burning Man: The flameout, explained” Vox.com, 6 Sep. 2023, https://www.vox.com/culture/2023/9/6/23861675/burning-man-2023-mud-stranded-climate-change-playa-foot
3. “‘Burning Man' Attendees Finally Leave Festival Grounds” Esquire, 5 Sep. 2023, https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/music/a44999297/burning-man-festival-attendees-mud-rain
4. “Burning Man 2023 Is a Climate-Crisis Parable” Bloomberg, 6 Sep. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2023-09-06/burning-man-festival-2023-is-a-climate-crisis-parable
5. “Why Burning Man attendees struggling with flooding sparked such joy” MSNBC, 4 Sep. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/burning-man-2023-flood-joy-rcna103400
6. “Diplo and Chris Rock Escape Burning Man Festival After Catching Ride in Fan’s Pickup Truck” Hollywood Reporter, 3 Sep. 2023, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lifestyle/lifestyle-news/diplo-chris-rock-escape-burning-man-festival-rainfall-mud-weather-1235580942/
7. “Burning Man Victim Identified as 32-Year-Old Man as Festival ‘Exodus' Delayed by Massive Traffic Jam” PEOPLE, 5 Sep. 2023, https://people.com/burning-man-victim-identified-32-year-old-man-7965445
8. “Ram truck goes viral making way through muddy Burning Man” Business Insider, 6 Sep. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/ram-1500-trx-truck-goes-viral-burning-man-2023-9
9. “Burning Man: Pershing County Sheriff releases name of man who died at festival” Reno Gazette Journal, 5 Sep. 2023, https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2023/09/04/burning-man-pershing-county-sheriff-releases-name-of-man-who-died-at-festival/70763335007
10. “Burning Man 2023: Drugs Suspected in Death of California Man” The San Francisco Standard, 5 Sep. 2023, https://sfstandard.com/2023/09/05/burning-man-2023-death-suspected-cause-identity-released