skies glowered menacingly and one could see the weather was a
good deal worse not so far away. Warm gusty winds drove dust along
and one occasionally felt a sprinkle of rain. In the course of
the day the clouds steadily evaporated under the sunlight, the
last remnant of the stormy trend of recent days. The Playa surface
changes dramatically in character with the weather. This year
a storm in early July drenched a relatively dust free firm
surface and created a layer of mud perhaps 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick
which contracted as it dried resulting in a vast carpet of little
platelets with upturned edges. Trodding or driving on them crushed
the cracker like platelets into powder, exposing more loose dust
below. This resulted in a continuous presence of dusty conditions,
particularly from the entry route as in previous years although
water trucks kept much of the dust down. There were times when
I considered taking my goggles and mask when I ventured out, but
I rarely did so. In practice I could effectively use my head cover
sheet fabric to breath through and even to protect cameras, and
when one really needed goggles there was nothing to see anyway.
There were fewer dust devils this year considering the winds, but one massive twister seen Tuesday drove a billowing shroud around itself like a wide tornado, towering hundreds of feet over its opaque base, thickening with height and swaying like a ghostly giant cobra being charmed.
On the way out to see the man the first time Tuesday, Mike and I were chosen by a small group of people recruiting members to dance in a circle right then and there. After a minute of further hunting, during which I nearly decided to move on, we got it together, clasped hands, and ran around my little camera bag singing and laughing. We then broke it up, exchanged hugs, and I moved on richer by one nice experience. There was really no place I ever had to be at any given time and I was starting to know it. I paid visits to two groups of friends and expected to see more. It was very hard to arrange to meet anybody anywhere, but I did separately run into two people who had gone last year, both friends of my step son (and member of the band Oranger) Matt Harris, who had planned to attend but couldn't make it this year.
Once the travel and camp setup is complete the realization slowly creeps in about where you are, until at some point it hits you like a remembrance of a dream presence from your youth. One feels free of everything the outside world can do to you, nobody can reach you and for a while the entire outside world can go to hell and it matters nothing in the here and now. My first sense of truly being there took place while wandering out into the emptiness Tuesday afternoon, my first full day there. Somewhere along the walk into the vast flatness I left behind every worry I had. The hot wind screeched its welcome to me and the dusty tendrils ruffled my ankles.
The Man was up and fully lit at the start of the event, but finishing touches were being applied until Tuesday night, hammering and welding taking place even as people were permitted to climb up the base. The clouds had largely disappeared but a group just beyond the mountains broke up the last golden glow of sunlight in the dusty air into bright overlapping beams fanning out to invisibility overhead. There were vast coral pink rays of light and darker blue turquoise shadows seen converging in the East which persisted for several minutes. For a while the deepening twilight lit the beginning of the night time existence, and I spent those few magic minutes trying to make images showing both the lights and the surrounding scenery.
On Tuesday night, August 26, orange Mars rose above the sea of distant lights beyond the glowing Man, as close as it will ever be to the world as we know it. I carried a chip of the Zagami meteorite from Mars, musing it was as close as it will ever be to its birthplace, and remove it from my jacket and hold it up to allow rays of light from Mars to touch it. In several hours Mars will reach its point of closest approach but I didn't intend to stay up for it. I brought my telescope to take a peek but it was rarely calm enough to make taking it out worthwhile. Already, so early in the week, the city was up and running. The city lights twinkled inside a misty dust layer hugging the ground which gave way to the dark jagged mountain tops at the base of the twilight glow. The blue neon colossus drew people from all over. The Man itself was unchanged from the prototype effigy of previous years, only the color of the lights changing yearly. This time the neon outline was a bright blue which bathed the surroundings in an ethereal cool light. The trend toward ever more elaborate support structures continued with a wide Mexican style pyramid rising about 40 feet above the playa. Happily the organizers had also done away with the 'admittance token' system of last year, everyone now being allowed access equally to all accessible levels.
The great base of The Man marked the intersection
of two brilliant green laser beams, which entered the structure
through openings designed into the base. From the ground level
one could enter wide openings on the east and western sides of
the temple-base and enter the largely hollow red lit wooden structure
which was divided in half, each containing an altar with people
contributing things to in the course of the event. There was of
course a major structural column under the Man but even here carefully
placed perforations allowed the green beams to pass through. It
was intriguing to see matter built around light in this way. The
emerald sparkle of dust entering the powerful beams contrasted
vividly with the red interior lighting. A canvas 'skin' nailed
onto the wood framework allowed some of the red light to shine
through, from the outside contrasting beautifully with the opaque
painted portions lit a deep blue by the neon.
Along the exterior walls were recessed triangular niches large enough for people to occupy, with 'fire pattern' adorned frames around them. People sat there facing the people wandering through, appearing as all manner of gods and goddess personas. Some were elaborately costumed, some chatty, some silent with non human heads. Some behaved decidedly ungodly.
There was a continuous stream of people climbing up and down the temple. Two stages of the wide base were reached by the steep stairs which were a good deal taller than wide. The first 'story' was topped by a roomy walkway surrounding the upper level. The steep stairs continued all the way up to the entrance of the second story, which was hollow with numerous windows. Twice I spent some time enjoying the view and obtaining images from up there. x The ceiling at the top level was a perforated screen cut into a complex fire pattern like that in a Tibetan painting through which the man himself was visible towering overhead against the sky.
Wandering back toward the general region
of my camp an engine revving like roar, audible a quarter mile
away, attracted my attention, steadily revealing itself as a large
fire spitting sculpture. This strange fire machine spewed loudly
sputtering colored flames from three elaborate nozzles about 10
feet high, parts of which were red hot. The Middle flame was the
most complex, with blue stove burner like jets spraying from the
sides merging into a yellowish fiery vertical column. The left
fire jet gave a deep orange to red flame, with contrasty yellow
green additions. The right fire source burned a fine emerald green
with bluish highlights. I shot a little video knowing it would
be only marginal in showing this, on the tape only the lighting
from the fires would suggest the actual colors. Using my digital
camera I captured many frames of ideal exposures to record the
colors, assembling portions of the best frames later in Photoshop.
In the early morning at my tent the sky was clear and the air calm so I set up my telescope and for the only time while I was there I had a good look at Mars. The light apricot colored disk of Mars hung steadily in the darkness through the eyepiece. Light orange desert regions covered most of the planet, a dark spot could be seen near the center, and more dark areas covered the southern regions near the tiny polar cap. Nobody else was near, and later efforts to bring friends to share the view were foiled by weather and logistics problems.
I brought a clock-thermometer
with a separate radio connected unit to find out how much insulation
my mylar 'space blanket' provided. When I awoke at 11:30 Wednesday
it was 90 degrees F inside the tent while the outside unit read
107 F in sheltered shade. Things went well at camp. but during
my 'housekeeping' I found myself wanting a garbage bag with looped
handles I could hang on my car mirror. I used my idling car to
charge camcorder batteries twice, but after doing so the fuel
level dropped perceptibly with this vehicle while it had not previously.
While waiting for the charging my batteries to finish such a bag
as I wanted, in excellent condition, rolled slowly on a gentle
wind into the camp and I promptly adopted it. My leaving was delayed
an hour by the arrival of a dense dust storm buffeting the area.
For a little while I simply lay on my back in the tent as the
mylar covering rustled with its metallic shrillness.
Wednesday ended up as windy as the previous day, one section then another of Black Rock City being scoured by periodic local dust storms. It was only terribly hot in the early afternoon but even then I had no difficulties while wearing the 'Bedouin' type headgear I fashioned from some sheeting. I decided not use my face mask, finding simply breathing through a couple layers of the sheet fabric when one of the local storms swept through was sufficient.
There was a continuing trend toward building up the tent city as soon as possible. By that night one felt truly within a vast event loudly proclaiming itself. The drumming was a constant background noise, sometimes taking the form of someone nearby pounding away on a real drum, it may be dance music throbbing from a dozen major sources, it may be recorded sounds blasted from stationary and moving speakers, but drumming was a continual part of the sensory landscape.
the major structures were built, although dogged work continued
on enormous projects for a long time. One such mega-camp ended
up being one of the massive tents we could use as location landmarks
from anywhere in the event, a large imitation mushroom stitched
together from parachutes and supported by cables extending from
a forest of telephone pole sized posts driven into the ground
in concentric circles!
That was also the day I noticed the spindly
'Temple of Honor' by David Best was complete. From a distance
it looked like an ethereal mirage, from close up it became an
overwhelming wonder to behold. I made several pilgrimages to it
during the 100 hours it existed in its finished state. It was
a stretched combination of a Russian orthodox cathedral, an Indian
Mogul era temple like the Taj Mahal, and a fairyland castle with
tall spires. Innumerable variations of patterns apparently composed
from various religious and decorative sources were repeatedly
photocopied and glued to the columns, ceilings and other surfaces,
giving an effect something like the intricate tile patterns in
some older mosques.
The walls were already being covered by written tributes to hundreds of deceased people. Over the days people would bring many things into the temple, artifacts and photographs of friends and loved ones who had recently died, paintings, and even a piano which was continuously softly played. People stood around speaking in hushed voices, generally acting like people do in respected 'holy' places.
To Page 3