Powering the Playa

Working with Lanceland to lay power cables through the City Center

lanceland provides electricity to black rock city

There’s a lot of juice running around this playa. From Center Cafe with all its whirring coffee machines and constantly-blaring sound system; to the Ranger HQ; to Lamplighters Village; everyone needs power to do their job.

Last year, I walked past Lanceland and sort of chuckled to myself. “Powering the Playa,” I figured, was some kind of joke. I just assumed everyone had their own generator; it would just be too difficult to wire the whole city for power.

trenching the black rock desert

Ha. No, in fact they’ve been doing it for years. Lanceland provides enough power for the entire Inner Circle to run throughout the event.

The wires are buried under the ground, and dug up after the event is over. They use a trencher – which looks like a giant chainsaw – to dig hundreds of feet of trench to bury the cables in. The trenches lead from the generators, to the transformers, to each camp that needs power. All the power boxes are shrinkwrapped and tied up in protective bags to keep the dust out. And after the event, the Lanceland team (all professional electricians from the Bay Area) go around and dig all those cables up.

filling in the trench with playa dust

Go visit Lanceland if you get a chance, and thank them for your mocha latte.

Everything was fine throughout our first day of trenching, but things got a little trickier on the second day: the year’s first whiteout hit.

I’ve been working hard all month, sure, but I’m finally starting to realize just how rough this DPW thing can get. We were over at First Camp – which was buzzing with people building structures and laying carpet and pounding t-stakes – and the dust just wouldn’t stop. It got sandy and gritty, and we all had white eyebrows and mustaches; the newbies without goggles were in serious pain. But we didn’t stop working. You can’t stop, not when 36,000 people are showing up on Monday expecting a fully functioning city.

Dust storms don’t happen throughout the year. In general, the playa has a thick, hard crust that doesn’t blow around except in the highest winds. But as soon as people show up and start driving around, the crust breaks. As the dirt gets looser and looser, there is more and more dust to get caught in the wind. That’s why, by the end of the event, whiteouts can last all day – and why, as soon as we moved out here, we started driving only on the watered roads (and, supposedly, only driving 5mph – but try getting DPW to follow that rule).

Anyway, it’s starting to get dusty, and I’m sure it’ll just keep getting worse. These Lanceland kids are veterans, and worked through the storm with a minimum of casualties. We’re all tired, though, and completely coated with playa dust. It’s a catch-22: when the wind is low, the heat is deafening; when the wind is high, you can’t see a thing. I think most of us would choose sun over dust, but nobody will tell you it’s not rough out here. Ah, the sacrifices we make for the things we believe in.

About the author: The Hun

The Hun

The Hun, also known as J.H. Fearless, has been blogging for Burning Man (and many other outlets) since 2005, which is also the year she joined the BRC DPW on a whim that turned out to be a ten-year commitment. Since then she's won some awards for blogging, built her own creative business, and produced some of the Burning Blog's most popular stories and series. She co-created a grant-funded art piece, "Refoliation," in 2007, and stood next to it watching the Man burn on Monday night during a full lunar eclipse. She considers that, in many ways, to have been the symbolic end of Burning Man that was. The Hun lives in Reno with DPW Shade King, Quiet Earp. You may address her as "The Hun" or "Hun". If you call her "Honey" she reserves the right to cut you.