Spires to the sky

The spires that mark your way at night and guide you through the dust storms during the day are going up fast here in Black Rock City, but there’s still a whole lot more of them to do. By the time the build is finished, the Spire Crew will have built and installed about 300 of them, and that’s a lot of aligning and pounding and sledge-hammering.

Day after day, all day long, the Spire Assembly Team puts together the poles and fills the Depot yard with them. Erin “Thirteen” Meyer heads the production crew, and she and her team have constructed probably a couple hundred spires in the past three days.

There are two kinds of spires, the greater and the lesser. The greater spires mark the Esplanade and the main promenades toward the Man. (There’s actually a third type of spire, the Fire Spire, and they’re made of metal and have nasty, jangly edges. They spit fire and get placed in prominent locations around the city. But they haven’t been working for the past couple of years, a situation that may be rectified this year.)

Erin is known as Thirteen on and off the playa

Erin’s a longtime burner, though she’s of a tender age. (And she’s had her playa name  since she was … you guessed it, 13.) She came to her first burn when she was 15, which, maybe coincidentally, was also the year she left home for good. “I had a tendency to run away a lot,” she says. Since then she’s been to design school (“Design is my true passion, she says”) and had a stint as a line cook. But she’s always come back to the playa, and she’s been out here this year since the end of July.

"Tits" Brown at the Spire construction area.

Jessy “Tits” Brown and Alexi “Pusstachio” were among those working on the crew this morning, starting right after the 7am morning work meeting.

Dylan runs the Spire Installation Crew, and they got an early start yesterday, too. They were out along the 3 o’clock path to the Man in the midmorning heat, lining up the spires and securing them to the playa with sledge-hammered rebar.

The city is laid out by the Survey crew before any of the construction crews arrive. Flags in the ground emanate from an oculus that’s laid around the Golden Spike, which marks the center of the city and the eventual location of the Man.

So now it’s a matter of putting the spires where they’re supposed to go. There’s a pair of them every hundred feet along the promenades. It’s 20 feet from the spire to the center of the road,  and the spires have to be lined up precisely.

Dylan heads to the top of the street, and from there he directs spire placement with the use of binoculars and hand signals. “Give it a couple of kicks toward the road,” his instructions come over the radio. The crew kicks it, and then the good word comes: “Mark it.” Then the crew drives four lengths of rebar into the hard crust and attaches them to the spire.

It’s one of the hottest jobs on the playa. “We’re gluttons for punishment,” DA says.  It’s a close-knit crew, though. DA and Bean have been coming out for nine years now, and Dylan is in his fifth. “We tend to hang out a lot together,” DA says.

Especially in the weeks leading up to the burn.

It’s hot as hell again here today. It’s well into the high 90s in Gerlach, and I think it’s a safe bet to add 10 degrees to the temperature out here. It’s just plain hot.

The spire, fence and shade crews probably have the hottest jobs around, but Heather might have stolen the crown yesterday. She was in full welder’s regalia, arc welding some hooks to a container. Full helmet, heavy gloves and long-sleeved overalls.


There are a lot of hot jobs during the build, but arc welding may be on top of the list.
Spires and bases collecting in the yard of the Depot.

The very nasty Fire Spires. Watch for them this year. Maybe.
After they're put together in the yard, the spires get hauled out to the desert.
Bean's a member of the spire installation crew.
Photo Mike lines up the tape measure as Dylan and DA check the measurements.

Dylan makes sure the spires are lined up right from the top of the street.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

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