more signs of the times

There are miles and miles of welcome signs and road signs to put up in Black Rock City, and a dedicated crew of about nine, with occasional drop-ins and transfers from other departments, has been tackling the task since July.

They create all the signs out at the Ranch, and the crew not only makes the street signs that help you find your way through the city, but they also create the old-time sequential signs that line the road into BRC.  In all, about 1,500 signs of various signs and shapes are produced, and then attached to stakes in the desert floor.

Today the Sign crew was out on the entrance road, installing the signs that give you something to read on the way in. The first signs remind you that the speed limit is 10mph, but crew members regularly had to flag down early arrivers and tell them to slow down. The day was hot and dusty, and every vehicle that came in kicked up a little more. The faster you go, the more dust there is, so remember on your way in to do the city a favor and slow down.

“That’s the whole idea,” After Five was saying. “Slow down and read the signs.”

There’s plenty to read. There are about 300 signs along the four-plus miles of entrance road, and Larry Harvey writes them himself. He also picks the quotations, too. “I think he had Rod (Garrett’s) passing on his mind,” After Five said, referring to the architect of Black Rock City who died away earlier this week, causing much heaviness of heart here in the city.  “They’re a little dark.”

Dark or not, the signs engage your mind and touch your soul. They let you know, or remind you, that Burning Man isn’t just a rave in the desert. There’s something unique and special going on here, and you sense it on the road in. The quotations come from a  variety of sources, everyone from Milton Friedman talking about transformational politics to Milan Kandera speaking of “delightful encounters” in “The Incredible Lightness of Being.”

And here’s another reason you might want to slow down and enjoy the read: You can’t find what’s written on the signs anywhere else. They’re not reproduced on the website, nor included in the guide book. So you get one chance to read them. Then they’re gone, just like everything that’s being built here.

The last sequence of signs (before the reminders to obey the speed limit)  might be the most apt: “Welcome to Black Rock City … a great place … to get lost in.”  There will be plenty of people doing the same thing, so enjoy the adventure. It won’t be like this again.

Each sign is numbered at the top and at the bottom; it makes it easier to keep them in sequence when unloading them from the trailer.
The numbers are marked onto the bottom of each pole.
The wire that's used to attach the sign poles to the stakes is coated with oil, which leaves a nasty residue on your hands. "Why do they put the oil on?" I asked. "I dunno," came the answer, "but it's a pain."


Abby's the head of the Sign crew, but she doesn't just give the orders. She carries them out, too.

Abby again
Auntie Social took a break on the back of the trailer.

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.

6 Comments on “more signs of the times

  • Andromeda says:

    My first year was 2002. I knew I was in the right place for me when upon arrival I read a quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (i think it was this one):

    “On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.”

    I love to read those signs. :) thanks sign crew!!

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  • AsOfTime says:

    …those signs look like a great canvas to get tagged…hey,it’s my art and way to communicate…why not tag the hell out them…thanks burnouts!

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  • Alexis says:

    I absolutely ADORE you, sign crew! Every year you make menteary. I can’t wait to see the Kundera signs! Last year I screamed with glee at all the Jane Jacob quotes. I suppose i tend to try and cling to ephemeral things, as I made a video candytuft around some of last year’s gorgeous signage:

    Can’t WAIT to read what you’ve prepared for us on the way in this year. It’s truly such an important part of my burn. THANK YOU!

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  • Rev Dusty says:

    Every year, I’ve tried to find a record of what those signs say. I love them…it’s such a great feeling to read them I as drive in. A real welcome home.

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  • Michele says:

    2008, my first burn, i was made to read, aloud, all of the signs as we slowly drove past each one. It was so special – the signs are so special.

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