A Lighthouse to the Future

A bunch of longtime DPW folks have gotten a new opportunity to kick ass at Burning Man, and without even trying, they’re at the center of where  the organization wants to go.

A group of North Coast burners have been getting together in the woods for years to do their thing and keep the playa spirit alive. Officially, they’re part of the Northern California regional, but that region stretches from the Bay Area to the Oregon border, and that’s an awful lot of territory.

Up until now, these North Coast burners haven’t played much of a role in the official regional group. Instead of driving to Santa Rosa to attend meetings and plan their participation, for the past six years they’ve been going to the beaches and  beautiful North Coast forests around Eureka to burn stuff in creatively significant ways. They’ve held 21 burns so far, but this is the biggest one yet.

Goatt and Jeremy are DPW members who have worked on the Center Cafe for years; they’ve dug the holes and strung the wires and been at the center of the building of Black Rock City. They’re valued crew members because they’re skilled and  they work insanely  hard. When one task is finished, they start looking for the next one. You don’t have to tell them, that’s just the way they’re wired. Goatt will keep up a stream-of-consciousness conversation that is often as hilarious as it is thoughtful and insightful. Maybe being a philosophy major in college will do that to you. More often than not, he’s wearing a red clown nose, making him that much more difficult to categorize. Jeremy makes and sells finely crafted furniture in and around Eureka, and there seems to be a quiet confidence underneath his enthusiasm for the lighthouse project.

Putting driftwood around the base, the better to make a big burn.

On this last weekday morning before the gates are opened and the Burning Man party gets started for real,  both of them were decorating the base of the lighthouse with artfully placed driftwood that they hauled out to the desert from  Crab Beach, another place where they like to burn stuff. Crab Beach is also the place where a Northern California regional contact “discovered” them.

Once they got the go-ahead to be the Northern California regional builders this year,  the crew cut large  pieces of wood into octagonal shapes,  planed each of them three times each to achieve the tolerances they needed, and then stacked them in a twisting path 125 levels high to form the main column of the lighthouse.  The interior is hollow, but they’ve filled it with leftover pieces from the cutting, which will help keep the flames  going when the fire is lit Thursday night. Plus, the crew discovered during a similar previous burn that gasses will collect inside, and they think that the top of the lighthouse might burn like a torch, and for awhile, too. If all goes right, the lighthouse might be beacon for other CORE folks to navigate to when their burns are finished.  “We’ve also got a few other tricks up our sleeve,” Jeremy said.

Right now the top of the lighthouse is decorated with panels of stained glass installed by another North Coast burner. They used the panels to help raise funds in a Kickstarter  campaign, and the big donors get to take a panel home.

“This is like the Olympics for us,” Jeremy said. “It’s our time to shine.”

The driftwood was screwed into place so the look will remain consistent throughout the week.

And that’s exactly the kind of engagement and creative energy that the Burning Man organization is trying to foster among its regional groups. Not everyone can make it to the Nevada desert for the Big Burn, but more and more regional burns are taking place, giving burners and would-be burners a chance to taste the fiery life.

And along the way, that effort has also given some people who’ve helped build Black Rock City a chance to show their artistic side, as well. “It’s not like a competition (between the regional projects)” Jeremy said. “We’re just in competition with ourselves.”

So as you make your way around the city this year, you might stumble upon the lighthouse in the middle of a dust storm. It will magically appear in the dust,  just as coastal lighthouses pop out of the thick soupy fog that hugs the North Coast. And when you see it, you might be getting a look at the future of Burning Man, too.

Goatt and the lighthouse


Jeremy on his tugboat mutant vehicle.


The lighthouse on the playa, with the Pier project in the background.


Lexy, a burner from London who happened upon the North Coast crew by accident several years ago, has been coming back ever since.


The project might be pretty sophisticated, but sometimes tasks call for an axe. “Who doesn’t want to use an axe?!” a crew member named “hippie” said.


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.

12 Comments on “A Lighthouse to the Future

  • The Green Hour says:

    “Keep the Home Fires Burning,
    While your hearts are yearning,
    Though your lads are far away
    They dream of home.” – Lena Ford/Ivan Novello, 1914

    See you soon!

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  • BassBunny says:

    yay! that’s our lighthouse! great job, guys! see you tuesday! <3

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  • Cosmo says:

    I’m so proud of you guys! Year after year you expand the limits what you choose to undertake, and never without your full attention!! I love and miss you!! I’ll come home again one day…to work, celebrate and bask in the glory of our endeavors!! Peace, dust and party my friends!

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  • nikOpeachZ says:

    first core completed on playa… all rack’d and stack’d, plug’d n play’d, pre-fabbed and finished while others were still huffing sawdust. These guys build em right. Always a pleasure to work w/ em all.

    then they went off to build a double decker bar. can’t stop prometheatricks fire sculpture builders.

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  • Larry Koch says:

    Great work…the Twisted Lighthouse is even more beautiful and impressive than I thought it would be…and I had high expectations!!! Have a good and safe burn!

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  • These guys were amazing when I got there. It has been such an honor to be involved with the Twisted Upright House project. I am so proud of Jed, Jeremy, Goatt and Brad that I could just split right in two. Pyroglyphics and Woodlabs outdid themselves, and the community really rallied to work together to create an amazing effigy. As the regional contact of record on this piece I stood at the fire from the time it was lit until the final embers ceased to glow. It was my pleasure and I have nothing but praise for Goatt and his crew. The Humboldt Burners are a real family, and they have become mine. If the day ever comes that they become their own region I will be proud, and sad, and very very excited to see all the amazing work they will create. From Trinity County to McKinleyville to Santa Rosa and back, the ideas were flowing and every person involved in the project gave their all. Thank you to all of the North Bay Burners who worked on the lighthouse – I had a lot of fun watching it burn. xoxo RLL

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  • sam says:

    Last CORE standing! It’s probably still smoldering out there

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  • Sage Haas says:

    You guys are rock stars of burns. the light house burned from 9:00 pm to 5:00 am, that make it the longest burn, a record not easily broken. It lighted the the playa for all, the entire night, A True light house. Doing my little part, I’m proud to be backer of such a amazing project!!

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  • CrowBob says:

    You guys are the best! That lighthouse outdid them all. Beautiful to look at, a real piece of art. Those bones, what was that all about!? Kind a creepy. You guys were right, it burned just like a candle. At 3 am it was still going strong, got some great photos taken about then, and it looked like a scarey burning Jack o Lantern. Enjoyed all 6 hours I watched it burn! Was a pleasure to get to know you all and hope to continue to see more great art from Pyrogyliphics! I just can’t say enough about all of you guys. Hope to get up your way when you burn something on the beach. CrowBob.

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  • Goatt says:

    Thanks for so much positive response! We had a blast building it and watching it burn! You are all the best! Stayed tuned for next year: we promise we are bringing something bigger and better out to the playa!

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  • Ali Baba says:

    Wow, awesome. I think I saw the light, though I don’t recall seeing the structure. Lovely.

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  • I am of the mind that the skeleton made its way there from the shipwreck at the pier somehow or another. No one really knows, just another spooky mystery tucked into the driftwood. Perhaps it was the lighthouse keeper, unable to consider going on after his one love, the Twisted Upright House, ceased to be. Alas the story died with the bones, fused into the granite, melded into a molten lump of lag bolts and screws. Only the memory lives on…mwah ha ha!

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