Ego on the Roads

“EGO” (20 feet high letters) Burning Man 2012 Laura Kimpton and Mike Garlington

Burning Man 2012: Big letters spelling E-G-O on the playa horizon. Designed to burn. Conceived and produced by Laura Kimpton (of O-I-N-K and L-O-V-E fame), and built by Mike Garlington.

One of many altars on the “O” of EGO. Burning Man 2012.

Mike’s take on EGO: he and his girlfriend poured hundreds of gypsum plaster casts of evocative objects found in life and at the dump. The objects de EGO were then spraypainted gold and rigged onto the wooden frames loaded with firewood. The objects were designed to survive the burn. Mike instructed participants to dig through the ashes after the fire to find symbols that survived.

Altar to the The Keeper of Words. EGO. Burning Man 2012.
One of the objects of EGO found in the ashes of the fire. EGO. Burning Man 2012.

I obeyed and came back to the burn site at 3 AM. I found her (the picture above) in the ashes. Mike has instructed me to paint her with Resin so she lasts.

From EGO to Humility. Just days after his artwork burns, Mike Garlington can be found driving the roads along the Burning Man event, managing highway clean up efforts.

Three days after his art burns down, EGO artist Mike Garlington is driving highways 34 and 447 picking up trash left behind by Burning Man participants. He has worked this job for three years and is now Burning Man’s Highway Restoration Manager. He says he loves this gig and hopes he can keep doing it no matter what happens in his art career and personal life. He says the job grounds him.

Some of Mike’s Highway Clean Up Crew: they will work Tuesday-Friday post-event.

But this year, MIke and some of his crew had to spend Wednesday post-event helping out the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe with the mess that was left at the I-80 Smoke Shop in Wadsworth. The store managers had left a dumpster with a sign that read “Trash-$5.00/Bag. Pay inside at store.” You can imagine what happened.

Trash piled up all around the dumpster in Wadsworth.
Pyramid Lake Facilities Maintainance Manager Wendell Henry accepted highway restoration’s help in cleaning up the I-80 Smokeshop. We filled three dumpsters with trash.
EGO artist Mike Garlington cleans up the piles of trash left by Burners at the I-80 Smokeshop in Wadsworth, NV.
Pyramid Lake Paiute and DPW crew work side by side cleaning up the I-80 store.
Mike Garlington outside Pyramid Lake (with the Pirate Flag he found waving proudly from the truck). 2012.

It was a day well spent. When the Smokeshop was clean, Mike shook hands with everyone and continued scanning the road. Next year, Mike would like to help the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe clean up Pyramid Lake camp sites.

More of Mike’s Highway Clean UP crew

EGO is important; as is our humility.

For more information on the EGO Artists:
Laura Kimpton
Mike Garlington

About the author: Rosalie Fay Barnes

Rosalie Fay Barnes

Rosalie Barnes works year round in San Francisco as the Senior Project Manager for the Government Relations & Legal Affairs Department of Black Rock City, LLC. During the Burning Man event, Rosalie is part of the External Relations Team, a program that gives tours of the art and infrastructure of Black Rock City to visiting officials and cultural ambassadors. Rosalie received a Bachelor of Arts in Theater from Brandeis University and in 2009, she received a double Masters from Harvard, focusing on Technology, Media and Learning. She first participated in Burning Man in 2000, and came to work for the Man in 2009.

29 Comments on “Ego on the Roads

  • Genie says:

    There is so much great stuff here…layers as varied as the art piece itself. Thanks for sharing the extended story! I love getting to know the artists beyond just meeting their art in the dust.

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  • Biff says:

    So much garbage on the road out. Just horrible. I wish I could have stopped and picked up everything I saw but how do you pull over on a road with no shoulder and a massive line of cars on your tail? Next year I think I’ll plan on staying longer to clean. Glad that someone cares!

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  • Anthony Morlando says:


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  • Pink says:

    The only thing I left along the road was dust and leftover groceries and propane in Nixon, thanks to Comfort & Joy’s publicizing of the needs of the Paiute Food Bank. They even took the ripe (but not overripe) watermelons we had left and the water. The trash went to the Wadsworth dump. This is not rocket science people! And at the dump, bags of trash were only $3.

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  • Franko says:

    the trash every year on the roadsides bums me out. i like to think that it fell off and the drivers just didn’t realize, but this is my cynical fears come true — and to dump it on the tribe! FP (Genie) says it right… so many layers of meaning here. big love to you and your crew for the work you do. you inspire us all.

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  • True Angel says:

    I am always saddened on the Exodus out to see ANY trash left by anyone that attended such an event as Burning Man, but on side note, we saw on the drive on Uhaul with its back door open loosing its load unknown to the driver :( we were pulling a camper and could not catch up to try and stop the driver lets hope it is more by accident then purpose when so much is on the road sides but with that much it is probably not the fact. Why is it so hard to haul it back home if you got it out there to begin with? We do it ever year never leave a trace behind (except our hearts together on the playa till we return the next year to renew our vows again)

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  • Roissy says:

    We left on Wednesday, the roads seemed to littered with more trash than I remember seeing in the past 10 years.

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  • Betty Burns says:

    Most trash on the roadside I have ever seen in ten years :(
    This story is great and I so appreciate knowing the situation was handled in true burner ethos…
    But what can we do to make it better for next time?

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  • Skuzzy says:

    Thanks so much for picking up trash from shady burners. Hopefully these participants can take the principles with them into the default world and not just in Black Rock City.

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  • Roissy says:

    One of the biggest problems is a lot of people have NO UNDERSTANDING OF Leave No Trace!!! As one small example, after the Cafe was closed there were a few moop bags laying around, I saw a participant place a empty bottle of soy milk or something in one of the bags on her way out. I kind of shook my head, her companion following asked if it was ok to leave the bottle, I replied because this is a LNT event they should really take it back with them. He removed the bottle and took it with them…

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  • fancipants says:

    well done on both creating EGO and the post Burn cleanup mess! i appreciate that u enjoy picking up all the garbage along the highway but i gotta say as a very GREEN Canadian up north we recycle almost everything and it always saddens me to see so much waste at the Burn. my neighbors from Reno this yr were even throwing plastic water bottles into their trash until i asked them if they wanted to recycle them and gave them an extra bin i had that i then took out with me all the way back home to BC so i knew it would actually get recycled. i think BM the Organization needs to do a better job of asking participants to do a more diligent job of recycling in the future as well as asking people NOT to tie their garbage to the roofs of their vehicles which seems to be why there is so much roadside litter after Exodus which is sad and appalling imo. thanks again for your efforts at keeping Nevada GREEN!

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  • Pink says:

    Not tying garbage to your vehicle’s roof is in the Survival Guide EVERY YEAR. Obviously many people can’t be bothered to read the damn thing. There’s a reason it’s called the Survival Guide.

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  • Pink says:

    Not tying garbage to your vehicle’s roof is in the Survival Guide EVERY YEAR. Obviously many people can’t be bothered to read the damn thing.

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  • Zeca says:

    I too cringe at the site of trash on the highway, and really can,t believe people would take advantage of the smoke shop in such a way. BIG THANKS to Mike and crew for their extra efforts in helping and showing RESPECT to the local communities… This is an inspiring story. I have a big zipper bag like roof carrier that I put all of my trash in (yes on my roof but properly secured with straps ta boot) and carry it all the way back to Colorado. Come on people you are all smart enough to survive in the extreme conditions for a week, but you can seem to figure out how to deal with your trash? There are 10 principles one of which is LEAVE NO TRACE…ON OR OFF THE PLAYA… We should be like ghosts… They should even know we were there… OK I,m rambling, please keep it clean and green….

    Mike and Laura thank you for your amazing work….works of art…. Hope to see more next year….

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  • Kheddarz says:

    The community needs to make LNT a major communications point next year. We rallied around the porti potties in 2001, we can reeducate, share and express the need to be “like ghosts”. Maybe we should have Greeters do good bye shifts so they can communicatey/remind each years major needs upon exodus?

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  • Chromatest says:

    “The store managers had left a dumpster with a sign that read “Trash-$5.00/Bag. Pay inside at store.” You can imagine what happened.”

    I can imagine several things. So what happened?

    Did people dump their trash without paying $5 per bag and the dumpster overflowed?

    Did people just dump their trash in the parking lot and drive away without paying?

    After 8 days on playa, my camp of 2 people had less than one bag of trash (plus a small amount of recycling) , and we brought that all the way back to Phoenix, AZ.

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  • rosalie says:

    Couple of comments:
    1. Best Idea for next year/Pyramid Lake Store includes finding someone to watch the dumpster(s) for the 72 hours of exodus. Anyone want a job?
    2. Most of the trash on the side of the road seems to come from people who haven’t secured their load properly. Compared to past years, Mike Garlington didn’t think it was any worse.
    3. The highway clean up crew wears NDOT vests and jackets and work the whole week of post-event. It’s actually a good time but its important to be safe too and not try to pick up trash during exodus as there are too many cars on the road.

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  • Rae Dubz says:

    As a virgin burner (but old at heart) I was upset to see so much trash between the gates and through to the I80. These people live here 365 days a year, not the week or so that we do on the Playa. It’s not fair to make it so hard for them. We took our trash to Reno (inside the car), smelling all the way, just because even at Monday 8 am it looked like a struggle. Then on the I80 the car in front’s rubbish load came undone and nearly hit us square in the windscreen, and the driver smiled and waved as we drove past, unknowingly…

    LNT and MOOP really need to be addressed, and it’s not just Newbies. The worse it gets, the less likely anyone will be on the Playa in future years. :(

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  • Rad Hatter says:

    This was only my second year, but I saw a huge increase in the amount of moop on the playa and in how much trash I saw along the road on the way out. I really think the BMORG did a poor job of communicating just what Leave No Trace means to the hordes of newbies.

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  • John says:

    Honestly, what do you expect from a bunch of new burners ?? I saw some asshole with all his garbage tied (very poor tie job by the way) to the roof of his car during exodus on Tuesday afternoon. By the time he made it to Empire, all of his garbage was all over the highway !!!

    Use your fucking common sense fuckers !!! If ya dont have any, stay at home and destroy your house.

    Much thanks to all involved in getting the highways clean. You guys and gals rock !!

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  • F--tc-m says:

    What an inspiration. Hope there is room for me on the 447 cleanup crew next year.

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  • Duke says:

    Why don’t you have dumpsters at the event so you don’t trash the rest of Nevada? burners are dirty pigs

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  • louisacrystal says:

    it is the newbies responsibility to learn the burning man culture LNT and survival guide!
    but it sounds like they are just being ignorant and they dont understand the real meaning behind being part of a comunity. I dont think that burning man would have lasted so long if we all just made a mess and then went home!

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  • Magpie says:

    I’m bitterly disappointed in the many burners who MOOPed all over the place! I love Burning Man for the principles it espouses and applaud all of you who work so hard to clean up after we leave. I agree with the person above me who said that true burners treat the playa with respect because it is our true home…we also need to treat our entire planet with the same respect!

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  • AsOfTime says:

    did you expect any less from yourself and the people you invite?

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  • Andrew says:

    A few friends of mine watched the burn of this and there were 2 “fire safety” people standing and drinking beer in front of us who would not move after we asked politely. I guess the Ego isn’t all burned yet :)

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  • doctoriknow says:

    The people who left garbage at the I-80 Smoke Shop in Wadsworth (see above pics) are the ones LEO’s should arrest and fine. Looks like it’s $475. (

    LEO’s should send all their “burner type” undercover agents there and collect $ big time. Might even teach the asshat bad burners something.

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  • Normally I don’t learn post on blogs, however I
    would like to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do it!

    Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice article.

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  • car service says:

    Keeping clean and environmentally friendly at events like these is extremely important. This article really points that out.

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