And Then It All Burned Down

So, did you do anything special Saturday night?

We kinda did.

What if you dreamed up the most impossibly beautiful and perfectly timed thing you could summon your heart and mind to imagine? And what if you labored all year to pull the strings and find the money and overcome the forces who would defeat you? And what if somehow, once again, you persuaded all your friends to help?

And then what if you actually watched it all taking shape, agonizingly slowly and with great effort, rising in the bright white heat of the desert?

And then what if it finally stood there, appearing and disappearing majestically between whiteouts, and in the evenings glowing with a mesmerizing tranquility against the purple of the hills?

And then what if in that moment of triumph of will and sweat, of tears and blood, what if you said, ok, that’s it. That’s enough. We are done with this. We dreamed it and we did it and now it is time to be done with it. So you lit the torch and set fire to the thing, and you watched the flames consume that which had consumed you.

That was our Saturday night, and we wish you were here.

And if you were here, thank you very much, nothing more to see here; time to move on.

Oh yes, there is still a Temple to burn tonight, but the apex of Burning Man has been reached, and just like that, it is time to get back to the present, and to the immediate future, and then maybe, some time later, to think about what will come next. But for now, strike the tent, literally pull up the stakes, sort your trash and get the hell out of Dodge. It is time to get back into the moment.

Weather reports Sunday morning were scaring the general population, and we secretly thought that this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. People being in a hurry to leave was ok with us. We don’t mean to be harsh, and we mean this in the most loving way possible, but we are tired of your face and it’s time for you to go.

This giant Burning Man has almost come to a close, and it is going to take a long time to get everyone out of boomtown Black Rock City, and the sooner some people hit the road, the better for all concerned. So here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

In the daytime, the saucer would come and go with the winds
In the daytime, the saucer would come and go with the winds

This is the day you don’t want to look at your clothes, or your hair, or the lines on your face or the circles under your eyes. Just put your head down and put one foot in front of the other. You can do this. Get going.

As we said, the weather reports are freaking everyone out. Oh my god, there is a 40 percent chance of rain for tomorrow. And the thick clouds that occasionally blot out the sun are reinforcing the message: Get out while you can.

If the rains do come, yes, the roads out of the city might close for hours, or who knows, maybe even days. Water will immediately make the playa impassible. The mud will trap you, wherever you are.

But we couldn’t help but think that the likelihood of all this happening was slim, and even if the worst were to happen, if the rain and the lighting and wind do return, we’ll cope. We’ll get through it. And you know what? It won’t be bad at all. It just won’t.

Last night, at the start of burn night, we walked out to the cauldron at the top of Rod’s Road. We watched Crimson pass the flame to the stilt walkers, who would carry it to the Man. There were Lamplighters in costume and all manner of official personage, but behind the formal procession there was a random group of strollers, accompanied by people rhythmically drumming, who were walking quietly with their friends. It was a lovely night for a walk; the temperatures were warm and there was no wind. What better thing was there to do but take a walk to the Man?

But then once you were out there, you were back in the crowd. The thousands had already begun to gather, and the art cars were blazing their light and sound, and there was great excitement and tension. The finale was coming: bring it on. Burn it down.

We found ourselves standing next to Larry his own self. So we asked him, “Do you have a favorite thing that happens during this week?” He thought for a moment, and looked to the ground, and answered somewhat hesitantly, almost quizzically. “Well, it kind of shifts from moment to moment, you know? It’s hard to say.” But is there one thing that makes you happy? Is it the desert, or the people maybe, or … “Oh yes, it’s the people,” he said.

And you picture that very small and ironically isolated group around First Camp, who’ve known each other forever and ridden this unpredictably huge phenomenon to unimagined heights, so big and so professional and more so every year, and you picture them looking at it in wonder, still small within themselves, but still amazed at the giant-ness of the thing. Does it ever astonish you that it has turned out like this?

“It’s kind of like the frog in the warm water,” Larry said. “It’s been gradual. … Oh sure, there are significant moments that I remember very vividly,” he said, but mostly it’s been a slow build to this giant burn.

In the sober and hungover light of morning, it seemed that the only way to go from here was back. You want an idea for the Man base next year? How about a giant bale of hay? How about twenty people tugging on ropes to pull the Man upright? Ok, you want something different? How about a bigger Man, then. And a theme that simply says, it is what it is. Leave the explaining and the postulating and the theorizing to others. It is what it is. No more, no less.

The Man Krew celebrated after lifting the Man's arms
The Man Krew celebrated after lifting the Man’s arms

White fountains of fireworks streamed from all around the saucer, and then rockets shot skyward and surrounded the Man in greens and reds and whites and golds. And then BOOM, the accelerants in the Man exploded, and he was on fire, and then another BOOM and the flames spread around the saucer itself, until the whole giant thing was glowing orange-y white hot, radiating heat. It was better than any light show could ever hope to be.

And then it struck you again, but for the first time this year: We’re a strange bunch. We work and scrape and hustle for months to build the most beautiful thing we can imagine, and in 90 minutes burn it to nothing. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

And what is left?

The present, always the present.

And in this present there is nothing but ash left where the Man once stood. The fire burned hot, even if the hippies grew impatient waiting to rush around the flames. But this morning there is nothing left. And so here we are, in this moment. Formed and influenced by the past, dreaming of the future, but inextricably in the present, in the now.

Oh, and don’t forget: There’s a morning DPW meeting at 7:30. There are zero more days till Playa Restoration begins.

There was still lots of celebrating on Burn day
And romance, too
There were all sorts of visitors to the Photo Chapel in the afternoon
And Mike Garlington took a bow, as well
A Marie Antoinette competed in the Fashion Show at Center Camp Cafe
One contestant bribed the spectator/judges with cupcakes
Justin Credible was both host and participant in the Fashion Show
At dusk, people started their walk out to the Man
Stilt walkers carried the flames
And the fire cauldron was carried out, too



Spoono watched the goings-on from his art car


The crew that manually raised the Man’s arms into place was nervous before the start
The Man Krew celebrated
Hundreds and hundreds of fire performers took part in the Fire Conclave





And then the big show began with a waterfall of fireworks
Few people had more to celebrate than Charlie


And then the Man was set ablaze
… with a big boom
The structure of the saucer remained intact as the fire roared
Joe the Builder and Tracy watched the blaze together
And then it was time for the clowns …
Scarecrow stood watch at the Photo Chapel, as he often does at the Gates


Flamethrowers approached to set it on fire



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.

47 Comments on “And Then It All Burned Down

  • Kathi Watkins says:

    Thank you for sharing this! :D

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  • estupendo alguna ves en mi vida estare en el evento seria maravilloso!!!

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  • netta says:

    very good my friends are there

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  • Benni Jones says:

    You took our dream and saved it and brought it back to life.

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  • Peggy says:

    I know many people who got to go this year. I know someday that I will go. I am very grateful that there are these wonderful pictures. Blessings to all. Pegasus.

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  • ken gard says:

    Awesome wish I had gone happy for all that went. Spectacular! WOOT!

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  • Jen says:

    My son and his girlfriend are there living out my dreams. Hoping we can all go together next year.
    You all ROCK!

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  • Elekra says:

    Totally surreal. “Somewhere on the planet Earth in the the year of 2013….”

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  • Joy says:

    Awesome! Thanks for those amazing photos!

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  • Jim Porto says:

    Thank you so much for the words and images from the burn. I’ve been to 7 burns and am sadly not there this year, however reading this and seeing the images has nourished my heart with home. Deep gratitude and burning love!!

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  • Annie says:

    Heard of this for years, but finally checking it out.. WOW.. love it! Had a friends ashes there this year… excellent send off!! Thanks yousguys!

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  • Chef Sean says:

    Wow, beautiful pics. So sad I missed this this year, especially the Photo Chapel. Nothing but awaiting the birth of my first born could’ve kept me away, was hoping he would’ve been born today… hurry up and pop out little man! See you all next year!

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  • Roger Ing says:

    Way to go Charlie!

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  • Sunny Bak says:

    Thank you for sharing and reporting in……Love to all burners

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  • bessler frnçoise says:

    merci pour ce voyage merci pour le partage… love and peace

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  • joanie says:

    my Aussie girl is there and it looks like she might have had a great experience.

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  • suzanne shoemaker says:


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  • Eileen in Calgary says:

    My beautiful girl and her friends are there right now.
    Maybe one year I’ll go with them – I think I definitely will.
    Safe drive home, sweeties. mama xo

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  • Barbara says:

    Thanks so much for sharing – LOve and light to all *Burners*

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  • Tony says:

    Very clear high quality photos

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  • BP says:

    I was tired, sunburned and had thrown my back out earlier in the week when I found out my Saturday afternoon ride was postponed until an indeterminate time on Sunday. Little did I know that meant I was in for the most gorgeous, mind blowing Man Burn I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure the fireball scorched the stratosphere. Deepest appreciation to everyone who made it happen.

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  • Anneliese Schultz says:

    Excellent writing – hope you’re writing a book – not necessarily one about Burning Man; any book!

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  • Hugo Groening says:

    I love the Message that BM conveys. I am writing from Venezuela, but had the privilege of spending the ’60s & ’70s as a college student in the US. BM captures much of that spirit. My son and his girlfriend were present in this year’s event, as they have been in some of the recent ones. I’m happy they were able to attend. They’ll be better persons because of it. Keep up the good work.

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  • marvin miller says:

    Probably the first in my family to watch Burning Man …Chat site on UStream , pictures ,video and audio where fun to be a part of the experience . I hope to enjoy the future pictures people post of the event .

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  • Sleeping beauty says:

    2013 was my first, and far from last burn. Proud to be among you all! See you in a short. In the meantime, sending love and hugs. Until next year new friends. ~sleeping beauty

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  • Wendy Read says:

    As virgin Burners, we were awed by the whole week-thanks for sharing the burn itself! But Burning Man and BRC is so much more than that….!

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  • John Bowden says:

    I could not make it this year to the Burn, do to a very lucrative occupational requirement……….. I put in my resignation before the embers cooled. Peace, light and longevity to all you burners. See ya next year

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  • Scott says:

    You, good sir, are amazing, as well as being an absolutely fabulous playa buddy. Thanks for everything this year. It was a great pleasure to spend this burn (albeit short for me) with you.

    My love to you, to the Berkeley contingency, the Marin rep, the Tuscon crew, and all who joined the “Grammas” this year. Thank you all for a wonderful time!

    Crazy Pants

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  • Kim Jong Ilo says:

    I, Kim Jong Ilo, Dear Leader of the crew that builds the man, approve this message. As always, beautiful work Curley. So glad you came onto our scene.

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  • Shane Toussifar says:

    Really great!

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  • Som Konar says:

    My daughter attended the festival and was supposed to be back home on September 2, 2013. But as of today Sept 4, she has not and I cannot reach her in her cell phone. I checked with the Sheriff’s office and they said there had been heavy rain and people are having rough time getting out. Can anybody provide any update, info etc. Are some people still staying out there? I checked at the Reknown hospital and she is not admitted there either. Thank you for any info.

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  • Steve Mobia says:

    I’m curious about the attitude John Curley expressed here. Why run everyone out so soon even before the temple burn? In the past I thought it was appreciated that people stay behind to help with the clean up. Now if a BIG storm hit and rained all night, yes that would be a problem for all involved. But the weather report I looked at on-line didn’t suggest a torrent of rain. So, tell me, did it really come down on Monday as so direly predicted?

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  • Pood Bear says:

    Did anyone find the meteorite?

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  • Styrous says:

    What fantastic photos!! I wasn’t able to make it, so, it was great to see them. Thanks for sharing them. You truly rock.

    Last week I uploaded the ones I got in 2003, as a tenth-year anniversary tribute, to my blog, the Styrous Viewfinder.

    Warmest wishes, Styrous

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  • Golden Boy (Playa Jazz) says:

    to the mom: It’s work getting out of Black Rock, so I’m sure your daughter has a dead cell phone and will be home safely soon.

    Rain on Monday:
    It sprinkled for 20 minutes on Monday. It did not slow the exodus down, save a few minutes. There was some grey water accidental dump from an RV and a BLM guy stopped traffic. Finally people said screw it and went around, even with the threat of a ticket, apparently. So one guy made it worse than the rainstorm threat.
    The exodus out at noon on Monday was 7.5 hours as a result.
    Probably should have been about 6.

    Last year at the exact same time the exodus never pulsed and was 90 minutes to the road. So the raid threats and rain threats were a waste of time. People are at the event to celebrate!

    The radio threats to leave before the temple burn were just plain silly. “we urge you” and such. Lighten up people at BMIR, and show the burn spirit and keep the tone in the spirit of the event, rather than make crazy, urgent, “leave now” demands. The rain threat was always 30% and there’s a wonderful Sunday burn that everyone should stay for, period.

    Now it looks like Tuesday is the new day to leave!

    Golden Boy

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  • Fellow Cosmic Miners unite! Add anyone who felt the heat of the burning coals of the Man. We need all the breadcrumbs we can gather: pictures, videos, testimonies, builders, aesthetics, burner power, etc. to honor the ultimate Playa Swag that was offered this year at Burning Man 2013. IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD.. or an idea like this.

    You say you want a revolution? ;D

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  • John Hurley says:

    Hey John Curley, this is John Hurley. This was my first ever burn, and I was working the entire time at Rampart. The view from Rampart lends a bit of a different perspective of the celebration. Coyote certainly lived up to the Native American myth of the clever prankster, and sent many a banged up and bruised burner in to see us. Hope to see and expereince more of the full spectrum next year, and maybe work just a bit less……

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  • tibercio says:

    I am a virgin for 2013. Spent only a short time as I was delivering a 72-year-old gramma from Boulder CO to Port Orford OR, and Burning Man was along the way. Gramma wanted to check it out. To me, it was like this:

    If Burning Man was only a campground, it was the best campground imaginable – all camp themes and creative shade solutions.

    If Burning Man was only an arts installation, it was the best art show imaginable.

    If Burning Man was only a fireworks show, it was the best 4th of July imaginable.

    If Burning Man was only a party, it was the best par-tay the planet has ever experienced.

    That it was all that – and populated by a people who were on their best behavior; i.e., participants were invited to be the best, most generous, most kind, most creative, most artistic, most free they could imagine themselves to be – made the entire Black Rock City an evolved, enlightened space. I went to the Temple on Saturday afternoon and the electric buzz inside was palpable. It raised my eyebrows with surprise, I laughed, I cried, it was beatific!

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  • Kade says:

    As a Virgin Burner but long time follower of Burning Man I was very excited to finally be able to attend. It exceeded my best expectations. The Man burn was unbelievable and the art, incredible. But the most powerful aspect was the emotional content. From the Temple to the friendliness of everyone. Thanks for being so persistent in your endeavor. You have brought something beautiful into the world and burned it leaving the ashes inside of all of us to bring home.

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  • Janet says:

    I had a wonderful burn. Like every year, it was the the best ever.

    But I feel betrayed by the Org here. In this post you let it slip how eager you were for us to leave as soon as possible. I feel like we got the bum’s rush out.

    We were planning to leave Monday morning, but the urgent announcements on BMIR pressing us all to get the hell out ASAP convinced us to leave on Sunday at 5:45PM.
    BMIR said there would be a 2 hour exodus if we left then. It was actually a 6 hour exodus, not counting counting the 2 hours it took to get through the city from 8:45 to DPW’s dropoff point (I had a big box of food and beer for DPW, but was I going to stop and get in their line at that point? Um, no).
    So my camp missed the Temple burn (and seeing the basalt stones at dawn in the ashes) and started a long drive at the end of an exhausting packing day. I got into Fallon at 4AM.

    I’ll be interested to know if the accident/fatality rate was higher this year.

    In the words of one of my campmates: “I’ll never believe anything I hear on BMIR again”.
    And like many others who had the same experience, I’ll be leaving on Tuesday morning from now on. So the plan to get rid of us as early as possible backfired.

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  • E says:

    Wow this was mind blowing. More to do and see than one could do in one week. As a virgin burner I had expectations. They were far exceeded. The community here was amazing to say the least. If we could spread this mentality to the rest of the world we would be in a much better place. Everyone was beautiful in mind body and soul. Tibercio nailed it in his words. This was a truly amazing experience. Something special going on here.

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  • John, thanks for taking pix of the Photo Chapel burning! Bonefire Bob let me do a short performance with my fire canon and I am in the shots you took. I am wearing the cowboy hat and have a hand-held flame effect device. I performed every night this year and took few photos. Had a blast! Also spent a lot of time with the Neverwas Haul camp. A different kind of year.

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  • Firetiger says:

    Ideas for the man base? How about building something different for once! Sure, the man base changes, but the man is always the same. Same design, same neon, same arms that raise, same man. We’ve taken to calling it the “boring recurring art” around our camp. Yawn.

    How about building a huge effigy that ISN’T a man? “Burning Octopus was better 5 years ago, before all these yahoos showed up.” “The secret to enjoying Burning T-Rex is to get out and PARTICIPATE!” “2013 was my best Burning Celery Stalk ever.”

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  • As a participant at the Photo Chapel burn, I could not take pictures, thanks for documenting!

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  • MadRunner says:

    I too questioned the “It WILL rain from noon Monday…leave before then” message which was spread in-person by rangers Sunday morning and repeated every minute or so on Gate Radio through Sunday and Monday. Finding one of the remaining Wi-Fi signals on Sunday afternoon, I accessed the official NWS and AccuWeather forecasts and yes they were calling for just a chance of a shower Monday night.

    Frankly this Burning Man, my first, was going too well for me to prematurely leave my camp and volunteer roles in cleaning up. So my strategy was to help strike camp while all the lemmings queued up to leave, then sometime after noon Monday I’d stream out the gate without any waiting. OK it was more like seven hours, but we got to see that stray shower and lots of fun along the way.

    All in all as close to perfect a week as I could’ve ever dreamed up. Every waking hour, I was saying to myself, “This is totally $#%@ amazing!”

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  • Jonathan Bauman says:

    Beautifully written. Beautiful photographs. Thanks for the memories. Getting all verklempt. Virgin this year, but not next!

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