Smooth Landing

Sunflower gave us a walk-through

We went out to take a look at the 747, and my oh my, how big it has grown.

It’s about twice the size it was last year; another good hunk of the fuselage was added to the portion that was here last year. It will make a most excellent place to take shelter from whatever storms might be raging outside, and it will be a party palace of epic proportions.

And many of the same people are back working on it again this year, including Sunflower, who was kind enough to give us a walkthrough.

She could as easily have told us to take a hike. We weren’t 100 percent on board last year, wrestling as we were with whether the jet qualified as a piece of art, or whether it was merely a gargantuan chunk of matter out of place.

Spacious interior

We have no such hesitations this year. We state confidently and without reservation that we are on board. We will check our emotional baggage at the boarding area.

And why is that, you ask? It is simply this: People have believed in, have dedicated themselves to, and have been inspired by this project for most of three years now. And that persistence and hard work and belief count for a lot. They are everything, really. And they’ve made a significant contribution to the community.

Among the improvements this year is a bigger, more robust electrical system, so we’re thinking that the sound and lights will be impressive. And as massive an impact as the 747 has made, there are still plans to go bigger. Next year, the goal is bring out the bottom half of the jet and turn it into a roving art car.

The DPW staged a “hijacking” of the 747 last year, which made for quite a culture clash between the workers in orange and black and their more sequined counterparts visiting the jet. “When we got back to Mojave,” Sunflower said, “we were still finding snakes.” The DPW had acted out a “snakes on a plane” pun, and they brought hundreds of small plastic reptiles with them for the invasion.

For now there are about 60 people working at the 747 site, and by the time the gates open, the camp will be home to about 200 people.

If the DPW tries another raid, they’re going to need big numbers.

Law enforcement has shown up on the playa, and lots of handy information is available to help guide your … um … interactions with authorities on the playa. “They are real people,” Dave X was saying, “and if you see them around, say hi and interact in some way, [but] not in a way that would get you arrested. But they are people too, and try to encourage them to have fun and become part of Burning Man.

“I’ve seen some priceless moments, like that guy with the plastic bags who was doing a dance like he was a goddess in the wind … I have some real funny memories with those guys.

“And things like, when you see them do their parade to the Temple … when you see them participating, they are in your community, they are part of your experience.”

Sweet Ride manages the JOC – the Joint Operations Center, where law enforcement is housed for the event. “Let’s remember,” he said, “NOT to poke the bear.”

It’s easy to forget that the long arm of the real world does in fact reach into the heart of Black Rock City. Law enforcement is here, the officers are real, and may all your interactions be mutually respectful ones, with happy outcomes.

Some views never get old.

Cobra Commander delivered a sober warning this morning. The desert is all around us, and while a trash fence demarcates our settlement, the lure of the open desert is strong. But the desert, he reminded us and anyone else who is coming this way, can kill you.

“When you go off by yourself, and you go on an excursion, and you don’t tell anybody where you’re going, and you don’t have the right tools to take care of yourself, and you get stuck … you can die.”

It was shocking to hear the words come out of his mouth, and the DPW group, normally boisterous, fell silent.

“That’s it, no joke, you can die.”

He went on to relate how someone did in fact get stuck recently, and the only thing that saved them was that there happened to be a cell signal available. But you can’t count on that. You have to take care of your stuff, and your self, and you have to look out for others.

Many thousands of people will soon be making their way here, and you have to traverse some extremely untamed territory to complete the journey. So it’s worth reminding yourself to be ready for anything, both on the way here, and then again when you arrive.

The Temple of Gravity has been the playground for the build.

Your mind tends to play tricks on you if you make the lonely trip from Wadsworth to Gerlach on Route 447 in the late night hours.

No matter how beautiful and glorious the day might have been, when you are out on that undulating, narrow, two-lane blacktop at night, out of cell range and without another car in sight, you almost can’t help but imagine the worst.

Lose a tire and there’s no shoulder to pull onto. If something worse happens, well, you think about what you have in the car and what it would take to hunker down for the night.

It’s a trek that not a few people have made over the past several days and weeks. The smart ones come in the daytime, when things are bright and shiny and full of possibility. But the hurried and pressed for time hit the road when they can.

If you find yourself in that latter group, just remember to prepare for anything and everything. There is a reason that radical self-reliance is one of the ten principles. On the journey and when you get here, it might rain. It might be unrelentingly hot. It could get quite cold. The winds can howl, and believe us, no matter what you may have read elsewhere, it WILL be dusty. That is a certainty.

Be prepared. Be self reliant. Be ready to help others. We’re in this together.

Cowboy Carl has a nice view.

In other news: We’re jealous of Cowboy Carl, who parks his trailer in the outer reaches of the city, adjacent to the wide-open spaces of walk-in camping. “Come on out whenever you need to get your head right,” he said sipping a beer in the cool of the evening. … Dave X said he was never much of a writer until Crimson started making red circle correction marks on the papers he’d submit. “Now I can bang out an angry three-page letter to the Fire Department with the best of them,” he said. … More than 100 people showed up to help clean up after Early Man. … One young man stood up before the crowd at the early morning meeting and declared, “If I want a hug, I’ll ask you.” Consent is real. … Clarity staged a pop-up meal in the Ghetto the other night, and we were sorry we missed it. There was a hummus plate with homemade flat bread and dolmas, there were bean and cheese quesadillas, there was salmon cerviche, and for desert, there were “adult” s’mores: Ice cream cones with cognac-flambed marshmallows and chocolate sauce. … Maybe not surprisingly, a lot of people gain weight on the playa. … Coyote is teaching OSHA certification classes even while he’s in Black Rock City. Two days, five hours each day. That’s a lot of time under a shade structure.

When Makeout says she has a to-do list as long as her arm, you can believe her.


They popped the top on the Temple yesterday morning.


And some of the Temple crew cheered from the stands.


Matt was aloft for a beautiful sunset.


Risky Burn used a quote from Mark Twain for her Ghetto art project.


The sign shop will make personalized signs for you if you give them a little time. They are very popular.


Even by his high standards, Randall’s outfit was exemplary.


There might be a little dust in the cockpit of the 747. It’ll get cleaned up soon though.



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.

19 Comments on “Smooth Landing

  • LadyBee says:

    “We weren’t 100 percent on board last year, wrestling as we were with whether the jet qualified as a piece of art, or whether it was merely a gargantuan chunk of matter out of place.” It’s neither – it’s a marvellous dance and chill space, but hardly “art.” Where is the meaning , the symbolism, the content? To see a great example of planes made into art, check out MIke Ross (Big RIg Jig 2006) and his Jet Kiss – an installation commissioned by a Seattle rapid transit station, where it now hangs. Mike deconstructed 2 fighter jet planes, painted the parts pink and transformed them into two birds kissing. He plays with the idea of transforming something destructive and threatening into something beautiful; death into love. Is the difference not obvious?

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    • LadyBee says:

      Thanks for posting! I understand now that comments with links in them are moderated to avoid spam – nothing more. Burning Man takes all comments without censorship – as it should be. Bravo!

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    • Jack donahue says:

      I believe art is what anyone can build make or display hope that work of American art is still on the playa for years to come,whats greater than what air travel brought to us.

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  • We Too Low says:

    Looks like SFO! Next year, Oakland!

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  • Skibit says:

    I think this could have done without the line “We weren’t 100 percent on board last year, wrestling as we were with whether the jet qualified as a piece of art, or whether it was merely a gargantuan chunk of matter out of place.”

    Why is art only what you see as art? Particularly one this is in a phase transition. A team that is motivated to follow their path only to be told this doesn’t fit into our exploration of a artistic and social experiment?

    Degenerate art!?

    “Where is the meaning , the symbolism, the content.” Does this need to be presented and outlined? Can it not be found or perceived?

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  • Artilla says:

    NEWSFLASH: Art can be ugly and stupid. Case in point.

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  • Mark Stern says:

    The fact that the 747 has provoked so much discussion and debate about its value as art indeniably defines it – IMHO – as art. I’m sure the exact same kind of debates were happening over Dada and Pop art in their day.

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  • Dusty Burton says:

    Great article. Well said by Dave X about L.E. Thier housing was called “Git-mo” for a few. I try to have words with some of the BLM guys and girls who come from all over. Alaska to FLA. it’s great duty for them and they go back home and tell people how great our community is!
    Say hi the Cowboy Carl . A true cowboy. Worked fence with him years ago when it took three days. Gave me some advice . “Eat more pretzels, Dusty! You need more salt”.
    Sittin this one out ….

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  • lala (the pa) looza says:

    the 747 looks like a wonderful space to be inside of… i wish i could be there but i have some breathing issues Plus i am a water sign lol and desert is not really my thing… but … but but but … this desert seems like such a fun place to be in during burning man.

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    • Candice A says:

      Try it at least once. The plan IS an amazing space. It was playa home for me. I’m in aviation and when a project can wrap up so many things I love into one beautiful package it is bliss. It was an absolute honor to be a part of it.

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