A Not-So-Dry Run

It’s true that you have to be prepared for everything, and sometimes everything happens in the course of one day. You can go from beautiful pastel blue skies and puffy white clouds and general gorgeousness to an ominous gray walls of storms and dust clouds and threatening skies and gushes of rain and howling winds in the space of an hour. It happened multiple times during our last visit. The Sign Shop crew was almost pelted off the highway from an intense hail storm, which was preceded by a haboob-like dust storm rolling over the Granites. In the evening we sat outside and let the darkness fall ever so gently as pinks and purples filled the sky, and then we were chased inside by heavy winds and pelting rain that created puddles everywhere in minutes. Temperatures had moderated mercifully since we were here last time for the Golden Spike—instead of being in the mid-100s, the morning temperatures were in the 70s, which felt blessed.

We got there just before the Temple crew arrived, when there was nothing more than flags in the ground

The evenings cooled down nicely without turning cold. The condition of the playa was pretty good, generally—it was decent between the Temple site and where the Man will be built, it was relatively flat and not chewed up, and was mostly free of the dust mounds that can grab your bike and throw you to the ground. We also thought this trip would be a smart time to test our own processes and procedures to make sure that attending this event in the desert is in the realm of the possible for someone in a situation like the one I am in right now. I worry about being too big a burden on the people around me, and for everyone we have to ask for help. This is a place of Radical Self-reliance which is an expressed value of the community, but then again so is Communal Effort. So the Radically Self-reliant atmosphere is moderated by the need for Communal Effort, and even though we need to ask for help, we really don’t like doing so. People have been amazingly supportive and we appreciate each and every gesture and helping hand.

When we were here in July, the playa was still pretty much an open space, and the only people on site were the survey crew; but now there are hundreds and hundreds of containers that have all been transported to the playa in preparation for the event. Most of that happened on Transpo Day, when all the containers are brought to the playa. Transpo Day is another big, big day that happens after the Spike and before the gates open.

A week after the Spike was placed, the entire area was encircled with a trash fence—nine miles around the perimeter of the event site. It’s installed by hand, usually in a single day. This year the operation turned Biblical in difficulty, with driving sandstorms reducing visibility to a couple of feet—it looked like the end of times. There are videos circulating out there on social media (if anyone would like to share them in the comments here, that would be most appreciated).

So when we left, there was very little happening on the desert, but when we came back two weeks later, the preparations had begun in earnest. The heavy equipment yard is always among the first to be set up on the playa, as well as the Depot (where many large shipments of supplies get staged for distribution) around the playa.

The evening skies were beautiful before the rains came

And then, just like that, it was time for us to leave again to further prepare for the upcoming adventure. It was so fantastic to get an early taste of the community and friends that we will see in a few weeks. There is most definitely a certain romance to being out in the desert before everyone and everything else—but make no mistake, this is a work site and will remain one for the next several weeks until the gates open and the event begins. It’s beautiful work but it’s work nonetheless.

Nippel, at Point One, told us that the Greeters up ahead would be wearing the black and orange shirts, which might have been the first time that DPW was confused with Greeters
Just George was doing his best to steal Terry Pratt’s job
There was a big push on Tuesday to get the commissary tent up so the crews could move to playa for their meals
All the big gear in place at the HEAT yard
After rain and dust storms, the fence is in place

Cover image: Reminder that you always have to be ready to make a hasty exit from the playa (Photo by Trevor Tarin) All other photos courtesy of John Curley

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.

22 Comments on “A Not-So-Dry Run

  • LadyBee says:

    John! Thank you for your great update and thank you for being out there!! You are a warrior. I bow to you.

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  • Scott Williams says:

    Thanks for your coverage John! I’m glad you are able to do this. Your pre-event reporting has been a gift for many years.

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  • Nicoal says:

    This is scary because if it rains then no one will know what to do. There’s only so much cheese and meat to go around. Without the Nevada National Guard to save us from the flood, there’s really no hope for anyone.

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  • Doc Wilder says:

    Thank you John!! Everyone reading this truly appreciates your commitment and skill, and I wish you better health and comfort as we move ever closer to Waking Dreams.

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  • Bigbluedoggy says:

    John, I’m so grateful to have your reports once again this year! I’ve always loved your insight and your ability to connect all of the human dots in that ethereal place. Thank you!!

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  • Josh Keppel says:

    Thanks Curley!! Great to see your pix and hear your voice from out there!!!

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  • Drag0nfly says:

    Always WOW…what it takes to build a city. HUGE GRATITUDE. <3 Most who show up have worked really hard to get there. Make getting to the gate a tearful experience.

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  • Thomas (the Bishop) Andrejko says:

    Excellent update ! Thanks so much, I am extremely excited to be able to return to the Playa again. It’s what keeps me going . I am so grateful to everyone behind the scenes that create the magic. I lost vision in right, dominant eye earlier this year and have undergone eye surgery and a second medical procedure. I have some vision again and hopefully it will get better with time. But it will not stop me from making the journey !!!!

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  • Rio says:

    Thank you for your post. As part of this community I would do anything you need, self reliance be damned. Going to TTITD wouldn’t be the same without you telling us what’s happening. You are a big part of the excitement, anticipation and fun for all of us.

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  • Excellent summary, John!
    I’m sure you recall the double plague several years ago of two different carniverous flying beetles/insects that stopped construction for some days, also.
    And I do remember a night time cold drizzles while trying to find my camp and tent late after the Temple burn. It wasn’t easy.
    Also recall leading an exercise class when one guy noticed another and said, “Hey, why’s your long hair standing on end all of a sudden?” We decided we might get struck by lightning if we didn’t move inside, and we were in in a flash (no pun, no lightning.)
    Another time, literally thousands of elephants-worth of rain fell and almost ripped our canvas tarp roofs from their weight. We used whatever to raise them from their centers so they’d spill onto our floors; it was the correct choice in this case.

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  • Papa Penguin says:

    at least thankfully no snow! As always, it makes me feel as if I am right there with you, thank you for the excellent narrative.

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  • Valerie Micham says:

    one day I will join your elited ranks … I adore the logistics, the building of the city and the work it takes … you all are the Cat’s ME-OW

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  • Buddy Totten says:

    Thanks John! Great article! See you out there soon and stop by Anonymous Village for a cuppa coffee.

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  • Applesauce says:

    Thanks for the great article John! It is a good reminder of the fickle weather on Playa and a cautionary tale for folks to be prepared for whatever dust, rain, and wind storms can move quickly through the Black Rock desert. I can’t wait!!

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  • Amy H says:

    Thank you, John, for the excellent-as-ever peek behind the scenes. Always appreciated!

    Thanks, too, for this bit. As a chronically ill person (fibromyalgia), I can empathize and am not sure how much longer my body will tolerate my desire to join this city: “I worry about being too big a burden on the people around me, and for everyone we have to ask for help. This is a place of Radical Self-reliance which is an expressed value of the community, but then again so is Communal Effort. So the Radically Self-reliant atmosphere is moderated by the need for Communal Effort, and even though we need to ask for help, we really don’t like doing so.”

    Wishing you All The Best!

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  • Molly says:

    John – I have recently been talking about Radical Self-Reliance with a friend who has lost his sight, and now insists he can’t go to BRC as he won’t be self-reliant. I have tried to impress upon him that part of Radical Self-Reliance is building a network of people you can count on when you need em, as they have counted on you previously – an individual does that, and as you point out – this leads to communal effort.

    This may seem like an oxymoron, but I firmly believe they’re entwined. And we’re all here to support whatever you need, gratefully and graciously.

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  • Jeff & Rachel says:

    You are one bad mofo! And your radical community is here to help you with whatever you may need. You have given so much to us, we are happy to return the favor…sparkle on ;-)

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  • sidney swerman says:

    Due to Elder care and COVID it’s been 9 years and you just gave me bad stomach cramps! Thanks John.

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  • Paul Elischer says:

    this is fantastic, I’m packing my stuff right now and I’m getting new things from Amazon every day. I can’t wait to get there but I love to join you on the build one day. I’m a contractor and I’m looking forward to retiring in about five years so I’ll have plenty of time on my hand and I’d love to put some of that time towards building the temple because I’m very spiritually motivated. I will see you all on the Playa come to camp Brainfreeze and have a margarita for me.
    Paul E aka Punisher Bunny aka Mayor of Chase Center

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