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.
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.
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.
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