The Point Where It All Begins

“There’s a lot of intention and love that gets driven to that first point of the city.”
-DA of Black Rock

It’s no small feat, building a city. The people who come together to begin surveying and raising Black Rock City know intimately the joy, the gravity and significance of what we create together. Yesterday, July 27, 2023 a small group of city builders came together to hammer the first spike — known as the Golden Spike — into the epicenter of Black Rock City. 

On this spike, the Man will rise. And from it will emanate the entirety of Black Rock City — from the Temple, to the Esplanade, and all the way back to Kraken street. As soon as the spike is in the ground (following a celebration, of course) the Survey team begins. They’re already out there today, plotting the lines that will define the grid of our ephemeral city.

Day by day, person by person, from this moment, Black Rock City comes to life. 

We can’t wait to welcome you Home.

Read on to hear from some of the city builders who participated in this year’s Golden Spike.


“At the end of the day, so much of what brings meaning and compelling moments to Burning Man are the rituals. It is about ritual. It just made me reflect on a lot of my time that I spent and what I’ve both given and gotten from the event. It just brought this home to this one moment, and it all starts here, with a little hammer and spike.

“I also have to say this year felt different…  Right now, in and around Gerlach, as more Burning Man folks are showing up and at this ceremony and in the celebration afterwards, it just felt lighter. It felt like there was more joy in the air and positive anticipation. It’s almost like this is the return to Black, Rock City that we were hoping for last year. This year it feels like it’s that.” – Patrice ‘Chef Juke’ Mackey, Department of Mutant Vehicles Council Member


“How does one set an intention for culture to thrive? The design of Black Rock City would not have become the plans for the city without starting at a single point. Setting pencil to paper to create the design would then translate into cracking the surface of the playa to physically create the survey of Black Rock City. 

“What began as a starting point for the survey of Black Rock City became a ceremony, a ritual of the Golden Spike, created by Will Roger and Tony ‘Coyote’ Perez for the Department of Public Works. Over the years, this gesture of appreciation shows those in attendance — those who take a swing at the Gold Spike — that the rewarding hard work ahead of them will promote creative inspiration.

“Today on the Black Rock Desert nearly 200 people gathered around that single point, to continue that ritual, each in turn taking a swing with the sledge hammer aiming for the Golden Spike. Black Rock City has begun!” – Crimson Rose, Cultural Co-founder

Co-founders Crimson Rose and Will Roger Peterson (Photo by Marnee Benson)

“It still astounds me that we take a complete blank canvas and spin out the wheel of an entire city. It demonstrates just what cities are made of — it shows how the spokes of structure can bring the heart of community. And it happens in the spirit of immediacy — it chimes from the moment that spike taps the playa.

“This year has the feel of an engine that got its tune up — all pistons firing after a clunky year — even the playa seems healed and firm — spirits high.” – Tony ‘Coyote’ Perez, Black Rock City Superintendent

Tony ‘Coyote’ Perez stands next to the Golden Spike (Phot by Marnee Benson)

“In the morning, we gathered for a blessing ceremony with Dean Barlese, an elder of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. We stood in a circle where the Man will stand. The sun was already strong, and the distant peaks surrounding the playa were colorful. Dean led the blessing, and Misty Youngbear’s son Harrison (Meskwaki/Omaha) did the smudging for each of the members of our group. Many of us shared thoughts about this place, and Will Roger led us in a pledge of allegiance to Mother Earth. We’re honored to continue this new tradition that we started together last year.” – Marnee Benson, Director of Government Affairs

“We’re very aware that we’re creating the playground for people to come in and play. It’s up to them to like their experience, and we’re hoping it’s a good one. We’re hoping it’s the thing that attracted all of us. 

“I think this is my 23rd Golden Spike. This is my 19th year managing Resto, and I’m just like, ‘Wow. This is the circle that welcomed me when I was the new kid.’

“We circle around and then the people who hit the spike address the circle of people. The community and people really thank one another. They thank each other for their work. Sometimes people go into a little bit of a personal story, what this means to them or why it was tough for them to get here, or what kind of year they just had and it just gets witnessed. And then they declare something… their love or for the community or whatever it is, and then hit the spike. So there’s a lot of intention and love that gets driven to that first point of the city.” – Dominic ‘DA of Black Rock’ Tinio, Playa Restoration Manager

DA of Black Rock (Photo by Marnee Benson)

“For DPW it’s the start of the city. It’s the beginning of Survey. It’s the center point where the Man stands. It’s the ceremonial and spiritual groundbreaking for building Black Rock City. My husband [Tony ‘Coyote’ Perez], has chosen since they were born to include my boys in the ceremonial aspect of that. It’s really special to me in a way that connects our family to our history here.” – Melissa ‘Hormel’ Waters, DPW veteran and herbalist, San Francisco Office Administrator

(Photo by DA)

Cover image: City builders gather for the Golden Spike (Photo by Terry Pratt)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

22 Comments on “The Point Where It All Begins

  • Tom (the Bishop) Andrejko says:

    Wow, Fantastic. The city scape begins ! I can’t wait to be home on the Playa. The excitement and adrenaline rises today.

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    • Delmer Buddy Totten says:

      Thank you all so much, I didn’t know indigenous ceremony and blessings were apart the the golden spike ceremony and it really says a-lot about Black Rock City and it makes me feel good about being apart of this.

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  • Brittany Paige Stewart says:

    This is absolutely beautiful and profound. I can not wait to experience this for myself. Thank you for this beautiful community.

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  • Alli Sparkle says:

    I’m just so amazed by the tenacity and commitment of so many, year after year, to make this thing possible. Attending burning man has been a long time dream of mine that I will hopefully get to make my reality. What a wonderful little city this is consistently throughout all these years. Great job everybody! May you all have the most fantastic burn yet!!

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  • Jack says:

    That thing on the ground looks like a tiny robot alien.

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  • A G says:

    I love the community and the magic of it all but at a time like this…What is up with the pledge of allegiance to Mother Earth when the ritualistic symbol is still combustion? Why not be more?

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    • brion phipps says:

      It’s one of the many hypocrisies of burning man. I sincerely wish burning man actually committed to the principles it expounds. Doing so will change the event, but change is good (and needed if humanity is to survive). If bm can’t survive changes to a truly environmental event, then it doesn’t deserve to survive. Reducing waste, consumption, and the carbon footprint should all be part of the core principles. And based on what’s happening to the climate, to the top of the list. Until then it’s just another paper tiger. The org and participants’ failures to address the environmental impact is probably the reason, I personally can’t buy into the ethos. I go some years, but i don’t delude myself to thinking bm is anything more than just a decadent party in the desert.

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  • Ecstatic E! says:

    I mean, yes, it’s “fun”

    And I can’t help but to think/feel/see that there may be better ways to utilize Resources than to participate in a NIMBY gathering in the middle of nowhere, in order to literally burn and run through as much “goods” & supplies.. away from the pain and suffering of our fellow human beings.

    Decentralized community building seems to be a filter to kick out the less-fortunate of this “community.”

    I was so excited to have found creative community at first… many years in, the exact issues of being part of some “Christian communities” is apparent here- using the good-will of people longing to Belong, taking advantage of the free workers, and then treating them as disposable and replaceable as soon as the $$$ streams have been established.

    Yes, it’s fun.

    And I cannot stop thinking about the burning Amazon rainforests and the indigenous leaders asking those of us in these parts of the world, those of us whom are able to have time and space to go burn thousands of dollars and time and resources in the desert as a modern-day Ritual.


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    • Kenstep says:

      As a 53 yr. old childless (for ethical reasons) vegetarian who lives two miles away from work in his one bedroom apartment, I swear I will take into account the environmental damage I have caused attending a festival in the desert for a week with 0.00001% of the population when I die in the climate wars.

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  • Casper says:

    One word, wooohooooooo!

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  • jp says:

    can’t f****cking wait!! do you happen to have the lat/long coordinates for the golden spike already ?

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  • Dragonpilot says:

    See ya’s during build week!

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  • Nina Zee says:

    Thank you all for your noble work.
    I cannot wait for be welcomed Home ❤️‍

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  • anon says:

    Anyone have the coordinates of the golden spike?

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  • Omega says:

    Thank You for all you all do to create a canvas where people can experience a harsh reality and survive for a week, where people can exercise as many of the 10 Principles as possible, and leave with a full heart. I’ll miss you this year. Omega

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  • Mike Bilbo says:

    As far as the nay-sayers go, I bet most Burners are, in fact concerned about the Amazon Rainforest and human pain and suffering. I just hope they are writing to their respective Congressional delegations to keep influencing our government to keep influencing our capitalists, and China, Russia North Korea, and Mexico to stop belching untold tons of pollutants into the atmosphere.

    Yes, that pain and human suffering, we escape it for a week and then go back to it. Is there significance therefore, or not, as to the thousands of sentiments written in the Temple? There’s plenty of people in BRC thinking on human pain and suffering, thousands, I would say.

    Carbon footprint-wise, it seems to me that the vehicles of 80,000 people parked for a week ought to mean something. If they weren’t parked here, they’d be getting driven around for a week elsewhere. And the getting to and from BRC, true, being part of the pattern that would happen anyhow if they weren’t here but driving around back home.

    One thing though, it’s always good and important to have complainers, as it does keep people thinking as to how we’re doing on the one hand, or the other. And how we might like to, or need to, change.

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  • Jennifer Cull says:

    I know Burning man tries hard to do things right. The larger it grows, the harder it is to control. I just wish people would accept it for what it is and stop complaining about costs. If it’s so troubling one could just not pay and stay home. Thankfully there is a low income program so everyone from most economic situations can attend if they want. I am greatful to the founders and their traditions such as the Golden Spike. Just wanted to get this off my chest.

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