Burning Man Preview: Charter Flights, Big Whales, Dirty Thirty

Aug 19, 2016

Aerial view of Burning Man camp in the Black Rock Desert.
Credit Ratha Grimes, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

More than 70,000 people are expected to make a pilgrimage to the Black Rock Desert for the annual Burning Man arts festival at the end of the month. The week-long event is celebrating its 30th year

To find out more about the biggest party in the desert, our reporter Julia Ritchey chatted with Reno's only dedicated Burning Man reporter, Jenny Kane, of the Reno Gazette-Journal. 

Attendance at this year's festival will mirror last year's, says Kane, but there will be a new way to get there and back. 

"They have a new Burner air shuttle," she says. "They're trying to fill up the planes, which will leave from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and go straight to the playa." 

Charter flights are nothing new, but this is the first service run directly by Burning Man. 

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the festival, whose history Kane recently wrote about. 

"It started in 1986 on Baker Beach outside of San Francisco," says Kane. "It didn't move to Nevada until 1990, when the police actually kicked the Burners off the beach that year because they didn't want them burning this 40-foot tall effigy."

Now that the festival has grown in popularity, Burning Man's founders have tried to downplay criticism that the event is no longer the counter-cultural, subversive art festival it once was. 

"Everyone knows what Burning Man is now, and that's okay with them," says Kane. "But there's certainly some struggles they acknowledge.... with more and more people coming to the festival now, there are fewer and fewer that have been there... the past decade. So they're struggling to educate people at the rate they're coming and letting them know what the purpose of it all is."

Still, a big draw of the festival is the large-scale artworks that take months and months to construct and assemble out on the playa. Kane says one locally made piece this year, called the Space Whale, is especially compelling.

"Their fins are going to be up in the air; it's going to look like it's swimming through the desert," she says. "The light is going to be gorgeous because the whales are going to be made of stained glass."

For more of Kane's Burning Man coverage, follow her here.