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The Deadly Desert of Burning Man



I go to Burning Man each year, and I went this year.

Yes, it’s difficult to explain the experience.

Moreover, although non-attending acquaintances may politely ask you how it was, their eyes glaze with incomprehension and boredom before you are half a minute into your description of the strange vehicles and buildings, the glowing, pulsating science fictional city.


The fact is, they really just don’t want to hear about it, and the whole thing challenges description anyway.

Whatever it is, it isn’t Planet America. There are no words to render the weirdness understandable.

When you’re “out there,” time seems to expand in some way. It may only be about a week, but in some fashion it feels like months, in that desert.

So, anyway, I’m back … but it takes a long time, an indefinite time, to be “all the way” back.

I don’t just mean the interval in which you gradually resume your former daily routines– and that may vary per person. Everyone deals with it differently.


What I mean is that you’re not back until you have finally gotten rid of the dust, the yellow-white dust of the “Playa” in the Black Rock Desert.

The incredibly fine, all-pervasive alkaline dust, composed of salt and gypsum and fossiliferous matter. Calcium sulphate. The residue of a prehistoric lake bed. Dust that coats your skin and your clothes and your possessions, the dust that creeps into every pore, every crevice of your physical being.

This dust simply has to be endured as a phenomenon of the experience. It is everywhere and can’t be avoided. There are dust storms…


But when you return, it seems to have stayed with you.

Did you wash it off your clothes? You thought you did, but there it is again.


Two baths later, it’s still emerging from your skin to color the bath water.

It’s so fine, you see. It won’t wash off; it “comes back” again and again– because you never really eradicated it.

It puts me in mind of another magical city surrounded by dust, something I read long ago in childhood, in the Oz books of L. Frank Baum.


In the books, unlike in the Technicolor Judy Garland MGM musical– itself a fine entertainment which certainly may be enjoyed by heterosexuals –Oz wasn’t just “all a dream.” No indeed– it was really real.

But you couldn’t get there. Nobody could. Oz, and a few neighboring enchanted lands, were surrounded on all sides by The Deadly Desert.

The dust of this desert was fatal to the touch.

The Wizard floated over it in a balloon. Dorothy’s house was carried over it in the cyclone, or tornado, which had picked it up in Kansas. Neither of them came in contact.


In one of the books a land-sailing craft, called a sand ship, was built, which glided on runners over the desert (this actually sounds like some kind of Burning Man vehicle, come to think of it).

The thing is, in those stories, if you ever touched this fine sand, that was it. When you died, you turned to sand yourself.

I often feel that may happen yet, in my case.

Oh well– after another month, there won’t be any visible signs of the dust.


But it’ll still be there, just the same.

Hal Robins is a renowned underground comic artist and his work has appeared in Last Gasp’s Weirdo, Salon Magazine’s Dark Hotel and many other publications. For decades he has been the co-host of KPFA-Pacifica Radio’s “Puzzling Evidence” program. Reverend Hal is the Master of Church Secrets for The Church of the SubGenius. As Dr. Howland Owll, he has served as MC for many unique San Francisco events, and is the principle of The Ask Dr. Hal Show, still currently running both as a live staged event and in-studio on Radio Valencia (radiovalencia.fm) Friday evenings. Hal contributed his unique vocal talents to the award-winning interactive game Half-Life.

[fiery silhouette of athletic man via Shutterstock.com.]

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