What is Burning Man? That's a big question. The Burning Man website has a lot to say about it but I want to tell you what -I- think it is.
It's a lot to describe. Really! My stock answer starts with, "Imagine every amusement park you've ever been to in your life... every one, from Six Flags Great Adventure down to Fairy Tale Forest. Now think about every monument you've ever seen in your life. Right from the Washington Monument down to that little plaque you always pass and never remember downtown. They are all there. Now, put every holiday, from Christmas to Arbor Day all together. You might think it's crazy (and it really is) but all those things are there! Go ahead, ask me how Burning Man is like any monument, amusement park or holiday!"
So far, friends have asked me how it was like the Washington Monument and Christmas. Those are both easy. For the former, I described The Temple of Stars, it's meaning (to me) and physical appearance. Christmas is the easiest one: gifts, tidings of joy etc..., spirit of the season, an art piece or two I saw with themes of martyrdom, the feelings and themes of birth and rebirth.
A big part of the reason I ask people to name a holiday is to demonstrate the radically participatory nature of the event and how its image is shaped by the viewer. There's something about Heisenberg in that.
Burning Man 2004 Location Data 01/15/04
Burning Man location: -119 14 11.105385W 40 45 17.162029N
True North/South is along road 4:30
Man to the center of Center Camp: 2400'
Promenade is 50' wide with lampposts every 100'
Camp Center Theme Camps radius: 250' inside and 485' outside (500' radius to the center of Ring Road)
The first road (Esplanade) is 2100' from the Man, the next is 2500', then every 200' (400' between 4:30 and 7:30 and fourth and sixth road), all roads measured from center line
The roads are 30' wide, except the fourth and the outer roads (roads at 2900' and 4100'), and 2:00, 3:30, 5:30, 6:30, 8:30, and 10:00 spoke roads, which are all 40' wide.
Outposts are at 90° and 270° on second road, and are 250' in diameter
Black Rock City Construction and Fire/Services from outer road: 800' center to center
Outer road to Greeter area: 1,100'
Walk in Camping Area is beyond outer road to pentagon between lines extended from 2:00 and 5:00
Man to outer fence pentagon points: approx. 6500', and about 7600' between points (pentagon = one hundred million sq.ft.)
Greeter Area to Gate: 1 mile
Gate to Hwy. 34: 1/2 mile
to Depot: 10 miles
to Gerlach: 13 miles
to Reno: 120 miles
to San Francisco: 337 miles