Black Rock City, the temporary town that hosts Burning Man’s annual clusterf*ck of art, food, and parties, doesn’t just magically appear in the middle of the Nevada desert every year. Its planning and construction is a lot more mundane–and a lot more fun, according to a new mini-doc.
In a new video, the San Francisco-based photographer and vlogger Shalaco follows the surveyors and builders who plan the city’s distinctive half-moon street grid.
Everything starts with a quasi-magical-sounding element called the “Golden Spike,” which is hammered into the ground by the construction crew. That single point forms the basis for surveyors and workers who will lay out the radial grids of alleys that dictate where camps will be located.
“You start your day on the Survey crew well before dawn, because when the heat of the day arrives, it becomes impossible to measure distances accurately because of the shimmering heat waves that emanate from the desert floor,” writes John Curley on the Burning Man Journal, where he’s documenting the survey process before Burning Man kicks off on August 26.
A total of 21 surveyors live and sleep under the stars in a small, central camp that is always the very first structure of the city, encircling The Golden Spike, called the “Octagon” for its eight wooden walls. Then, over the course of the next week, they will lay down a 5.62-square-mile plan, drawing all the linear streets, the concentric circular streets, and the plots for the hundreds of camps that will be enjoyed by more than 65,000 visitors. As the surveyors complete their work, the rest of the 250-strong construction team begins the labor of laying down posts, fences, porta-potties, and other structures, like the Center Cafe or the Burning Man Commissary tent.
Shalaco’s video, as well as Curley’s stories about this process, give a sense for an experience that’s nothing like the crowded, raucous event itself. Though the work is intense and the landscape is extreme, I kind of want to be there–building stuff, drinking beer under the sun, and sleeping under the stars. It seems a lot more fun than the actual festival.