Source images are from the Burning Man office webcam Taken on the morning of Sunday, August 25th. The gates opened later in the evening that day.
Filed Under Burning Man | 2012-08-19, 13:11
Almost every year, a few weeks before Burning Man, word starts coming back from the playa that “it’s going to be dusty this year”. Most people that have been to the playa shrug this off with “it’s dusty every year”. This year however is a year to remind people that sometimes dusty doesn’t just mean annoying, it means potentially dangerous. As many know, 2011 had some of the best weather the event has ever seen. (No seriously, it was better last year.) Low winds, no dust storms, and almost perfect temperatures. This year may prove to be the exact opposite due to severe drought, high winds, and a lot more people to kick up dust.
Everyone’s gauge for what “dusty” is differs. My first year I showed up with a box of dust masks, full goggles, and even a two filter respirator. As the years have gone by I’ve made several trips back and forth to the playa for Burning Man and Juplaya and I now find myself usually running around with a pair of sunglasses and a bandana and calling that good. I still pack my respirator and googles just in case though as the playa can be an unpredictable and harsh mistress who doesn’t have a safe word.
Advice for Surviving Dust Storms at Burning Man
(You’ve already read the survival guide, right?)
1. Always have goggles and a dust mask on you
You can have them in your camelbak and never use them, but the one time you need them you’ll be glad you have them. Get a pair of goggles with replaceable lenses so you can have clear at night and tinted for the day.
2. Carry a GPS with your camp and other useful waypoints marked
Two years ago we found ourselves out in deep playa at night when a whiteout hit. We literally were walking blind except for my GPS. Without any sort of direction, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in a no-visibility situation and humans can’t walk straight. I’ve been using my Garmin eTrex Vista Hcx at the event for 4 years now. You can download GPS map files for Black Rock City here. Huge thanks to Will Keller for making these every year.
3. Stick together in a whiteout
It’s surprising how easy it is to lose friends in a whiteout, especially when it’s dark. We tend to use a “call” to keep everyone together. Pick a word or sound and whenever someone yells it, yell it back to them. It helps in keeping everyone aware of where everyone else is. Also it’s handy for quick cat herding when you want to leave crowded events on playa. And remember, megaphones can be used for more than just snark.
4. Get off your bike
If you’re riding your bike (or driving a car for that matter) and a whiteout hits, the first thing you should do is get off your bike. If you can’t see 2 feet in front of you, you don’t know what you’re about to hit. It could be rebar, it could be art, it could be a person, it could be a car. Chances are you’ll only be able to ride slightly faster than walking anyways, so be courteous to everyone else and walk it to shelter.
5. Tie down all the things
If you have any sort of structure, secure it. Carports are incredibly dangerous when they turn into tumbleweed. Even on the good weather years, a sudden gust of wind can send a carport flying. We like to use 3 ft pieces of rebar and multiple ratchet straps. Flying objects are probably the most dangerous thing during storms.
6. Get to shelter (carports, cars, RVs, etc)
Most of the dust storms we’ve experienced have been waited out in a well-secured carport with all the walls down. It stops some of the dust, provides some protection from flying objects, and that’s usually where the beer is. In really bad conditions, you want something a little stronger in between you and the dust and slightly larger flying things. Cars and RVs are better than carports for this. But for no reason should you try driving in a whiteout.
7. Embrace the experience
Once you’re sure that you’re in a safe place and your friends/neighbors/etc are too, embrace the experience. Anger, irritation, frustration, yelling, worrying, and being scared won’t make the dust go away any sooner. Weathering a dust storm on the playa is an experience you won’t get anywhere else.
- Playa cam, aka what does the playa look like right now
- Current weather conditions in the Black Rock Desert (thanks to Friends of Black Rock)
- Bruce Damer describes the “Condition Alpha” storm of 2002 and also his Alpha Survival Guide
When SXSW 2012 registration opened a few days ago (July 30th), I was asked, “Does SXSW ever sell out?”. My answer was, “No, but the hotels do”.
The first year I attended SXSWi I decided to go at the last minute. The biggest challenge was finding a hotel room even remotely close to the Convention Center. I ended up at the La Quinta Inn Oltorf (1603 East Oltorf Street) which was about 2.5 miles from the convention center. While I had an incredible amount of fun, my week involved a lot of late night cab rides and I missed any sort of morning panels. After that I vowed never to stay that far away again. It’s like camping in the outer streets of Black Rock City when all the action is on the Esplanade
I heard rumors a few days ago that hotels near the Austin Convention Center were already sold out for the Interactive portion of SXSW. Today I checked on SXSW’s Hotel Availability page and sure enough everything close to the ACC is sold out for the Interactive portion of SXSW. If you’re going for just music, most hotels are still available, but for SXSWi the closest hotel available through the SXSW Housing Desk is “La Quinta – South”, 3.9 miles from the Convention Center. I imagine it won’t be long before all those rooms are gone too.
The highly coveted hotels are anything within walking distance of the Austin Convention Center. The Hilton is probably the most sought after place to crash with it’s proximity and tendency for late night lobby parties like the Revolving Door Party and the Backstroke Competition. Other popular hotels are the Courtyard Mariott/Residence Inn, the Driskell, and the W Hotel. Ever year I’ve found myself visiting friends or hitting the bar at these hotels.
If you’re like me, your first thought is probably, “Why not just book a room for 2014 right now?” The problem is SXSW blocks off rooms in all the nearby hotels and then only provides them to SXSW badge holders. There are two ways to get a badge, you either buy one or you’re given one for presenting a panel. In order to book a hotel room in one of the blocks that SXSW has held, you are required to have a badge. But this causes another problem, registration (for badges and hotels) opens well before panels are accepted. For SXSW 2012 I didn’t know whether my panel was accepted until December. There are hotel rooms held for presenters, but there is the risk that your panel is not accepted, and then you’re stuck in December and everything is sold out. Not a risk I’m willing to take.
SXSW Interactive is getting bigger and bigger every year. In 2010 (the first year Interactive was bigger than Music) there were 12-13,000 attendees. The next year, 2011, an estimated 20,000 people invaded Austin for the Interactive festival. Despite the rain this year, that number jumped up to 25,000 people. If this trend continues, we may see over 30,000 people this year and more people sharing beds out of necessity rather than a result of drunken hook-ups after the company party.
Filed Under Video | 2012-08-02, 10:01
A bit of a meditative drive across the open playa of the Black Rock Desert. This was in the north on the western side as we headed up towards Double Hot Hot Springs. Roughly around this area. You can even make out the “road” we eventually find towards the end. Thanks to a very dry year, the playa was bone dry where last year we helped rescue a sheriff’s stuck truck from the mud. This meant we could travel just about anywhere we wanted, clocking in over 100miles of playa driving over a couple days.
If you’ve never had a chance to drive across the open playa completely unrestricted, I highly recommend making the pilgrimage. You won’t set any land speed records (unless your car pushes over 760mph), but you can go about as fast as you feel comfortable in your car if the ground is flat and hard packed.