RENO, Nev. — Thousands of techies, old hippies, trippers and artists from around the world are on their way to the northern Nevada desert for the annual Burning Man counterculture festival.
While the event known for its eclectic artwork, music and games began Monday, most participants aren’t expected to show up until later this week on the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno near Gerlach.
Billed as a celebration of art and radical self-expression, the 17th annual gathering is expected to draw 28,000 people from at least 40 states and 20 countries.
“There’s a certain energy out here, everybody is having a blast. It’s Mardi Gras in the desert,” said Don Lawson Jr., a participant and store owner from nearby Empire.
Lawson and others will let their hair down at the celebration that combines wilderness camping and offbeat art and music in a surreal 5-square-mile encampment known as Black Rock City.
The weeklong festival on the ancient lake bed climaxes Saturday night with the ceremonial torching of a 70-foot-high wooden effigy of a man for whom the event is named.
“We want participants to be safe and have an enjoyable experience out there,” said Dave Cooper of the Bureau of Land Management’s Winnemucca field office, which must approve a permit because the event is on public land.
But he warned participants that drug laws again would be enforced.
Last year, BLM rangers issued more than 100 citations to participants, mostly for marijuana possession. The agency also made a handful of arrests for possession of larger amounts of drugs.
“We will enforce drug laws just as we would in any other community,” Cooper said. “They’re like any other community in that regard.”
Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell said information on drug laws has been included in the “Survival Guide” mailed to all ticket holders.
“We have always urged people to recognize state and federal laws, which includes drugs,” she said.
Burning Man creator Larry Harvey started the first festival at San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986 and moved to the Nevada desert in 1990. Billed as the ultimate celebration of radical self-expression and self-reliance, Burning Man features a crazy, anything-goes atmosphere.
Participants are encouraged to participate by operating theme camps, such as the Costco Soulmate Trading Outlet where celebrants can line up dates. Other activities include body painting and dominatrix training.
Participants wear every kind of costume imaginable — or nothing at all since clothing is optional.
To combat dust storms that have plagued the event in recent years, organizers plan to water down streets in the tent city that even has its own air strip.
Tickets for the event began at $130 and now cost $250.