A Quick Photo Tour of The Playa

We woke this morning to the full moon setting outside our front door, and sleepy village of tents. We live right on the Southeast corner of 4 o’clock and Geek, if you try to find us. We are the obnoxious ones in the branded RV – a blatant violation of the decomodification principle. I feel like I want to walk around to everyone and explain why we didn’t cover up our logos. You see, my dad feels concern for the paint, and tape melts in the sun. I suggested using contact paper, but he didn’t like that idea either.

While Burners aspire to practice radical inclusion, there maintains an element of snobbery. This place seeks to develop a temporary community, and communities create diversity, which easily slides into “us” vs. “them’ if continued unchecked. Fortunately our fellow Dust Ninjas don’t openly raise eyebrows at us, and we feel nothing but welcome and happy in our new home.

My parents traded work shifts with some ladies who were scheduled to work but needed to finish building the Sacred Spaces Temple. I set out on my own to take a few pictures of what is happening out here, while people continue to build and create some of the most amazing art I’ve ever seen. I rode clockwise around the Esplanade, stopping at 6 o’clock to take this photo of The Man.

Burning Man from 6 o'clock


It’s around 9 in the morning in this photo, and you can see not overly busy with traffic. Many travelers were delayed on the way in yesterday, and I imagine they were sleeping.

As I made my way around, this guy greeted me.

Playa Robot


A rhino car parked in the 6 o’clock keyhole.

Rhino Car


The city, still feels young. Building continues at various paces, campers roll in from the gate, and the energy of anticipation seeps up out of the dust. I headed out to The Temple of Promise.


I will have more photos from my big camera to post when we get home, and likely much more to say about this experience. For those of you unfamiliar, a temple is created at the 12 o’clock of the playa each year. Burners write on the walls, hang pictures and mementos. There are a few boxes of ashes, many notes of regret and sadness, many of love and joy. Plenty of bare space remains to filled by the arriving community.

On Sunday night, this will be burned. I am here for many reasons, but this event holds the most allure for me. The intentions of love, celebration, disappointment, and fear of 70,000 people up in flames. I hear there are many people who leave Sunday morning. I’m sad for them.

From the temple, I headed to what people were calling The Woman.


Directly behind me was a man doing yoga in the dirt, no mat, no clothes. I know many people are curious about the levels of nudity here, and there certainly is some. So far no one has been harmed by seeing breasts and penises, nor have then been forced to remove any clothing.

After the burn I will have many more photos, I promise. They do take a while to upload, so most posts won’t have this many. I also find myself forgetting to take pictures because I am full of awe.

Now I’m sitting here at our dining room table with my mom, while she comments on those driving down 4 o’clock. There are fun outfits, cars full of people and music, bikes covered with fur.

“Oh that woman needs sunscreen. Or is that a man?”

I looked where she was pointing.

“I’m not certain.” I said

“I think I should just go stand out there and spray people as they go by. They are all getting burned.”

“That would be a good gift.”

Thank you all for reading and commenting. I am inspired here in the midst of artists and healers and dancers and forces of life.

Be here now.

Temple wall

The Playa Will Provide

After twelve hours of driving yesterday, we arrived in Hawthorne and checked in to the loveliest little place called America’s Best Inn. My parents slept in the room and I was alone in the RV, rocking in the wind, listening to the sound of people coming and going. I woke with excitement and peace. All the work is done, all the hard driving is over, it’s time to go play in the desert. I’m proud of my mom for being here – this is not her idea of a great way to spend a week. But here she is, goggles and dust mask in hand, ready for adventure. And even smiling.

I have traveled all kinds of crazy places with my parents. I was in a boat on Apache Lake when I was 12 days old. We camped on the beach in Rocky Point when I was 6. We canoed the Panama Canal the summer before 8th grade. When I was 15, we all went to Ecuador so my dad and brother could climb Cotapoxi(sp? too tired to look it up).  It has been many years since our last adventure together….and today I feel like this is the biggest adventure ever and it hasn’t really started.

This morning we got up and ready, thinking we would have some breakfast and head to the gate. The drive should take 3 hours or so, and then the line about 5. As I type this, we have been driving for nearly 12 hours and haven’t yet hit the dirt road that marks the entrance. Part of this is our fault, as we got out of town and realized we forgot to fill up the RV with gas.

What? My parents are the most prepared and conscientious travelers I know. They don’t forget the important things. My mom did forget her dry shampoo and dish soap, and she’s pretty mad about it, but that is a minor discomfort compared with the possibility of being stranded in a 30 foot RV somewhere in the middle of Nevada.

We consulted Google Maps, trying to determine if we had enough gas to go forward, or if we needed to turn around. The dashboard alert said we could go 50 more miles. We were about 18 miles outside of Hawthorne, from whence we came, and 51 to the next town with a guaranteed gas station. We opted to turn back.

After filling up, getting coffee and tea, and making our way once again, we found there was an open gas station about ten miles from where we were stopped. Thanks Google Maps for not showing that important station on your list. Super helpful.

We motored along quite happily for quite some time, stopping at the Loves in Fernly for some last minute snacks and ice. In the ladies room, a gaggle of young ladies were busily dying their hair in the sink. The parking lot was packed with every type of vehicle imaginable, all clearly headed for Black Rock City.

Right outside of town traffic stopped completely. No one knew why, we just all sat, in park, engines off. An ambulance went by, headed the other direction. Police cars sped down the access road below. People got out of their cars, and we met several of our neighbors. Eric from San Francisco was ahead of us with a stack of wood on his truck that was intended to build a yurt with a 30 foot diameter on the ground floor and a second floor for dancing. He is camping in Yurtopia. At our second long stop, he busted out the generator and speaker, for everyone’s enjoyment.

Then we met Pamela and Tony, in the car behind us. They met at Burning Man 7 years ago when Tony created a small but important theme camp called Bacon and Beethoven. Three years ago they built their own temple on the playa and were married here. And so they return every year to celebrate their anniversary. They could not be more adorable and fun, and we spent a great deal of time chatting with them.

On our final stop, while sitting in the shade of our giant RV, we met Jerod, who arrived from St. Thomas. This is is second burn, and he was searching for a better playa name. I was explaining to him where we are camping and how we have camp duties that I am anxious about my ability to fulfill. The most difficult being a requirement that I guard our temple from 1:30 am to 4:30 am Tuesday and Wednesday, and I must wear all white. My white outfits look sad and uninteresting in this backdrop of sensory overload.

The solution? Jerod has a white priest robe I can borrow. I must arrive at his camp on Monday to procure the robe, and offer my unending worship of him, but only when he is present. Perfect. The Playa Will Provide….

Sweet Caroline. It’s nearly one a.m. I’m so tired I cannot see straight, nor type. We made it through the long process of getting here. We arrived at our camp quite late, got parked and signed in, we met Curtis our Grove Leader who is also a Ranger. I took off on my bike just to get my bearings and be away from this tiny box we will call home for the next week, and I lasted all of twenty minutes out there.

I know it is my job to write about what I see and experience, and make more sense of the world. Maybe someday I will be successful at my job. Right now, I can just tell you this. If you have not been to Burning Man, I may never be able to describe it to you, and I’ve only just arrived. Here he is, the man we will burn on Saturday.


I have now met him in person. I have made dust angels with many other Burning Man Virgins. I have arrived at the place where everyone greets you with a hug, the music plays all night, there is love and peace and dancing. I will never in a million years be able to convey what is happening here – I have already left out enough to fill ten novels. Trust me when I tell you, you wish you were here.


Tickets, please?

Apparently, it used to be easy to get tickets to Burning Man. Like, you just went to the site and paid your money, and they mailed you a ticket. It does not work that way in 2015. It still amazes me that we obtained three coveted tickets and a vehicle pass that will allow us to move to Black Rock City tomorrow with 70,000 of our closest friends.

Back in February I was completely overwhelmed with the idea of pulling off this trip. I had just moved into a new house, my job was horrible and stressful, and I was newly on my own again. I am the type of person to get overwhelmed by the big picture, so the small steps seem impossible. On February 13 I was telling my stories to my new friend W. It came up that my dad wanted to go, but I was not so sure it was a good idea under the circumstances. W, who has since become the person in my life who can ask a single question and solve all of my problems, wisely said: “How could you not try?”

I contacted my parents, as we had to register for the ticket sale by noon on Valentine’s Day. I created Burner Profiles for all three of us, and made sure my parents knew where to find their personal link. The following Wednesday, we all clicked our links simultaneously at noon to get in “line”. Forty thousand tickets were available, and we patiently watched as a little man walked slowly across the screen, indicating how long it would be until we could check out. My mom is the only one of of us who made it through, and she purchased two tickets and a vehicle pass. The sale ended 45 minutes later, shutting out many veteran burners, and lots of hopefuls….like me.

With two tickets, it was clear my parents were going. It was not clear about me. We briefly researched how to stow me away, which didn’t seem like a grand plan. As my parents prepared, I realized it might not be my year. I might be left home, while they went dancing in the dust. And then another new friend J came to the rescue. He saw my post on Facebook that we were still in need, and posted a note to his Pink Heart Theme Camp group. Supernova came through for us with the final ticket, a little over a month ago.

FullSizeRender (6)

My other new friend, E, who has nothing to do with any of this other than the fact she has to sit next to me and listen to me talk incessantly about my plans, can attest to the fact that I got teary-eyed when the message came through that I was getting a ticket. Relief and excitement and panic and joy!

If tickets are so tough to get, you might wonder why there isn’t a great scalping market like there is for a Madonna concert. Remember when I mentioned the Ten Principle of Burning Man? Decomodification isn’t just for the event, it is a part of the culture throughout the year. And earning money off of a transaction such as scalping a ticket goes directly against this culture. Could Supernova have charged us an extra hundred dollars, or even more? She likely could have financed a good part of her costume wardrobe with a moderate upcharge. Instead, I sent her money for the ticket and shipping, and nothing more.

This phenomenon is fascinating to me. It rubs against American cultural norms and the ingrained beliefs that capitalism is the best and most efficient way to run a society. It appears my fellow burners are seeking to change this opinion, one event at a time.

You might notice a theme here today, as I type this from the dining table of our RV rattling across the Sonoran Desert. For me, this is the year of new people coming in to my life in mysterious and important ways. I have been surprised by generosity, love, kindness, and true friendship from people who have shown up out of the ether. It’s magic. While our physical journey begins today, for me it started long ago, when I asked the universe for an adventure and the incredibly people who might come along with it.

In the perfect words of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers…..

Alone, adrift, together are we, slowly sinking in a deep blue sea. We smile and we wave, we say I’m afraid, and I love you.

Here we go!



Burning Man Countdown…..

As you might guess, Burning Man preparation continues to consume my every spare moment. This Saturday, we will climb in our RV and drive to a town called Hawthorne, Nevada to spend the night, take one last normal shower, and head to the gates the next morning. We have been fortunate enough to connect with a group of campers that will give us a small community in the center of a giant city. Check them out here. 


I got a new watch. Events at Burning Man happen at specific times, and since my phone will not be attached to my body, I needed a way to know the time.


I also got some boots, to go with everything.

I vacillate between extreme excitement and total panic, sometimes within the same minute. When I described this to my new friend Julia (the magic person who produced a spare ticket for me), she suggested this is completely normal. And not only that, I am to expect a total meltdown at some point during this journey. Likely in the middle of the desert. I am not a stranger to total meltdowns, and know there truly is no way to prepare for emotional overload, other than to ride it out when it happens.

We have planned our snacks, beverages, sunscreen, lighting, earplugs, goggles, electrolyte replacement, water, bikes, clothing, gifts, schedules, and travel route. I have never put so much thought into one trip in my life. I typically throw my things in a bag the day I’m leaving and hope for the best. Living in the desert with no nearby CVS has me modifying my behavior.

Many people have reached out to me with a variety of concerns – all completely valid. Yes, spending a week with my parents in harsh conditions is a bit crazy. We have a system for conflict resolution, and plan to spend enough time apart that we don’t want to kill one another halfway through. Yes, there are lots of drugs passed around in every form. From what I can tell, they are not required. Oh, yes, people are often naked. I don’t recall nudity being harmful in and of itself, but I am duly warned. My moments of panic all surround these topics. What will it be like? Who will be there? What will we do for that long? What will I wear?

Already this experience has blown my mind. Last year, I watched the event unfold on the live web feed (which you can view here sometime soon – maybe Sunday?) I cannot begin to imagine what it will be like in real life. But I assure you, I will attempt to tell the stories here.

Burning Man 2015: Who, What, When, Where, Why?


Last year I wrote about how I wanted to go to Burning Man, but the timing was not great. Sometimes I post on Facebook about our preparations, my quest for a ticket (I got one!), and my hope that people will send money to various crowdfunding opportunities. It is only within the last couple of weeks that I realized I am going. I will be there. With my parents. Very soon. And so, for those of you who have been following the saga, here is an introduction to what we are doing.


My dad, also known as Legend, is the instigator, the driver, the spark behind our journey. He’s a badass. He taught me at a very young age that traveling around the world and placing  yourself in uncomfortable situations is the path to personal growth.

My mom. Owl. If you ever travel somewhere questionable or difficult, you want this lady in your car. She can find anything given the most rudimentary map. She can feed thousands from what she has in her fridge. She makes friends with all the right people, and creates a party out of thin air.

Me. Hensmith. (Phoenista to you all.) I’m 43, which shocks me every time I say it. I am only happy when I am planning my next trip. I have been known to sit on a plane to Europe with my laptop and calendar, deciding where I will go when I get back to town and have enough vacation saved up.


My elevator speech for people who ask is this: Burning Man is an art festival in the middle of the Nevada Desert, culminating in the burning of a giant man made out of wood. Usually, this answer makes people smile, nod, and avert their eyes. The more I talk, the more it sounds like a cult based upon ten principles, started by a man named Rod on a beach in San Francisco.

So here are the Ten Principles.

  1. Radical Inclusion
  2. Gifting
  3. Decomodification
  4. Radical Self-Reliance
  5. Radical Self-Expression
  6. Communal Effort
  7. Civic Responsibility
  8. Leaving No Trace
  9. Participation
  10. Immediacy

I read these and think “Yes yes yes! I want to live in that world!” I hope to spend some time prior to our departure writing about the Ten Principles and what I think they mean.


The gates to Burning Man open on Sunday August 30 at 10 a.m. Sometime on Friday the 28th or Saturday the 29th we will fire up the RV and start heading that way. It is nearly 12 hours from here. We are not supposed to arrive at the venue early. The man burns on Saturday the 5th. The temple burns on Sunday the 6th. Sometime on Labor Day we will head home, exhausted, dusty and tired.


Black Rock City is about an hour north of Reno under normal conditions. Apparently the wait to get in can exceed five hours. So we are bringing music and a deck of cards to kill time. Oh, and Black Rock City does not exist on any map, as far as I can tell. It is a modern day Brigadoon, except it shows up once a year instead of every hundred years, thankfully.

Here is what it looks like from the air:

An aerial view of the Burning Man 2013 arts and music festival is seen in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, August 29, 2013. The federal government issued a permit for 68,000 people from all over the world to gather at the sold out festival, which is celebrating its 27th year, to spend a week in the remote desert cut off from much of the outside world to experience art, music and the unique community that develops. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FOR USE WITH BURNING MAN RELATED REPORTING ONLY - RTX130JD

An aerial view of the Burning Man 2013 arts and music festival is seen in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, August 29, 2013. The federal government issued a permit for 68,000 people from all over the world to gather at the sold out festival, which is celebrating its 27th year, to spend a week in the remote desert cut off from much of the outside world to experience art, music and the unique community that develops. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart



This might be the most difficult question to answer. Why go out into the middle of the desert with 70,000 people, leaving behind nearly all the comforts of the real world, packing a bag that requires goggles, a bike, and 500 gallons of water? There is no air conditioning. You can’t buy anything. You are expected to take care of yourself, build the community, participate, leave no trace, and wear a fantastic costume. It sounds annoying in many ways. And it costs a lot of money and uses all of my vacation time. I’m still working out the why of it all, I suppose.

A subset of this question is: why now? This event has been going on for many years and has always intrigued me. I lived in the Bay Area, for crying out loud, where you can’t walk down the street without bumping in to a burner. There are times in my life this would have been easier on many levels. When I was younger, childless, able to withstand long periods without good sleep.

There are many reasons to stay home. Yet. I am drawn to the idea of people creating giant art, building an entire city, and then burning it down, sweeping up the ashes, and leaving. It’s a physical manifestation of impermanence; a spiritual ideal come to life. The creation, and the letting go of that creation.

More to come. It takes a lot of preparation to live in the desert for a week. Yesterday we bought dust masks, travel underwear, and 500 gallons of water. My mom and I need bikes, and lights for the bikes. And I need a costume. Or ten.