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Burning Man ends: Burners face dust, traffic, but counterculture is as strong as ever

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Scott London/Burning Man Project/Facebook
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The man has burned, exodus is over and the party in the Black Rock Desert is over until next summer. 

This year’s Burning Man event saw more than 80,000 people travel to Northern Nevada over the last week to participate in one of the largest counterculture events in the world. 

As usual, there was good and there was bad.  

The good: counterculturalism is as strong as ever. 

The bad? Maybe the 13 hours it took to leave Burning Man, with cars stopping after running out of fuel and people complaining about all the air pollution the mass exodus was causing. 

State of Nevada’s producer in Northern Nevada, Paul Boger, covered the event last week and spoke with host Joe Schoenmann about the event.

The festival has an "anything goes" reputation, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Drugs, alcohol, nudity -- but not everyone is there for that. Some attendees are sober and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on the playa.

“You can do all of that sober, trust me. You know, you can be in any tent you want, sober. It's great,” said one attendee.

But there are a lot of police at Burning Man, and drug users do get arrested. Statistics for 2022 have not yet been released. In 2019, there were 50 arrests. 

“And they are very happy to get dressed up and participate and wander into your camp and ask if you have drugs, and if you tell them and you want to share, which is common at Burning Man, you may find yourself arrested,” Boger said. “So it is a common trait to hear people warn others about drug use at Burning Man. Don't be out in the open, don't make it super obvious. I mean, even the ACLU has a one-sheet about knowing your rights in Nevada when dealing with law enforcement at Burning Man.”

There are medical teams on the playa, as well as camps that can help people come down from bad trips. 

But how do burners deal with the weather?

“This burn was exceptionally hot,” Boger said. Ice is one of the only things you can buy at Burning Man, for $10 per bag. By the end of the week, supplies were low, so sales were limited to one bag per person.

“Then you had that epic dust storm that lasted from Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, and just really took it out of a lot of people because it was just non-ending.” 

Because of that storm, it took all day to leave the playa. Boger left at 2 p.m. and got home in Northern Nevada at 6 a.m.

“Part of the reason is because you're going from the playa where it's so many cars, so many people in this vast stretch of desert, to a two lane highway that runs through Gerlach,” he said.

There a “certain amount of punishment that goes into the good times,” Boger said. But generally, everyone who goes out there enjoys themselves and the unique opportunity.

Paul Boger, Northern Nevada producer, State of Nevada

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.