Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Desert Hot Springs (Roadrunners and Coyotes)

Tori's friend recommended a favorite resort in Desert Hot Springs and forwarded us an amazing deal that Two Bunch Palms was offering for September. Even though we went to Burning Man earlier this month, that intense experience is the opposite of relaxation so we decided to enjoy a weekend getaway. The hot springs resort was already full Saturday night so we reserved a room for Sunday night and booked another place in Palm Springs for the first night. We drove up Saturday morning and arrived at the Marquis Villas at noon. The front desk was very helpful and allowed us to check-in right away instead of waiting until 4pm. Both elevators were out-of-order but our suite was huge. The property was right behind the Hard Rock Hotel so we walked onto the main avenue in town for tapas and sangria at Alicante before returning to relax and drink margaritas beside the pool.

After the sun set and the temperature dropped a bit, we walked over to the Rooster and the Pig for dinner. It's a classy little Vietnamese-American restaurant that serves shared dishes. It was crowded when we arrived but we managed to get a seat before the waiting area filled behind us. To start, we ordered the tasty shrimp summer rolls and a refreshing papaya salad which Tori loved. My favorite item was the lemongrass pork belly lettuce wraps. So mouth-wateringly flavorful!! We were both disappointed with the coconut lemongrass chicken curry that was surprisingly bland so I ordered the marinated cubed short ribs which made up for it. Afterwards, we walked around town enjoying the cool mist blowing from many of the local shops and stopping for butterscotch fudge. In the morning, we went for breakfast at Sherman's Delicatessen next door to our hotel. The food was very good and the portions huge. (The size of Tori's two egg scramble indicated that they must have been ostrich eggs.)

Checking out of the Marquis Villas at 10am, we made the thirty minute drive to Two Bunch Palms Resort on the north-east side of the valley in Desert Hot Springs. Originally built in 1930, this adults-only resort built around a natural hot spring was completely renovated last year. (Supposedly, this was a discrete hang-out for Hollywood celebrities and gangsters like Al Capone back in the day.) Even though our room wouldn't be ready until 4pm, we were given the ubiquitous white robes seen throughout the 77 acre resort and pointed toward the Grotto to hang out for the day. The oasis-like stone pools are supplied by the resort's hot springs, the mineral water cooled to 104 degrees in the small pool and 99 degrees in the larger pool before it flows out and down through the entire property in a small rock-lined creek. (Low in sulfur and high in lithium, the artesianal waters have been flowing from Miracle Hill for over 600 years.) Fresh towels and chilled cucumber water were available in the Grotto as we laid out on the lounge chairs and soaked in the pools.

Between the hot waters of the Grotto and the cool pool nearby, we had a relaxing time until we decided to join the Vino and Van Gogh class in the Garden House at 2:30pm. In the air-conditioned glass room, we drank wine and painted, our first assignment was to paint a flower or aquatic creature with our opposite hand. (Tori's was good, mine not so good.) After the class, it was time to get our room, a Solstice King, one of the new modern stylish rooms with a rain shower-head in the bathroom. (I want one now!!!!) Unpacking, we checked out the rest of the resort along the creek-lined trail, spotting roadrunners, walking the small labyrinth beside the Citrus Grove and laying in the hammock beside the Fish Pond. We found two large sun bins made of wood and painted white on the interior but we still have no clue what they are used for. At sunset, we hiked the short Roadrunner Trail that provided great views of the wind-turbine filled valley and two coyotes crossing the path up ahead.

Our friend also recommended a Mexican restaurant in town. We couldn't remember the name or location but we recalled that she mentioned a brightly lit marquee out front. Under the blood moon of a full lunar eclipse we drove along the main street both ways before we finally found it, South of the Border, owned by a retired bullfighter from Ecuador. An important factor in a Mexican restaurant is the quality of the chips and salsa brought to the table and theirs were top notch. After our margaritas and chimichangas, we headed back to the resort as the moon crept out of Earth's shadow. It was finally cool enough to wear our thick robes outside as we headed up to the Grotto for a nighttime soak. I loved that the mineral pools are open all night, only closing for two hours at 6am.

Before going to sleep, I found a chirping cricket hidden in our ceiling light fixture and released him outdoors. We had thought about getting up for Yoga at 9am but the bed was so comfortable that we slept until 10 instead. Breakfast was included at Essense, the resort's restaurant that has a great view of the valley. I ordered the Eggs Benedict and Tori the Egg White Omelette. She said this one was best she had ever eaten due to the perfect ratio of ingredients to the egg exterior. We had a late check-out at 4pm so we spent the rest of the day at the Grotto, reading in our lounge chairs or soaking in the pools. It felt great to relax and do absolutely nothing.

On our drive back, we stopped at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets for a little shopping since Tori's purse was falling apart and she needed a new one. After five or six stores, she still could not find one in the style and size she preferred so I went into the Fossil store to check on a new band for my wristwatch. I discovered that the store was also full of purses so I went back to get her and she found one exactly like she wanted for 75 percent off. It was a great end to our short getaway.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Escargot and a Great Escape Room

I tried Escargot for the first time this weekend at The French Gourmet in La Jolla. Despite my qualms about eating snails, I had high hopes since the scorpion I ate in China turned out to be quite good. Cooked with butter and garlic, the flavor of the escargot was fine but I just couldn't deal with the chewy texture. I ate two more but I needed a piece of bread to help them down. The rest of the meal was delicious. Tori really enjoyed her Mushroom Marsala Chicken and my Filet Mignon in BĂ©arnaise sauce was cooked just the way I like it.

On Sunday, Kenny and Jill came with Tori and I to experience the Great Escape Room downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter. Our small group was joined by six other ladies as we entered Houdini's Hidden Workshop with just one hour to complete our mission. I won't spoil any of the details but we needed to find clues and solve puzzles necessary to open the numerous locks trapping the soul of the famous escape artist. It was fun and I helped solve at least 5 of the puzzles. While having 10 people in the room definitely helped, sometimes I missed out on some of the important clues being found while I was busy working in another part of the room. It was close call but we finished with 5 minutes to spare. Yay!

Afterwards, Kenny suggested we eat over at ComĂșn Kitchen by Petco Park. They had really delicious street tacos and self-serve electronic beer taps that tracked how much you poured from each one. I can normally handle spicy salsa but their habanero salsa burned the mouth for about 5 minutes after eating so I had to make sure to take very small amounts.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Burning Man 2015 (Art, Fire and Dust)

After all the time and effort we spent preparing for 2014 Burning Man, this year was relatively easy. Kenny and Jill purchased an RV so we only had to figure out a way to strap Tori and my Hexayurt to the back. Except for buying food and a few new outfits, our boxed-up supplies from storage were almost ready to go. I took Friday off to help Kenny load the RV before we began our long drive up Saturday morning. To avoid the steep mountains of the Sierra Nevada's, we turned east above Bishop and took the desert route through Nevada. (Lesson Learned - Don't order a salad at the El Capitan Casino in Hawthorne, NV. Bleagh!!) Being able to walk around in the RV was a relief after the five of us crammed into a Chevy Tahoe last year pulling a long awkward trailer. Staying the night at the Best Western in Fallon, we got up early on Sunday and headed north. While we reached the final stretch of Highway 447 earlier than last year, the traffic was backed up further along the road. During the long stretches of sitting and waiting, we watched episodes of "Transparent" and applied temporary tattoos all over our bodies.

We still had phone reception when we reached the BRC Entrance Line so we were able to communicate with Matt and Cassie who arrived in the city an hour before us. We loved our spot at 7:45 and K last year, but Cassie reported it was already full. They finally found a clear space at 6:45 and K as we cleared the Greeter's Station at 8pm and entered the city to join them. The sun set while we were in line, so we had to erect our hexayurt and Tommy's tent in the dark. Dave and Lindsay rode their powered trike over from Swing City to help out. After Tori and Jill cooked grilled cheese sandwiches in the RV, we all crashed out at midnight. Instead of last year's thunderstorm, we woke up our first morning in the city with clear blue skies. After riding over to the Dub Gypsy Kitchen for our breakfast and a short visit at Swing City we came back to our camp to finish setting up. Spreading the Aluminet shade cloth over the RV turned out to be the hardest task.

At 3pm, Jill wanted to visit Gypsy Nebula Village for their "Adopt a Mutant Monkey" event so we set off to find it. After a few wrong turns, we discovered the camp along the Esplanade. While we missed the correct time to receive a stuffed monkey, we did have fun messing around with their giant stuffed penis out front. Cruising further along the Esplanade, we stopped at Art of Such n Such camp where Jill received help from their Bad Advice Booth and we tried out their Paternity Test. It was still early in the week so the light color of my earwax matched up with Unzie the Albino. (It actually sounded like a nickname version of my last name, Unsworth.) They also had a Peep-O-Rama that looked into their camp showers, but they were empty when we peeked though.

Looking out onto the Playa, I spotted the Mazu Temple, the Goddess Of The Empty Sea. I wanted to check it out since I had seen a picture of the Asian-themed temple before Burning Man but it was so hot out that we decided to go look for shade at Center Camp instead. I ended up missing my chance, I forget about the temple until I found its burned remains later in the week. AcroYoga at Center Camp last year inspired Tori and I to take some classes this spring. We really enjoyed it but I injured my left hip flexor before Burning Man so I was not able to participate like I wanted to this year. Many of the best AcroYogis come to Burning Man and it was great to watch the high level of skill displayed in the center ring.

Wandering around the exhibits, we encountered the Observatory booth. Bending over to look into the view finder, we saw a video screen displaying footage from a hidden rear camera pointed up at our asses. A few minutes later we discovered the same live footage was being shown to a laughing group watching on an old television set ten feet away. Ha! Returning to camp to finish setting up, Kenny wired my home-made swamp cooler to the solar panels of his RV. As the sun set over our clean peaceful camp, we did not realize that Tuesday would bring strong winds and daily dust storms that would last till Friday. At 7pm, we went for dinner at Dub Gypsies. We enjoyed the food so much last year, that we signed up for their meal plan again. It was delicious and such a time-saver.

Taking our meals to Swing City, we ate up on the scaffolding as we watched the entertainment on the traveling rings. Kenny, Jill and Tommy did a little ringing before we headed over to hang out in the gayborhood along 7:30. Parking our bikes for the night, we started out at Happy Hour in BloAsis Village, chatting with some guys from the Astro Pups camp before the power went out. We wandered over to Lip Bomb where the bartender used a machine to fill a bottle with a thick mist of Everclear. Each of us took a turn taking a deep breath and inhaling the vaporized alcohol through a straw. While not as strong as a shot of tequila, I felt the effects almost immediately as we moved over to the dance floor.

Across the street was the Church of the 5th Element camp with a giant fire cauldron out front. While Kenny refilled his giant cup at their bar, Tommy and Jill took turns with a group playing giant Jenga. One of the guys knocked it over and his punishment was streaking through the camp without pants. On the move once more, we found the Tinsel Tunnel at the Comfort and Joy camp. We rode our bikes through the long corridor of hanging tinsel that morning, but it was quite a different experience at night. The bright lights reflecting off the tinsel blinded our vision we ran through several times, hoping we would not collide with others running in the opposite direction. It was scary but fun! Nearby, we re-encountered the Astro Pups (with their bar cart) working out at the Pink Gym.

Heading towards the Playa, we stopped at The Queen Dick, a geodesic dome transformed into a British pub. While playing pool, Tommy was excited to bump into his cousin who was staying over at the Planet Earth camp. As we left, a large marching band gathered outside and invaded the pub while drowning out the camp's sound system. After a short visit to the Esplanade, Tommy wanted to find someone to cuddle with so we headed back into the gayborhood to GlamCocks. After refilling our drinks at the bar, Tommy disappeared into the crowd so we climbed up the scaffolding to dance on the upper platforms. Near midnight, we still couldn't find Tommy so we re-collected our bikes and headed over to MoonCheese for their grilled cheese sandwiches. They tasted so good! After filling his giant cup at all the bars we visited, Kenny was pretty wasted by this time so we headed home to our camp. He did not remember much of the night.

In the early hours of the morning, I heard Matt and Cassie stumbling into camp. When the rest of us got up and dressed for Tutu Tuesday, we heard the full story. After Cassie recovered from being sick all day Monday, they both went out and partied with their friends at the skydiving camp. Now it was Matt's turn to feel sick as he spent the first half of Tuesday sweating it out in their roasting camper van while the rest of us went to breakfast and helped Kenny erect his special airlock he designed to connect the RV to our supply tent. As the wind picked up and the dust began to swirl, a strong sewage stench occasionally overwhelmed our camp from the port-a-potty treatment area directly behind the city. Kenny nicknamed our downwind location, the "El Cajon of Burning Man."

To escape the smell, we decided to go hang out with Dave and Lindsay at Swing City for a few hours since the Playa was whited out by a dust storm. I checked out the scene at Distrikt, the loud sound camp next door, before joining the rest of the group hanging out on the scaffolding and watching Burners of all skill levels attempt the traveling rings. Matt Tyler was fun on the megaphone, providing running commentary and trying to convince ringers to remove their pants mid-swing for a shot of whiskey. A lot of them took him up his offer.

Kenny and Jill spent a lot of hours on the traveling rings back home at Trapeze High so they had a great time showing off their advanced tricks. Our friend, Mark Gill, was off-duty from his volunteer air traffic control job at the Black Rock City Airport so he offered to base Tori and teach her some more advanced AcroYoga positions. While I was taking pictures of Tori, it was funny to see a steady stream of naked ringers swinging past in the background.

At twilight, the wind and dust died down so we went out after dinner to explore the Inner Playa for the first time. Our first stop was Inflection, a twisting suspension bridge built by the artist, Trevor Schrock. I loved the challenge of traversing the wobbly wooden planks suspended by rope and the unstable twist at the center. It was my favorite interactive art installation this year, so fun to climb! At it's base, rows of glowing dildos formed a Dick Garden.

Further out, we found the Playaquarium, an illuminated school of Cui-ui. These prehistoric fish lived in Lake Lahontan that covered the Playa over 12,000 years ago at a depth of 500 feet. Their endangered descendants still live nearby in Pyramid Lake. A rainbow of light in the distance attracted our attention, five interlocking staircases that formed a pentagram called Own Way. We climbed three of them before we realized their repeating pattern.

After towering 105 feet in 2014, the Man was only 60 feet tall this year making him a little harder to spot on the Playa. Entering through one of the leering mouths of the Midway, the first carnival attraction we visited was FoxCarn where we received a verbal abuse-filled employee orientation to prepares us for the menial tasks required in the robot overlords' playa factory. Among the other attractions was the Colossal Skeletal Marionette operated by ropes and pulleys. At the center of the Midway was the Funhouse Maze painted with sideshow art along the exterior. Making our way through the mirrored passages, we arrived at the crowded inner courtyard under the Man. Climbing to the second level, we had a good view of the Playa. As the wind picked up, we headed back toward the Esplanade and explored a few camps before going to bed at midnight.

The wind howled outside all Tuesday night, revealing a thick layer of dust covering everything in the morning. Our sealed yurt remained clean but the interior of Tommy's tent was filled with a fine layer of powder. Returning from breakfast we encountered the Naked Pub Crawl at 7:00 and E. The intersection was so crowded with naked pedestrians that we had to backtrack and find an alternate route home. In the afternoon, Kenny, Tommy and I decided to go for a foam shower at the Dr. Bronner's camp. We had heard they were on the 2 o'clock side of the city but since the name of their camp changes every year we didn't know the exact location. Wandering around with no luck, we decided to climb to the top of the scaffold tower at Camp Touch This for a better view. Except for a nice view of the whited-out playa, we couldn't spot their familiar tent in the surrounding city. Climbing down, Kenny found out from the camp next door that Something Freaky this Way Foams was actually at 4:00 and I. Racing over on our bikes, we were disappointed to find a sign out front saying they were still closed until Thursday. We were just about to leave, but a few helpful guys outside said the camp was letting in a small amount of people to help demonstrate the foaming system for the Department of Water and Power. After writing down and presenting our most secret fantasies to the gatekeepers, we were let right in. This year, I brought swim goggles to protect my contacts as we were rinsed down and sprayed with foam in the converted trailer truck.

Even through we were greeted with a blowing dust storm right after our shower, it felt great to be clean after three days of nothing but wet wipes. Riding down I Street, we encountered the Human Carcass Wash that we had heard so much about last year. While we still got naked with a large group in the foam shower, the entire experience was sheltered inside a big tent as opposed to the Carcass Wash where participants lined up nude in the street waiting for their turn to be washed. Under the exposed shade cloth, small groups of naked bathers stood around shallow tubs of water as they took turn cleaning each other at different stations. (I don't know if I am hip enough for that yet. Maybe next year.) As the sky whited-out completely, we stopped to create aluminum necklaces from smelted recycled cans at the Dragon Smelter camp before heading back to our camp to shelter from the storm. After the winds died down a bit, our entire group went out exploring, hitting a bunch of different bars around the city like Shitty Clitties Bar and Girll and The Shirtcock Saloon. One of my favorites sights occurred this day, when we came across a cellist playing inside one of the port-a-potties.

After dinner, we went to Swing City where Lindsay handed Jill the camp's megaphone. Jill cracked everyone up as she creatively and humorously encouraged flyers on the traveling rings to follow the camp's motto, "Take off your Pants!" Except for a couple of U.S. Forest Rangers who remained armed and in uniform while attempted the rings, Jill was very successful. When one poor flyer managed to drop his shorts on the rings, his friends attacked his dusty bottom with riding crops. Lindsay joked that Jill would be getting a megaphone for Christmas. (Jill told us afterward that while Megaphone Jill had been a tireless advocate for public nudity, Regular Jill was suffering from penis overload.)

Leaving Swing City, Dave and Lindsay joined us as we headed out to explore the nighttime Playa. After Lindsay survived a bike crash unharmed, we reached the glowing lights of Firmament created by the artist, Christopher Schardt. It was very soothing standing under the ever-changing LEDs while classical music played. Continuing on, we arrived at the shell-like Temple of Promise built by the Dreamers Guild. Passing under the 97 foot tall main arch, we followed the spiraling path under the shrinking arches until the ceiling was only 7 feet high and we exited into the center grove of sculpted trees. It is amazing how the bustling atmosphere of Burning Man calms into a contemplative silence within the temple where people leave written messages and mementos. Not far from the temple was the 48 foot R-Evolution sculpture of a naked woman with open arms. Created by the artist, Michael Cochrane, it is the third and final sculpture of The Bliss Project. The purple spotlights made her shimmer and glow as her breathing chest rose and fell, powered by internal machinery. As our group biked back towards Inflection to show Dave and Lindsay the twisting suspension bridge, his electric bike died. He fixed it quickly, but not before we lost track of each other in the sea of lights. We back-tracked trying to find him but we had no luck.

Thursday morning, it was relatively dust-free on the Playa so we rode back from breakfast along the Esplanade. After visiting an art galley inside a geodesic dome, we stopped at the Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro to ask for a used wine cork to plug our leaking cooler. Back at camp, Tori was desperate for a shower so we left early to arrive at Something Freaky This Way Foams before they opened at 1pm. After walking right in during yesterday's demonstration, it was a shock to see a huge line snaking down the entire block. It ended up being a two hour wait, but at Burning Man there is always plenty of people to talk too and interesting activity swirling around to keep us from being bored. After revealing our deepest fantasies again to the ticket booth, we received our entry stamps and found another winding line inside the pavilion. Ha! Since Tori declined to come to the foam showers with me previously, I thought her modesty might prevent her from stripping down with the rest of us. I was pleasantly surprised when she removed her swimsuit top and freed the girls. While the amount of water and foam sprayed from above was perfect for short-haired guys like me, Tori's long hair didn't get enough water to completely rinse it. Even though she was happy for her skin to feel clean again, she was upset that her hair ended up a tangled mess. She cheered up when I promised that we would go to the hair washing camp first thing when it opened the next day.

Confronted by another dust-storm as we left the foam showers, we headed back to camp. Matt and Cassie's van was gone when we returned, but I was not surprised since they told us that morning that they were burned out by the whole experience and couldn't handle the dust anymore. While Tori stayed home to nap, Tommy and I went off to explore, first stopping at our neighbor's small bar, The Parched Albatross, for a drink. Continuing on down K Street we hopped off our bikes at Peanutter and Butt Jelly for some delicious sandwiches. They had so many varieties but I picked the PP+P with Peanut Butter, Pickles and Potato Chips. I think it is my new favorite. Yum! The dust began to die down as it neared sunset so Tommy and I headed out onto the Playa for the first time all week during daylight hours. The first two art pieces we encountered were the beautiful Manta Ray mosaic sculpture by Team Peter Hazel and Identity Awareness by Shane Pitzer. At first glance, I didn't appreciate the photo taken of me helping Tommy up into the Question Mark but after second consideration I really enjoyed the symmetry of my mimicking the Metal Man on the other side.

Despite the low-dust levels, there was still plenty of strong wind for the numerous kites and a windsurfer racing past us on the Inner Playa. We found the suspension bridge, Inflection, being prepared for its burn at 8pm so we planned to come back after dinner to watch. Further out, we encountered the intriguing Brainchild sculpture by the artist, Michael Christian. A maze of twisted metal atop the giant body of an infant. Reaching the Deep Playa, the dust returned as we stumbled upon the mutant vehicle, L'Hippocampbus, serving cheese, crackers and wine. After watching the sunset behind the surrounding hills, we continued on until we encountered the row of Straight Edge signs leading off in both directions. At night, their lights reveal the curvature of the Earth. As we stood there, two separate people approached us for directions since they had lost their bearings in the blowing dust. After pointing them toward familiar landmarks, we found a lonely park bench out beyond the temple. It was a peaceful scene except for the four bullhorns on a short pole blaring a constant stream of strange sounds and animal noises. I never found out the name of it.

As the dust began to die down, we headed over to view the breathing R-Evolution once again as the twilight glow highlighted the beautiful lattice-work of the towering sculpture. The open-armed woman attracted a continuous gathering of admirers. As we approached the huge letters of the Dream installation by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton, we saw several AcroYogis from Swing City hand-balancing among the four words, LIVE, BE, DREAM and OK set clockwise in a circle. An One Arm Hand to Hand held between the letters of OK was my favorite photo I took during the burn. Even though the giant words were always busy with people taking photos, I'm really glad I caught a shot of a couple relaxing alone in the first letter of DREAM.

We biked past the Temple of Confessions on Tuesday night but we did not go inside so Tommy and I decided to wait in the small line to enter the five story chapel. As we waited, I took photos of the dioramas covering the exterior in black and white photography. Inside, natural light shined down through the multi-colored panes of the cupola to illuminate a golden confessional altar at the center with a narrow path going around it. We were looking through a couple of the peepholes at the first corner when a man entered the double doors and asked everyone to exit so Timothy Leary could enter. Confused, Tommy and I hesitated before trying to leave and became trapped at the entrance as a crush of people entered carrying pictures of Leary and a casket holding his ashes. We listened to the sounds of a hidden ceremony on the far-side of the altar and wondered what was going on. At the time, I thought it was another Burning Man wedding, confirmed by a older woman wearing a lacy white dress with a wreath of flowers on her head thanking everyone as she exited. It wasn't until the next day that Tommy and I found out that the woman was Susan Sarandon and the man asking us to exit was the temple's artist, Michael Garlington. (I have seen so many of her movies but I totally did not recognize her even though she walked right past me.) After Tommy and I ate dinner, we headed back out to the Playa to watch Inflection burn, but we found out it had been delayed an hour. Since I wasn't dressed warm enough for the cold night, I headed back to Tori at camp. On my way, the bright light of the fire art piece, BrightHeart, drew me in for the warmth of the flames. A suspended heart of iron, created by Timothy Lipton in tribute to his friend who died this year on Mt. Everest, was being heated by fiery blasts of propane until it glowed red. On Sunday night, the heart was placed in the Temple of Promise before it burned.

After breakfast and picking up more ice from Artica on Friday morning, Tori and I hurried over to the Astral Headwash camp (Ersatz and 4:15) before they opened at noon. There were about thirty people in line in front of us but once we entered the large tent and put our names on the list we were able to sit down and relax in the waiting area and peruse the selection of magazines. (Mostly Heavy Metals and assorted porn mags from the 80s) There were six hair washing stations manned by volunteers and by 1pm, Tori and I were both lying on a slanted plywood platform with our heads hanging over plastic sinks. Since I had gone through the foam showers the previous two days, my hair wash volunteer, Skin, mentioned how easy it was to clean my head compared to the others. I was done quickly so I watched as Tori had her hair completely rinsed, shampooed and detangled. After five days in the dust, she had a huge smile on her face as she dried and wrapped her clean hair up in a towel. On the way back to camp, we encountered a scene from Mad Max as we passed a long convoy of vehicles from the Death Guild. Tommy was hanging out in the RV with Kenny and Jill when we arrived home so he French Braided Tori's hair for her. It was funny to see his hands stained purple from her damp hair afterwards.

As Kenny cooked grilled cheese sandwiches, we admired the patina-ed copper necklaces that he and Tommy received from a camp earlier that day so we all decided to go back for the rest of us. After picking out some of the handmade necklaces and trying their camp's granola mix, we headed into the nearby gayborhood along 7:30. The dust began to pick up as we had our shirts spray-painted at Celestial Bodies and stopped for drinks at BloAsis Village. (We all agreed, the bartender that afternoon made the best drinks in Black Rock City.) Despite the heavy dust, we decided to continue on and venture out onto the Playa. After the howling wind threatened to blow me off the playa rocking horse, Loquacious, the visibility grew so bad that we couldn't see more than ten feet in front of us. Luckily, we found the main road and stuck together as we headed toward the 3:00 portal to get off the exposed Playa.

Two streets deep in the city, the howling wind and dust were still too heavy to see or breath so we looked for the first camp we could find to shelter from the storm. We ended up stumbling into the bar area of Plunderground camp. The bar was not open yet but they served us drinks and invited us to hunker down with them until the storm blew out. We entertained ourselves with hula-hooping and dancing while other burners would occasionally wander in to escape the dust. After an hour, blue skies begin to appear once more and we ventured out to ride back to our camp. While Tori's scarf did a pretty good job of protecting her freshly washed hair during the storm, she didn't want to risk any more bad weather so she stayed home to read in our hexayurt while I went back out to take pictures during sunset. I ended up getting a great shot of the sun setting between the outspread hands of Chiromancy in the 7:30 plaza.

I made my way to catch the sunset from the top of Panorama. The thirty foot tall staircase had great views of the surrounding city but the upper platform was exposed to a freezing wind. I was warm with my furry vest but a model posing for a photo shoot at the top was wearing nothing but a thong and holding a gauzy piece of fabric. After the sun sank behind the hills, a group arrived with a box of Slinkies for a race down the staircase. It was a wonderful idea, but the wind was so strong that it blew them off the side before they traveled five steps. After several failed attempts at the top, they decided to try the Slinky Race from the halfway point with greater success. I continued on to Swing City, but I couldn't find anyone I knew so I hung out at Distrik for awhile before going to pick up dinner to take home to Tori. We were both worn out so we stayed in for the rest of the night, reading before going to bed early.

Burn Day - After sleeping in a bit longer on Saturday and eating yummy breakfast burritos from the Gypsy Kitchen, Tommy and I took advantage of the blue skies to head out and explore the Deep Playa. Seeing the familiar shape of the Robot Heart parked in the distance, we biked toward the sound car with their metal heart rising high over the massive bank of speakers. While sunrise is Robot Heart's peak time, there was still a nice sized crowd of dancers between the bus and the forklift holding the giant robot sign in the air. Continuing out to the Trash Fence, Tommy and I stopped to throw my Frisbee around for a bit. I had brought it with me last year but it never left my backpack. With light winds, we had perfect conditions. As we checked out a couple of art installations along the Trash Fence, we met a Danish woman riding a tricycle that folded out into a Ping Pong table. (Tommy surrendered after a 5-0 whooping.) One of my favorite little art pieces on the Playa was the Bitch Box. A flag emblazoned with the word, Bitch, marked the box where bitchy burners could stuff all their gripes and grievances about the year's event on the provided questionnaire. It was funny to read.

With the golden arch glowing in the sun, we headed over to the Temple of Promise. After Tommy received a long Bear Hug out front and we watched a man climb up the side to hang a sign, we worked our way to the back where the Earth Harp connected to the temple. It would have been cool to hear the world's longest stringed instrument, but the musician was not there at the time. Instead, we talked philosophy with a nice man who gave us his Team Human t-shirts. Normally this week, the wind and dust would begin to pick up after a morning lull but the dust storms appeared to have blown themselves out after the biggest white-out of the week on Friday. Except for the occasional narrow columns of twirling dust, Saturday had blues skies all day. Near the temple, a perfect twister formed and we raced over for a closer look. Many others had the same idea as a crowd formed around the fast moving Dust Devil. I got some great pictures and was able to ride though before it finally spun itself out near R-Evolution. We had seen the towering sculpture at night and during twilight, but now under the full glare of the midday sun it was easier to see the articulated panels on her chest and abdomen allowing the statue to subtlety breath. In my black and white photo, it almost looked like a marble statue.

After drinking bourbon shots with Tommy's cousins at Kentucky Fried Camp, we decided to go back to our camp to see if Tori and the others wanted to join us since it was such a beautiful day. Along the way, we played piano at the base of the Tree of Transformation (The keys activate nine steel-pans at the top) as well as watching the workers preparing the Man for the Burn and climbing to the top of the Bismuth Bivouac, a wooden cube built to mimic the crystalline growth pattern of the element Bismuth. Kenny and Jill were not at camp but Tori was happy to join us. Our first stop was Center Camp, where we found our AcroYoga instructors from Aerial Revolution working on hand-balancing in the ring. After chatting with them for a bit, we checked out the completed Medusa Madness head created by the artist, Kevin Clark. Just beyond, we found the Christina art car idling on the Playa so we boarded the famous Queen of BRC. Making our way all the way to the top of the yacht, we met a really happy fellow who took a picture with us.

From the top of Christina, we could see people forming around a forty foot Trebuchet preparing to throw a flaming piano across the Playa. It was about an hour wait as the crew set up but I was eager to see an event recreated from my favorite TV show, Northern Exposure, where Chris Stevens builds the medieval siege machine. During the episode, Chris had planned to toss a cow but reconsiders and tosses Maggie's burnt piano instead. We were right in front as the crew released the counterweight and the trebuchet tossed the piano high into the air. As soon as the piano crashed into the playa, the crew raced out and cleaned up the shattered remains with lightning speed. Within ten minutes, there was no trace left behind and we headed to Swing City. When we arrived, our friend Darin was preparing to take the camp's group picture out front and he invited us to join the photo. While hanging out and watching a wedding ceremony afterwards, a long line of Law Enforcement Vehicles paraded down 9:00. I think everyone of their vehicles inside the city drove past that afternoon. On the way to dinner, a French Moroccan girl jumped right out in front of my bike and wouldn't let us go until we accepted a beer. (My wife also received a spanking.) We encountered so many international burners this year.

By twilight, the temperature was dropping fast and several people warned us of the freezing conditions expected for the Man Burn. Even all layered up, it was still very cold as we joined the flow of people heading out to the Playa. Leaving our bikes locked up along the Esplanade, we walked the rest of the way out to the huge crowd forming around the Man. Crossing through the ring of art cars blasting music and flames, we were able to make our way close to the front until we could see the performers from the Fire Conclave. Last year, we were too far away to enjoy the fire dancers. At half past nine, fireworks shot from the raised arms of the Man as the crowd roared. After five minutes of exploding rockets, flames began to erupt from the torso. The intense pyrotechnic display ended with giant explosions of flame engulfing the entire effigy.

Glowing ash and wafting smoke from the flames drifted over the giant crowd as dust devils twirled away from the Man. With the combined heat of the crowd and the flames, I actually had to remove some of my layers of clothes to avoid overheating. While it didn't take two hours for the man to fall like last year, it still lasted forty-five minutes before the skeleton collapsed. I had to bundle back up quickly as the crowd dispersed back into the city. Walking back, we came across Penny the Goose. The reflective surface of the bird sculpture was made of overlapping American pennies on the front and Canadian on the back. We stopped at the empty Center Camp, but it was too cold on Burn Night for AcroYoga. Back at camp, we finally found Kenny and Jill who had watched the burn from the scaffolding of Swing City. We all hung out in the RV, had some drinks and discussed our plans for partially breaking down camp on Sunday for our early Monday departure.

Temple Burn Day - When both Tommy and Kenny came out on Sunday morning wearing capes, I had them perform a little stage fighting for my camera. (Super Tom vs. Kenny Pants) Dub Gypsies was cooking up all their remaining food for one last meal at noon so we headed over. Along the way, camps were breaking down all over Black Rock City. It was interesting to see a tall crane removing sailing masts from an art car. Since there was an unusually long line at Dub Gypsies, I figured they must have invited neighboring camps to come by to help eat up the rest of their supplies. After lunch, we decided to go out and explore the Playa because it was such a beautiful day. Our first stop was Akle' the Dragon built by Swig Miller of Swing City. The artist was out by his piece as he prepared to take down the twenty foot white sculpture made of solid concrete. Clustered around the remaining art installations were bicycles, lost or abandoned after the burn the previous night. Two lonely bikes stood next to an abstract head that rotated with a hand crank. I wish I knew the name of it.

As we arrived at the small crowd circling the smoking Ashes of the Man, a fork lift pushed the wooden frame of the art piece, Reflection, into the burning cinders. The heat pushed us back as roaring flames consumed the dry structure. Outside the circle stood a tombstone with the words, "HERE LIES THE MAN". With so many people breaking down camp in the city, the Playa was emptier than normal as we reached the tripod structure of Medieval Gogo. We all climbed to the top platform where a huge Totem Head stared across the playa toward the former location of the Man. Not far away was MetaHeart that we climbed for a group photo. I loved how the clouds reflected off its mirrored surface. As we came down, a group of nude burners waited for their turn to climb up.

The giant boot house of Storied Haven drew us further out onto the Playa. After we climbed the beanstalk staircase to the small balcony, Kenny and Tommy took turns trying to hold handstands on the toe. I wish we could have walked through the interior while it was still open. Tommy and I had visited Brainchild on Thursday but the rest hadn't so we headed over to the large sculpture nearby. Tori stayed under the shade canopy of the tricycle while I climbed around inside Brainchild with Kenny, Jill and Tommy. The metal surface was hot!

We then headed over to the giant letters of Dream where we all took turns posing with the words. Kenny and Jill did a two-high in the word, OK, and we all took a group shot in LIVE. We talked with one of the artists preparing to break them down and he gave each of us a little bird that had been punched out of the metal surfaces. Another girl wearing a cape handed out Churro Cake Bites that she had baked and they were delicious. It was nearing 3:30pm so we headed back to camp to break down everything we could before the Temple Burn at 8pm. Last year we left before the Sunday burn and I regretted it. This year we made sure to stay. On the way to camp, we passed what looked like a Black Artichoke Shrine but it turned out to be the non-flammable remains of the Mazu Temple that I had spotted from a distance our first day. I was bummed I didn't get a chance to see it before it burned.

Back at camp, we worked on the time-consuming tasks of removing the giant shade cloth and ground tarps around our camp. We left up our hexayurt but Tommy broke down his tent to sleep on the RV couch for the final night. Our Swiss neighbor who dropped by several times during the week, came by to say goodbye and ask me to take a group photo of his friends before they left. (A first-time burner, he was always astounded by the flat desert landscape that was so different from his native country.) We were cutting it close as we finished our work and bundled up to head out to the Temple of Promise. We arrived right as they ignited the fire. The quietness of the Temple Burn was the exact opposite of the noisy bedlam at the Man Burn. It was amazing to listen to the temple crackle and burn with a huge silent crowd as clouds of smoke rose into the fading twilight sky.

When we woke up early on Monday morning, Black Rock City was clearing out quickly with large patches of empty space around our camp and scattered clusters of abandoned bicycles here and there. I grew increasing frustrated as we loaded the RV and broke down the hexayurt. In a fit of pique, I grabbed and tossed an empty bucket as far as I could huck it. (I immediately felt better for the rest of the day.) A screaming couple breaking down a camp nearby revealed that I wasn't the only one who had woken in a bad mood. I was tempted to offer them my Tossing Bucket (TM), but they sounded way too pissed to appreciate it. By 9am, we were all loaded up and entering the Exodus line. It took over a half hour to drive off the Playa at 5 miles per hour but there was no stopping to wait at all. Since there was no traffic, we decided to stop for a hot breakfast at Bruno's Country Club in nearby Gerlach. It was full of weary, unwashed burners but everything tasted so good!

We arrived at our motel in Fallon by 2pm, much earlier than we anticipated. After taking long luxurious showers and relaxing on a real bed for the first time in a week, we all walked over to the Pizza Barn down the road for dinner. Yum! Tuesday morning, we were on the road by 8am and we got to check out the scenery we had missed in the dark on the drive out. At one rest stop, we chatted with a fellow burner, Parable, who was towing his two-wheeled mutant vehicle home. After driving the RV through the winding mountain roads along the Nevada-California border, we stopped for sandwiches at Erik Schat's Bakkery in Bishop. Except for the air conditioner cover blowing off the top of the RV and parking alongside a vineyard to retrieve it, we had an uneventful journey home. This year's Burn tested us more with the dust storms and colder nights, but I would not have missed it for the world.

Link to my complete 2015 Burning Man photo album on Facebook

Link to my 2014 Burning Man post

Link to my 2018 Burning Man post

Link to my 2019 Burning Man post