Writers on the Range: Heard around the West
BLACK ROCK CITY, NEVADA
Once again, Burning Man has come and gone: 70,000 people have converged on Black Rock City, which pops up every year in late August in the Nevada desert north of Reno and then more or less disappears in a cloud of dust. This year’s art theme was “Caravansary,” but the many villages and camps included old favorites, such as the air-conditioned “Orgy Dome” sponsored by a group called “And Then There’s Only LOVE.” The shenanigans — which take place throughout the week before Labor Day on a playa, or dry lake bed — traditionally climax with the burning of a giant man-shaped effigy.
However chaotic it may appear, Burning Man is by no means a free-for-all. Nor is it free: Tickets this year were $380. Organizers say they spent $26 million to put the spectacle together, with some $4.5 million going to the Bureau of Land Management. But even that couldn’t buy good weather. Usually, the biggest elemental problem is incessant dust, which makes its way into every nook and cranny of every man, woman, machine and anything in between. This year, though, the enemy was mud. When the first wave of “Burners” showed up on Aug. 25, they were turned away because heavy rains had transformed the playa into a gloppy mess that mired vehicles and pedestrians. Burning Man was closed for the next 24 hours or so.
So where’d all the burners go in the meantime? The Walmart in Reno, of course. Well, not all of them, but quite a few found their way to the retailer’s parking lot (which allows overnight RV stays). It wasn’t quite what they had in mind. Burning Man (except for those pricey tickets) is a cash-free zone, Walmart not so much. But then again, a Super Walmart’s almost as big as Black Rock City, and the stores do have a hallucinogenic air about them. “We’re just trying to stay positive,” a woman named Driftwood told The Associated Press. “Positivity can raise everything up.” There is no word on whether a makeshift Orgy Dome was erected in the Walmart parking lot, but once the sun dried the playa, the gates reopened and the Man was ultimately burned, once again.
Another, albeit much smaller, pop-up town raised a recent ruckus in a Colorado ski community. Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light held a contest this summer, the 1,000 winners of which would get to spend “three days of unexpected fun” in the “epic town” of Whatever, USA, which is actually a real town, painted blue and otherwise altered to fit the Whatever theme, whatever that might be. The real town in this case was Crested Butte, Colorado, whose citizens, ironically, pride themselves on their burg’s authenticity. Anheuser-Busch offered to pay the town $250,000 to rent and paint the historic main drag to entertain its contest winners for a few days. The details of the event are supposed to be kept secret until the last minute, to keep the place from being flooded by freeloading, non-contest-winner party animals. But that didn’t mean the locals didn’t know about it, and less than two weeks before the event, hundreds of Crested Butte residents, apparently lacking the blasé temperament of an ideal Whateverarian, packed a town board meeting to express both support and opposition. Supporters ultimately got their way, though the beer company had to pony up another $250,000 to make it happen, and Crested Butte elected officials shrugged their shoulders as their streets turned blue.
LION, OPERA, BEAR AND OTTER COUNTRY
If you encounter a mountain lion, experts say you should make yourself look large and threatening and wave a big stick around. You also might try singing opera, as Kyra Kopenstonsky did when a mountain lion stalked her as she was hiking near Placerville, Colorado. It worked: She made it out of the woods without a scratch, though she didn’t say whether it was Mozart or Verdi that did the trick. But if you run into an otter, forget about singing, just get out of there quick. An otter attacked an 8-year-old boy swimming in a river in a park near Seattle. When his grandmother tried to help, she was attacked, too. Both humans were hospitalized; the otter’s still at large. Oh, and don’t feed the bears. DON’T. FEED. THE. BEARS. On Aug. 5, a Lake Tahoe woman, who had reportedly been feeding the bears around her house for years, was attacked, bitten and scratched by a black bear. Just in case the attack, which put her in the hospital, didn’t get the message across, she may be cited for unlawfully feeding wildlife. Although it appears that the bears may no longer need handouts: Washington State University researchers recently found that bruins have figured out how to utilize tools to get at a glazed doughnut.
Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor at High Country News (hcn.org) based in Durango, Colorado.
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