Burning Man: Inside the bizarre annual festival in the Nevada desert

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Burning Man Ablaze in Nevada Desert

By TORREY ANDERSONSCHOEPE

Every year during the last week of August more than 60,000 people from across the globe flock to Nevada's hot, dusty, Black Rock Desert, suddenly transforming it into a bustling city centered on radical self-reliance and self-expression that's part art show, rave and music festival -- complete with giant fire-shooting robots. Nine days later, it all disappears with no trace of humans left behind.

Burning Man was started in 1986 by Larry Harvey and Jerry James, who held an annual fire party at Baker Beach in San Francisco. When police eventually kicked them out, they took their tradition to the desert. Since then it has turned into a massive event attended by people from all over the world.

Take a glimpse inside Burning Man festivals of years past:

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Burning Man: Inside the bizarre annual festival in the Nevada desert
Black Rock City, Nevada –Mark Day, of Santa Cruz, gets painted with blue food coloring to go with his blue devil horns while participating in this year's Burning Man festival which drew over 25,000 people from around the world to the isolated Black Rock Desert in Nevada. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A woman lies next to paper mache aliens as they watch a television sculpted into a man 06 September at the 'Burning Man' festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Some 15,000 people attended the 1998 'Burning Man' festival, which reportedly began 13 years ago in San Francisco, and which always culminates in the burning of a giant effigy of a man. The festival has grown into one of the nation's annual premiere countercultural events, with the size doubling virtually every year and drawing people from as far away as Japan, Europe and Australia. (Photo credit: MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of people cross the desert at Black Rock City's Burning Man festival in Nevada 02 September, 1999. Founded in 1986 by a group of artists, filmmakers and photographers, the annual event encourages a collaborative response from its audience and a collaboration between artists. (Photo credit : HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man poses at Black Rock City's Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada 03 September, 1999. Founded in 1986 by a group of fine artists, filmmakers and photographers, the anual event encourages a collaborative response from its audience and a collaboration between artists.  (Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
An artist performs a Mass celebrating the end of the millennium on the 'Tree of Time', a sculpture by San Francisco-based artists Dana and Flash, at Black Rock City's Burning Man festival in Nevada 04 September 1999. Founded in 1986 by a group of fine artists, filmmakers and photographers, the annual event encourages a collaborative response from it's audience and a collaboration between artists. (Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks at the Burning Man effigy as it is prepared for the Burning Man Festival at Black Rock City in Nevada 29 August 2000. An estimated thirty thousand people will attend the festival, a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during a week long event. The fifty two feet effigy will be burned at the end of the festival  (Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
A girl drives a bike on the Black Rock City desert in Nevada 29 August, 2000 as she attends the Burning Man festival. An estimated thirty thousand people will attend the festival, a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during a week long event.  (Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
Signs are posted at the entrance of Black Rock City during the Burning Man Festival in Nevada 01 September 2000. An estimated thirty thousand people will attend the festival, a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during a week long event.  (Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
Make-up artist 'Nambla the Clown' from the San Francisco Bay Area poses at Black Rock City's center camp during the Burning Man Festival in Nevada 01 September 2000. An estimated thirty thousand people will attend the festival, a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during a week long event.  (Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
A bicycle rider makes it through a dense sand storm at Black Rock City's playa during the Burning Man Festival in Nevada 01 September 2000. An estimated thirty thousand people will attend the festival, a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during a week-long event.  (Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
Bolts of electricity strike 'Dr. MegaVolt' as he rides across the desert September 1, 2000 atop a truck equipped with huge electrodes to thrill crowds who chant his name during the 15th annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nevada. Despite high winds, dust storms, and a bit of rain, some 27,000 people camped out on a remote desert playa, or dry lake, for the week-long counter-cultural celebration of art and 'radical self-expression.' This year's theme was the body. (Photo by David McNew/Newsmaker)
A dancer juggles fire as a 52-foot tall wooden man as it goes up in flames September 2, 2000 during the15th annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nevada. Despite high winds, dust storms, and a bit of rain, some 27,000 people camped out on a remote desert playa, or dry lake, for the week-long counter-cultural celebration of art and 'radical self-expression'. This year's theme was the body. (Photo by David McNew/Newsmakers)
Revelers dance around the burning remains of a 52-foot tall wooden man during the 15th annual Burning Man festival September 2, 2000 in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nevada. Despite high winds, dust storms, and a bit of rain, some 27,000 people camped out on a remote desert playa, or dry lake, for the week-long counter-cultural celebration of art and 'radical self-expression.' This year's theme was the body. (Photo by David McNew/Newsmakers)
People ride bicycles against a backdrop of mirages September 2, 2000 at the15th annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nevada. Bicycles are the standard mode of transport on the vast playa locale of the festival. Despite high winds, dust storms, and a bit of rain, some 27,000 people camped out on a remote desert playa, or dry lake, for the week-long counter-cultural celebration of art and 'radical self-expression.' This year's theme was the body. (Photo by David McNew/Newsmakers)
People drum on a percussion junk pile despite a blinding dust storm caused by strong winds September 2, 2000 at the 15th annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nevada. Despite the high winds, dust storms, and a bit of rain, some 27,000 people camped out on a remote desert playa, or dry lake, for the week-long counter-cultural celebration of art and 'radical self-expression.' This year's theme was the body. (Photo by David McNew/Newsmakers)
Atmosphere at the 2003 Burning Man festival. Blackrock City, Nevada. (Photo by John Horsley/Photoshot/Getty Images)
Atmosphere at the 2003 Burning Man festival. Blackrock City, Nevada.  (Photo by John Horsley/Photoshot/Getty Images)
The sun rises behind a wood and neon statue, the center piece of the annual Burning Man festival north of Gerlach, Nev., Monday, Aug. 26, 2002. The week-long festival in the Black Rock Desert started Monday. (AP Photo/Debra Reid)
A rainbow is cast over the Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, Nev., during the Burning Man festival on Friday, Aug. 31, 2007. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
A woman sits in a shelter during a dust storm on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, Nev., during the Burning Man festival on Friday, Aug. 31, 2007. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
Jason, of Portland, watches the Critical Titts bike ride event on the playa at the Black Rock Desert during the Burning Man festival on Friday, Aug. 31, 2007. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
Burning Man festival participants enjoys the playa near an art installation in the Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, Nev., on Friday morning, Aug. 31, 2007. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
The Man glows on the playa framed through and art car on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007, after being repaired from an arson that occurred on Monday, while at the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, Nev. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
Burning Man participants are reflected in an art piece on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in Gerlach, Nev., during the Burning Man festival on Friday morning, Aug. 31, 2007. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
A Burning Man participant enjoys a light art installation during the festival in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nev., Thursday morning, Aug. 30, 2007. (AP Photo/Brad Horn, Nevada Appeal)
Black Rocky City begins to grow during the opening of Burning Man Sunday, August 27th, 2006. The art festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert will celebrate it's 20th year. (photo by Ron Lewis)
The Man, a stick figured symbol of the Burning Man art festival, is silhouetted against a morning sunrise Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006, at the 20-year-old art festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. (AP Photo/Ron Lewis)
Burning Man participants wait for a dust storm to clear near Gerlach, Nev., during the Burning Man festival at the Black Rock Desert on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
A an aerial view of the center camp in Black Rock City is seen during the Burning Man festival near Gerlach, Nev., on Friday, Aug. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Brad Horn)
A girl wearing three dimensional glasses enters a tunnel of lights during the Burning Man Festival at Black Rock City desert in Nevada 29 August 2000. An estimated thirty thousand people will attend the festival, a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators,where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during a week long event.(Photo credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
Atmosphere at the 2003 Burning Man festival. Blackrock City, Nevada. (Photo by John Horsley/Photoshot/Getty Images)
Atmosphere at the 2003 Burning Man festival. Blackrock City, Nevada. (Photo by John Horsley/Photoshot/Getty Images)
Joseph Hren of San Francisco sporting a retro look while spending the week at Burning Man. Photographed at center camp, August 29, 2008. (Photo by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Passersby stop to admire Twilight Anima Rising, one of over 150 works of art dotting the Black Rock Desert during Burning Man, a week-long party and arts festival. About 35,000 people are camped in the a temporary city. (Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Ed Joseph of San Francisco performs on the Black Rock Desert during Burning Man, a week-long party and arts festival. About 35,000 people are camped in the a temporary city.  (Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
An day-long windstorm whips sand as fine as talcum powder at Burning Man as participants take evening bike rides and strolls on stilts. About 35,000 are camped out on the desert for the week-long party and arts festival, which ends Monday. (Photo by Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
This is a satellite image of the Burning Man festival in Nevada, United States, collected on August 28, 2012. This image is the winner for the 2012 Top Image contest. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
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The name Burning Man comes from the giant wooden structure, among many other large sculptures that pepper the barren landscape, and disappears into a roaring fire that marks the end of the festival.

"You leave no trace. Anything you bring comes back with you," says Anton Tumas, a 34-year-old DJ who is going to the festival for the seventh time this year. "There's no trash cans, there's nothing. It radically changes how you see things and how you approach things."

Self-reliance and self-expression are at the core of the experience.

The veteran "Burner," as attendees are called, explains, "People go there with the mindset to completely let go of their everyday world and be in that space and share that space with others. You go past your comfort zone ... see how much more of yourself you can share and how many different ways."

But going to the desert event takes a lot of preparation. The only things sold at the festival are ice and coffee so you have to be fully self-sustainable.

"The elements are rough out there ... you have to take care of yourself," Tumas says. "There could be a huge sand storm or dust storm any moment and you have to be ready for that. You don't leave your camp without water, a dust mask and goggles."

You also have to be ready to see some really bizarre things. Everyone there is encouraged to express themselves however they want.

"The human expression in all forms, what that can look like in that setting never ceases to amaze me," Tumas says.

Here are some snapshots he took from his past trips:

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Burning Man Veteran, Anton Tumas
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Burning Man: Inside the bizarre annual festival in the Nevada desert
Photo credit: Anton Tumas
Photo credit: Anton Tumas
Photo credit: Anton Tumas
Photo credit: Anton Tumas
Photo credit: Anton Tumas
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Esther Hwang, a 27-year-old marketing manager, is going to the festival for the first time this year.

"I have only heard great things about burning man and how it changes your perspective on life. I'm going because it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience with freedom of self expression without any judgement," she says.

"The principle of self reliance is something I need to get adjusted to, but I see it as a fun challenge ... A friend had given me advice to accept and embrace every moment whether I am with my friends, strangers, or even unexpectedly alone."

Out in the desert, anything can happen. So if you plan on becoming a Burner, get your light-up hula-hoops, glow sticks and wings ready, and make sure you're prepared for temperatures that can range from triple digits during the day to near-freezing temperatures at night.

And above all, prepare yourself for a bizarre and likely life-changing experience -- and don't leave anything behind.

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