Black Rock City Setup

The setup crew of Burning Man are awarded the unique and amazing perspective of witnessing the untenanted backdrop of the Black Rock Desert become a sculpted flash flood of participants eager to bring their energies to the table. Every year our minds become like stop-action photography as we watch a furious march across the Nevada high desert and into the fence lines of Black Rock City as it becomes an endless metropolis in just a matter of days.

The set up of BRC always starts with the survey of the city and – as always – it was challenged by the harsh environment and weather. This year temperatures hovered around the 100 mark for most of the week accompanied by high winds that perpetuated the majority of the process. This year’s layout was virtually the same as last year so we again shouldered the massive “clock” design with outer blocks at the fifteen minute intervals. This produces hundreds of intersections, seven plazas, five keyholes, four promenades, an airport, The DPW Depot, United Site Services, Greeters, Gate, Gate Road, Haul Road, and a 9.2 mile perimeter fence. We have a 12 to 16 person crew that camps on the playa working from dawn to dusk, and accomplishes laying out the marking flags for all of this in one week.

After survey, all hands of the DPW are summoned to the traditional and monumental task of hammering and stringing the 9.2 mile fence. This crew is 80 to 100 strong and accomplishes the task in less than a day – an impressive feat even to the staunchest of the local ranchers. In the last few years, we have also found that it works much more efficiently to pool the various crews out there at the time and focus all the manpower on one massive task at a time – such as all hands on gate road, then haul road, and so on. As a result, the massive “shell” of the city gets installed more and more efficiently every year.It should be noted here that this year the pressure of the growing population prompted us to build two provisional “overflow” streets on the 9:00 side. This had its successes and challenges that are to be examined in the off season by the City Planning Committee. No decisions have been made yet, but the situation is sure to be improved upon to make it run smoother next year.

After the initial push of setting the main layout, the crews split down to the more specific tasks that work to detail out the city. The Road Works crew deals with intersections, road pegs, road building in general, and anything to do with movement through the city. The Sign Shop puts out the huge citywide signage that are seen everywhere. It’s thousands of signs that are manufactured and installed in the few weeks prior to the event. The Spire crew builds and installs the hundreds of spires that define the city. The Water Truck fleet cements in the roadways and determines the final grade of the city grid. The fence crew continues to work with an abbreviated team to build the miles of infrastructure fencing that occurs throughout the city. And the airport crew arrives and lays out the municipal airport on which a road crew works with equipment to grade out and delineate the runway. This then creates the framing and grid that welcomes the vibration of the cutting edge community of Burning Man.

Playa Restoration

We, the Burning Man community, respect the environment and are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever and wherever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

We even have our own word for a trace that is left behind: “MOOP”, an acronym for Matter Out Of Place, meaning any thing or impact not native to the immediate environment, especially as it applies to the citizens of Black Rock City and the greater Burning Man community in regards to the founding principle of Leave No Trace.

After the Burning Man event ends and everyone is gone, having cleaned up after themselves, the Playa Restoration All-Star Team comb the Black Rock Desert to find and remove all the remaining items. And we’re happy to say that Burning Man has once again passed the Bureau of Land Management’s Site Inspection with flying colors!

While not the norm, the following are examples of the big things that were left behind by participants. This is the big MOOP that was deliberately abandoned on the Black Rock Desert by some participants.


  • Garbage, trash bags
  • 55-gal drum barrels (waste, fuel, etc.)
  • Furniture, couches, Chairs, evaporation ponds, showers, etc.
  • Rugs/tarps
  • Bicycles, vehicles
  • Tents, structures
  • Lumber

Little MOOP:

  • Cigarette butts
  • Sawdust, splinters, wood chips, firewood bark
  • Rebar, tent stakes
  • Fasteners, screws, nails, staples
  • Plastic bags, grocery bags, trash bags
  • Cardboard, packaging materials
  • Paper, toilet paper, baby wipes, shreds
  • Broken glass, bottle glass, windshield
  • Bottle caps
  • Zip-ties

Another growing concern is that of tent stakes, cement stakes, and rebar left in the ground or worse, hammered completely in, eventually resurfacing and posing a driving hazard.

The most common form of MOOP is wood, which makes sense given wood is the most common building material at Burning Man. And it is MOOP, whether it be sawdust, splinters, wood chips, bark, or firewood.

To prevent wood MOOP, do as much pre-cutting off playa as possible. If you must cut wood on playa, do it in an enclosed area like a shipping container, trailer or pop up shade structure with walls, lay down a carpet or use a tarp, and sweep it often. Stack firewood on a carpet or a tarp.

And now – here’s the 2013 MOOP Map, and as you can see by all of that green that Black Rock City is doing great!

Submitted by,

Tony “Coyote” Perez and Dominic “DA” Tinio