If you asked the wind, “Are you going to Burning Man?”, the wind would laugh and tell you that it will be there when you arrive. Deserts and wind go together. Something about hot air and cool air pushing each other around. That means you can absolutely count on there being wind at Burning Man. It’s just a matter of degree.
I got lucky in 2011 for my first burn. It was quite breezy the first couple of days, pretty much the typical base level desert wind. It coated everything with good ol’ playa dust. My shade cloth was strung pretty low because I was short on poles the first year. I would bump my head on it and be showered with dust. After a couple of dust showers, I took to brushing off the shade cloth with my broom. I also take a soft flour brush for brushing off the tent and zippers. DO NOT leave home without one. The bristles should be very soft, not pokey. Brush your zippers every time you think of it. And if you brush down your tent and structure periodically, there will be less dust to deal with at the end. And don’t forget a regular broom for your patio.
2011 was special because there was practically no wind for most of the week. That is so cool and doesn’t happen often in the desert. Expect the worst. Enjoy the hell out of the unexpected best.
Now let’s talk about the really big wind. Chances are, even if you only go to Burning Man once, you are likely to encounter Mr. Big Wind. This is the tent destroyer, the stuff scatterer, the eye gritter, the lung clogger. Nothing is safe from the big boy. That’s why all of the guides tell you to bring rebar to hold down your camp.
Mr. Big Wind causes all kinds of trouble. In addition to blowing away unsecured tents and belongings, it causes whiteout conditions on the playa. My one experience with playa whiteout conditions was not at Burning Man. I was actually on a geology field trip to the Alvord Playa in southeast Oregon. Because it was a large field trip, we were asked to consolidate the number of cars driving across the playa, so some of us left our cars. My cat was in my car. It wasn’t a hot day but I still had to crack all of the windows for her. While we were off seeing stuff on the other side of the playa, the big wind started kicking up. When it was time to go back to camp (on yet another end of the playa), I could not find my car in the whiteout conditions. My friend drove around for half an hour before we finally found it. Boy was my cat pissed off. She had a little cap of dust on her head and murder in her eyes.
When we made it back to camp, the wind was still howling, making everybody miserable. I was already developing playa cough, because I had not brought a bandanna or dust mask. Then the temperature dropped like it tends to do in the desert. The big fire built to ward off the cold just made things worse, because now we had blowing dust, blowing smoke, and blowing sparks. At that point I was getting quite crabby and announced to anybody who would listen that “I no longer do playas.” lol. That’s what happens when you go to a playa unprepared for what it is happy to dish out. It was a weekend whim trip for me that gave me playa cough, a flat tire in the middle of nowhere (on a Sunday), and a dusty, pissed off cat (she was diabetic and had to have shots so she went everywhere with me). And an attitude about playas. Burning Man 2011 was my return to the world of playa. It went much better, partly because I was fully prepared and partly because I got lucky with the weather.
I was once on a field trip in Death Valley when one of the big valley winds kicked in. A bunch of us were standing around the campfire as the wind continued to build, until people started saying things like, “hey, wasn’t that your tent that just blew by?” People finally started scrambling for their things. I ran back to my tent site, only to discover that my tent was in a tree. I managed to wrestle it out of the tree, release the poles, and throw myself on top of it. I slept on top of my tent that night.
Then there was the time my husband and I, and yet another one of our cats, were camped between Death Valley and Tecopa. The weather report had not indicated any wind that night, but by 11 pm the gusts were up to at least 60mph. The tent was shaking mightily, the cat was meowing, and we were rolling our eyes. We finally decided that it wasn’t going to stop, and even our Springbar was being pushed to its limit. We packed up our camp in that fierce wind, almost losing several things over the bluff we were camped on. We ended up spending the next 2 days in a motel in Pahrump (I hate Pahrump).
Most recently, back in March, we did a camping road trip to Tucson and back. We were supposed to do most of our favorite camping spots on the way back, but we actually had to delay leaving Tucson for a day because there was a “significant wind event” going on right where we were headed. The weather stations in those areas were reporting 60mph winds with 75mph gusts. Camping in those kinds of conditions is not fun. You can’t have a fire, you can’t carry on a conversation, and you can’t set anything down without it blowing away.
Soooo . . . you may just meet Mr. Big Wind at Burning Man. Be prepared.