Photos: At Burning Man, flames, fireworks, and rocketship fail

The annual desert art festival, this year themed "Evolution," once again showcased human ingenuity, creativity, and of course, that all important element, fire.

Declan McCullagh
Daniel Terdiman
1 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Man and the fireball

The main event at Burning Man--the annual arts festival held last week in the Nevada desert--is the burning of the Man, which took place after a dust-storm delay Saturday night. The burn itself, attended by thousands of people, was a huge success, as seen in this photo of a fireball engulfing the Man.

Because the Man was placed on top of an extremely thick wooden pillar this year, it took a very long time for the effigy to fall, something that in the past was a very important part of the event. (See later slides for more photos of the burning of the Man.)
2 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Raygun Gothic Rocketship

About 60 artists and engineers assembled this massive project, called the Raygun Gothic Rocketship, which had its debut at the 2009 Burning Man festival near Gerlach, Nev.

The 1940s-era rococo rocket is intended to evoke the romantic notion of space travel, and it was built in Oakland, Calif. Many parts were designed using a CAD program called SolidWorks, and it grew into a 40-foot-tall retro masterpiece, complete with 17-foot-tall legs and three main compartments rising another 23 feet in the air. Visitors were encouraged to climb up through the compartments and exit through the attached gantry.

On Friday, there was a "launch" featuring a dazzling light display. (See later slides for action shots or our related CNET News photo gallery for more background on construction.)
3 of 24 Declan McCullagh

"Soma," by the Flaming Lotus Girls

A San Francisco-area art collective called the Flaming Lotus Girls brought this massive sculpture to Burning Man this year. It's called "Soma," and is an oversize metal representation of a pair of neurons, one of which is partially buried in the dry lake bed.

It features 20 flickering flames--erupting from dendrites, of course--and spinning balls of fire for the nucleus. Some of the flames seemed to be colored by small flakes of burning metal (this is how fireworks are colored), which could burn spectators who were insufficiently wary.
4 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Portal of Evolution sculpture

The Portal of Evolution sculpture at Burning Man was supposed to represent a 26-feet-tall version of the female reproductive system, with fallopian tubes and ovaries. At the top is a butterfly with a seat for anyone brave enough to climb to the top.
5 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Chaotick flaming tetherball

Artist Larry Breed created this flaming tetherball, a repeating installation at Burning Man. Called the Chaotick, it uses pressurized kerosene to generate flame, and a cordless drill to automatically rotate the shaft to carry the tetherball through its path.
6 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Leeloo / Fifth Element

Any Burning Man festival includes unusual or daring costumes, many of which are too risque to show you here. This festivalgoer was dressed as Leeloo from the 1997 movie "Fifth Element," a supposedly "perfect being" played by Milla Jovovich.
7 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Astroturf slide

The flat, dry Nevada desert is home to innumerable art projects every year at Burning Man, but this one drew more giggles last week than the rest put together. It's an astroturf slide, which lets festival participants slide down it using foam cubes, tarps, or flattened cardboard boxes. (The cardboard is the fastest.) Festivalgoers who weren't careful ran the risk of serious carpet burns.
8 of 24 Declan McCullagh

"Cubatron," by Mark Lottor

In his professional life, Mark Lottor is an Internet pioneer who worked at SRI International and was a member of the Internet Engineering Task Force, specializing in the domain name system.

For recreation, he created the Cubatron, which consists of thousands of individual lights (two RGB LEDs per polycarbonate ball) that can be updated 62 times a second. Over time his Cubatron design has advanced; the latest version is a modular one that's an eight-foot cube. The Cubatron L5, five modular Cubatrons side-by-side, had its debut at Burning Man 2009.
9 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Black Rock City 2009

Black Rock City, aka Burning Man 2009, peaked at over 42,000 people this year, according to event organizers. By day the impromptu city is characterized by dust, tents, and RVs. By night it transforms into a kaleidoscope of lights.
10 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Lecherous robot

In science fiction, robots are often household helpers (The Jetsons) or evil (Terminator's T-800). This robot rolling around the playa last week at Burning Man, however, was more lecherous. This photograph shows it flirting with young women.
11 of 24 Declan McCullagh

Groovik's Cube

A house-sized version of Rubik's Cube called Groovik's Cube appeared on the desert at Burning Man 2009. It's lit from the inside by 648 bright LEDs, and is 15 feet in each dimension. Unlike a normal Rubik's Cube, though, this variant has three controllers on three different sides, which means that solving the puzzle means all three people at the controls have to cooperate. It also requires a good memory, because each person can't see the far side from their own controller. One successful effort involved shouting commands and runners going back and forth.
12 of 24 Declan McCullagh

John Mills' Flintstones-themed art car

John Mills, a self-described "Internet mechanic, car nut, geek, and general enthusiast" in San Francisco created this Flintstones-themed art car for Burning Man 2009. It started as a cart with a two-stroke motor, and after some clever engineering and design work, became this near-perfect recreation.
13 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Fire conclave

Each year, just prior to the burning of the Man, more than a thousand fire spinners show off their talents inside the "burn circle." Here, two performers show their stuff with the Man in the background.
14 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Fireworks at the Man burn

It wouldn't be the Man burn without a fantastic fireworks show, and this year was no exception.
15 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The ancestors

Because the temperatures inside the burns are often so high, one of the effects is the production of dozens of dust devils, known at Burning Man as "ancestors," a reference to the Paiute Indians who lived in and around the Black Rock desert.
16 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Man platform on fire

Each year, the Man is placed on a different kind of platform. This year, the platform was a giant forest made from thousands of small pieces of wood. As one might expect, it produced an incredible fire.
17 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Temple Burn

At Burning Man each year, Saturday night is when the Man burns. But Sunday is for the burning of The Temple, the annual memorial building constructed beyond the Man.

Here, the Temple burns brightly as thousands of people watch solemnly and quietly, a contrast to the party atmosphere at the Man burn the night before.
18 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Rocket launch

The Raygun Gothic Rocketship "launch" Friday night begins, with huge jets of fire shooting out of its engines.
19 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Rocketship fireballs 1

The team behind the Raygun Gothic Rocketship launch event, Black Rock FX, produced an incredible--if dust-storm shortened--event, complete with giant fireballs.
20 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Fireballs 2

The rocketship launch included two sets of giant fireballs, this one in a stunning blue color.
21 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Pyro Boy

Part of the story line behind the rocketship launch was that it failed, forcing the astronaut inside to escape, caught in a maelstrom of fire. In reality, the astronaut was "Pyro Boy," aka Wally Glenn, and his performance included a frenetic demonstration of fireworks launched from his special suit.
22 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET


One of the best things about Burning Man is the many fabulous art vehicles. This dragon, a kinetic, non-motorized, sculpture, was one of them.
23 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Fish art car

With the theme of this year's Burning Man being "Evolution," it was inevitable that some people would use the opportunity to comment on the controversy over evolution in some religious circles.
24 of 24 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The Man and the moon

For many people, Burning Man is largely a nighttime event, and here, the Man stands tall over the landscape with the moon rising up through the clouds.

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