Once, Burning Man sounded like a ghost story: people trekking through sand dunes, building a city in the middle of nowhere, making a fire, then disappearing completely. When the festival's founder, Larry Harvey, first invited his friends to San Francisco's Baker Beach in 1986 to set an eight-foot wooden figure aflame, the ritual was just one man's spontaneous art.
Today the Burning Man has become the centerpiece of a countercultural community event with full-time staffers, which draws more than 25,000 artists, acid eaters, tranced-out ravers, and Microsoft programmers alike to Nevada's Black Rock desert, where they construct theme camps, ride outlandish bikes, don costumes -- or just take off their clothes. As 2006 marked the eight-day festival's 20th anniversary, some burners (as attendees call themselves) wondered whether they'd still be sipping chai beneath a smoking behemoth in 2026. But maybe that's what they celebrate every year when they pack up their tents and head back home: the idea that none of this lasts. This year's theme? "Hope and Fear: the Future."