As the sun started to set Tuesday night, Department of Public Works crews drove the perimeter of Black Rock City, moving “NO Camping, Driving, Parking” signs hundreds of feet back to allow for two more streets to be created to accommodate its growing population.
By morning on Wednesday, there were 15 streets circling the temporary city created by attendees of Burning Man, an annual art installation and gathering in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
In years past, only the hard-core burners arrived when the gates opened Monday, or early with special permission to set up, and a crush of people often referred to as the “Weekend Warriors” would show up sometime between Thursday and Saturday. But this year, attendance rates skyrocketed early, with population numbers nearing levels usually reported closer to the weekend.
“As of noon Tuesday 55,853 people were on playa,” read a ticker sign scrolling at Media Mecca on Wednesday. The festival's peak population in 2012, a figure based on how many people are gathered at the site in a given time, hit 56,149. (No information was available about Wednesday’s noon population count as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.)
As a result of the new streets, some people who had already camped on the other side of the “No Camping” sign now had to move because they were set up right in the middle of a new road.
Greg Brown and his wife Margo had finished setting up their camp after their drive from Phoenix a few hours earlier and were about to take a nap when they were told they were in the road, which was completely empty.
“Everything is temporary at Burning Man,” Brown said while he moved his camp a few feet over and out of the new roadway. “I just didn’t think it’d be this temporary."
Aside from the growing pains that come with the early population boom, attendees appear happy with how Burning Man 2013 is going so far. A forecast free of dust storms has allowed "burners" to take advantage of the art installations and themed camp areas set up by their fellow festivalgoers.
Many were blown away by the size and look of this year's Man Base, a structure that houses the iconic "Man" figure burned each year near the event's close. Inside a flying saucer under the Man is a multi-level structure with zoetropes, a giant chandelier and views of Black Rock City. Slides serve as exits.
“Finding slides that burn was challenging,” said a man who goes by "Joe the Builder," head of the construction at Black Rock City. Joe said they tried three different slides before settling on the ones they have, which are pitched at a 45-degree angle.
Large-scale burns of art projects from around the world were set to start Thursday night.