Spring 2019 / Quest


by Clara Milo

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Photo Essay

As we enter Black Rock City, we pitch our tents and prepare to inhabit an alternate universe. PHOTO: CLARA MILO.

When the time came to cross the gates, we were greeted by a great wall of dust: white, thick, and smelling of toasted loaves. We stalled there despite the vastness of the desert, 20,000 cars perched in the sand. Seashells on a beach.

Simmering for several hours in this total gridlock, I listened to the sand hitting the windshield, watched it build. A pyramid in an unconstrained timepiece.

At wit’s end, I whipped open the door to hop out, barefoot in the storm.

Under the blazing kiss of the tempest, I traced a jagged path through the herd of sleeping engines, chasing a subtle beat that pulsed with the whistling winds. Goggles were not a fashion statement: They were a necessity.

Baited by the strange vibrations, I finally stumbled upon a blue bus booming funk for a mad flock. They kept busy playing limbo under the security lines. Other wanderers gathered around the spontaneous rave, hurriedly unbuttoning their tweeds to expose their skin to the breath of the storm. Under deafening base, Japanese Whiskey was served alongside enthusiastic booty shaking. For the better part of the day, we jammed together, in a circle that breathed and melted and expanded and circled again.

At last, as the sun began to set, a wave of celebratory honking announced the end of the 20-hour crawl. Into Black Rock City we all went, spiking our pegs, pitching our tents, ready to inhabit an alternate universe.


Burning Man offered a glimpse into what our world might look like if time and wealth were broken down in service of an unconventional vision. It was a vision of connection — a hopeful but wild co-existence of humanity, creativity, and nature’s wrath.


Sculptures materialize from sand on the Playa, as life becomes art, and art becomes life. PHOTO: CLARA MILO.

Our days were spent in a marveling daze, meeting strangers who were all-too-eager to welcome us “HOME.” Our mugs became bottomless wells of booze; our heads spun with the addictive crunch of high living.

Pedaling on my dusty white pony, a well-tempered cruiser with fur handles and a good fitting of light wire, I rode left, right, diagonal — like a compass gone mad. I rode past fire-spitting art cars the size of dragons, and swing-danced naked on the decks of stranded boats.

Burners navigate thick horizons in the Nevada Desert under the shadows of towering beings. PHOTO: CLARA MILO.


If we were keeping track of time, we would have measured how much had passed — how many hours, how many days. Regardless, we found ourselves speeding across flat lands toward the cusp of dawn, where the horizon grew thick. Before us, a great sphere of warmth began to roll up from the abyss, and I understood why life was structured around sunrises.

Cruisers carry travelers across flatlands and through a dusty rainbow bridge in Black Rock City, where life is structured around sunrises. PHOTO: CLARA MILO.

Standing by a dusted rainbow, we watched the sun cast hues through low blankets of clouds, shrouding into myriad shades of mist. The colors, timidly pastel at first, blossomed brightly orange, spreading euphoria over the parties scattered across the Nevada Desert. The fiery light flooded through silhouettes of people in love, people in trance, people who shed coats and clothes to welcome the heat into the pores of their souls.


Before my eyes, a mad fairy storm brought on by three androgynes on stilts whistled over the land, plunging the deep Playa once again into an idyllic state of loneliness. I extended my hand to watch it disappear behind a shroud of sand. This wall of fine dust, like flour, went on to bless all surfaces and people with a thick layer of age.

We let the storm steer our bikes as it wished, and marveled at the shadows cast by sculptures and souls, tan, taupe or coal, grainy silks under the sparkled breath of the wind. For a moment, life became a painting — a foggy glimpse of a dream. This art sanctuary was a garden for the lost seeds; despite the arid lakebed, the wood and the steel had soaked in enough passion to flower, and now stood erect to celebrate humanity and purposelessness.

Then the feisty dust settled, and a blue desert sky floated calmly above us all. This oasis would soon vanish, leaving nothing more than wisps of nostalgia.

Home on the Playa is a garden of camps and art and mobile parties that is pollinated by human connection. PHOTO: CLARA MILO.

We couldn’t stay “HOME,” but the idea of its ephemeral lifespan was soothing. It meant that this utopia was untouchable. I could forever retreat into its memory, deep within the sandy corners of my mind.

The Orb — an 83-foot reflective inflatable sphere — is a guidepost for Burners as they travel through another dimension of time and place. PHOTO: CLARA MILO.

It could relieve me from the other reality, where the tick of clocks strikes over our heads, where instead of embracing the tempests we fight them, where roads are gridded and the diagonals of our wild compasses are taboo.

People toss away their clothes and inhibitions on the Playa, at least until it’s time to return to reality. PHOTO: CLARA MILO.

Clara Milo

Clara Milo is a photographer and filmmaker who creates surrealist universes to better understand the world around her.

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