Afterburn

Twelve hundred miles from Black Rock City, Apogaea keeps the home fires burning.

"The success of the event is all dictated by whatever you have to work with -- who shows up, who participates, who contributes in some way and what they bring to it," she says. "Everyone has a need to be creative, to celebrate and to express themselves in a free environment."

As the president of Apogaea LLC, a corporation created last year to support the event, she's responsible for organizing that freedom in combination with what is arguably the most eclectic board of directors in the state. That board, which includes Thompson and Phipps, is made up of artists, DJs, business owners, tech heads, scientists and iconoclasts with names like Mayor McCheese and Schmid-E. Although Apogaea is designed as a primitive playground for wild adults, it's realized through spreadsheets and meeting minutes, according to bylaws and protocols, like any corporation.

"I'm a member of a union, and I swear we have more bylaws for Apogaea than we do for the union," says Travis Roberts, a boardmember who works as a lieutenant with Littleton Fire and Rescue. "We've got a book that's like a foot tall. But that's what it takes to cover all of the bases, to be as legitimate and responsible as possible."

Legitimate, responsible -- and affordable. Apogaea is structured to be accessible to anyone who wants to go, regardless of cost: Tickets are sold according to a pricing pyramid, with a tier of $15 tickets for truly starving artists. (Tickets at that level have already sold out.) Apogaea LLC does turn a small profit from the entrance fees, but Mahoney and the boardmembers are not compensated for their efforts. Instead, any money left after expenses is funneled into an artists' grant program, which allocates money to help individuals create art and environments for Apogaea. The program is modeled on the Black Rock Arts Council, which supplies more than half a million dollars to Burning Man artists each year. This year, the Apogaea board awarded more than $1,500.

"The whole grant program is less designed around giving people money to make some really fab art than with giving someone a tool to try out their art," says Ms. Terious, an Apogaea boardmember who works with the Burning Man Borg. "We want it to be good, of course, but it's more of a way of saying 'We appreciate your ideas, and we don't want you to be overly stifled by the constraint of not having the money to make it happen.'"

The grant program also gives artists a chance to test out their creations before making the 1,200-mile trek to the main event at Burning Man. Michele Reeverts, a Denver schoolteacher and artist who leads the Colorado Fire Tribe, used Apogaea grant money to perfect a four-foot kaleidoscope that she placed at the entrance of the HeeBeeGeeBee Healers habitat at Burning Man last year.

"I probably would not have been able to create it on my own, without the help from the grant. And without having a venue to show it, I probably would not have created it as well," Reeverts says. "It's hard enough to produce large pieces, not to mention finding some place that will put it up or is willing to show it. Apogaea gives us that opportunity to create anything fantastic and to not have to deal with any gallery or studio space.

"The regional burns are a great way to tap into your local community," she continues, "to see who does what, see what ideas they have and what they've created, how it works, how it hangs, how it's fastened to the ground. They're really a launching pad for ideas."

Last year, Jesse Thompson and Razor Dave built a huge lasso made of spools of black-light-sensitive rope, a quarter-horsepower motor and a rudimentary pulley system that revolved around Rollerblade wheels. They spent several months tinkering with the thing before they perfected its simple mechanics. The result was a gyroscopic structure -- called the Electric Lasso Boogaloo -- that moved with music and sent undulating whips of light fifteen feet into the air. At night, beneath a starry sky, the Lasso danced alongside 600 people wearing costumes and wigs, body paint and feather boas.

"We were inspired by a little toy that Dave bought at the Wizard's Chest -- this multi-colored shoelace-like string that responds to light and seems to have a life of its own," Thompson says. "So we took this thing that we thought was really neat in a small scale, and we made a large-scale version of it.

"Pulling it off was fun," he continues. "When people see it, they say they've never seen anything like it before. They're mesmerized."

The Lasso was just one of many wonderfully odd attractions at Apogaea, including a full-scale saloon and bicycles fashioned to look like animals. There were art cars, people spinning fire, a rumble between a corral full of cowboys and a bunch of mad clowns. Even the natural world got in on the action: On the last day, a double rainbow lit a cosmic halo over the strange, temporary village. This was Burning Man at a high elevation, a little piece of the Playa in the Rockies.

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