In late August, thousands of people - including a decent percentage of Silicon Valley - will make Black Rock (the "city" of Burning Man) Nevada's third-largest city for one week.

If you're fascinated by Burning Man, you're not the only one. The festival originated in 1986 with 20 people; in 2015 it had close to 70,000. If you're interested in a breakdown of participants' backgrounds, Burning Man conducts their own census, and it's fascinating.

Here are 7 more things you may not have known:

1. The sand isn't really sand

The whole Burning Man zone is known as the "playa," and it's extremely dusty. Except it's not really dust or sand - it's the alkaline remnants of an old lakebed. So much lighter than regular dust or sand that it's almost white, it's also so fine it gets everywhere - all the nooks and crannies of your car, tent, clothes, pillow, even your eyelashes.

Pro tip: Bring baby wipes or towels and vinegar to get dust off your skin and belongings.

2. You can't buy anything

The only things you can purchase with money are ice and coffee at center camp. Outside that, Burning Man functions on the gift economy. All items are exchanged based on "gifting" - yes, even things from vendors. For example, people or camps might supply food, alcohol, clothes, or even jewellery in exchange for ... a gift.

Think about that for a moment: You're interacting with hundreds of other people, yet you have no need of your wallet for an entire week. As co-founder Larry Harvey said, "Burning Man is like a big family picnic. Would you sell things to one another at a family picnic? No, you'd share things."

Pro tip: If it's your first year, you're not really expected to have gifting down yet. People understand that you're learning.

3. It can be very cold

Everyone knows it gets hot - it's the middle of the desert. But besides the fact that deserts get cold at night, Burning Man is held on an elevated plateau. It's 4,000 feet above sea level, so nighttime temperatures are normally in the 50s but can drop as low as the 30s.

Pro tip: Check the weather to see if you'll need a hat and gloves in addition to your electric blue chaps and canary-yellow unitard.

4. You can see the rings of Saturn from Burning Man

Thanks to the group Desert Wizards of Mars, there is now an observatory on the playa. Inaugurated in 2014, it includes two 21-foot domes and a 20-inch telescope. In addition to Saturn, you can see Jupiter's moons, far-flung galaxies, and nebulae from it.

On the group's motivation for constructing such an observatory for one sole week of the year, Tom Varden, the project's lead artist, said: "If you can show someone a decent view of the rings of Saturn, you change someone's life forever ... they don't just take it in -- they make noises, they say things, they move, they get uncomfortable. It is exactly Burning Man."

Pro tip: Don't miss this.

5. Burning Man encourages honoring the dead

In addition to constructing a giant man (the theme of which this year is Da Vinci's Turning Man), every year at Burning Man a Temple is also built. If you're in mourning, you can write a message to your loved one before the Temple burns as a way of memorializing them. The burning of the Temple is a ceremony many cite as deeply moving.

Pro tip: If you've suffered a loss and want to participate, consider not writing a letter beforehand, but letting the words of your message come to you on the playa.

6. If it's your first time, you'll get extra dirty

When you first enter the gate, you're asked to raise your hand if you're new to Burning Man. Those admitting to being first-timers are then expected to jump onto the playa, roll around in the dust, and shout, "I'm a virgin no more!"

Pro tip: Yes, this is really a thing. Again, consider bringing baby wipes and/or towels and vinegar.

7. Technically, there are public showers

There is a bathing station at Burning Man. However, in order to get washed, you must wash a dozen people first. You go through a system: first you're a rinser, then a scrubber, then a soaper, until you're finally the one getting soaped, scrubbed and rinsed by your dust-laden brethren.

Pro tip: Consider figuring out another showering system in addition to this.


Burning Man releases its last batch of tickets this year at noon PST on August 3rd.

See you on the playa.