For Your Consideration: Colorado's Alternatives to Burning Man

June 28, 2018

As summer’s halfway point draws near, we’re going to assume that you’ve inevitably received your first invite to some pseudo-friend’s Facebook page dedicated to his Burning Man camp. Technically, the Burn is still about two months away, but unless you’re a complete amateur, you should have been planning for this particular excursion since mid-2016.

Of course, your friend sees this casual Facebook invite as an opportunity to tell you about all the upgrades he’s made to his art car this year, including better flame throwers, and a German-made speaker system that’s technically designed to be louder than military-grade plane engines. As a formality, you’ll say, “Cool, man, let me see if I can get off work.”

But let’s face it: Burning Man is becoming more expensive and unnecessarily difficult every year, and no matter how much you love rebellious pyrotechnics and tribal trance, it might not feel quite as worthwhile anymore. Sure, there’s a good chance you’ll see more naked people there in a week than you’ve seen in your entire life, but is that really worth learning how to weld and spending a weekend eating perishables perpetually baked by Nevada’s coarse sand and blistering desert sun? We’re going to go out on a limb here, but we’re guessing the answer is a resounding “no.”

Fear not: Colorado has no shortage of Burning Man-type (read: incredibly bizarre) gatherings throughout the rest of the year that are sure to whet your appetite for uprooting the basic rules of society—and they happen to require significantly less money and effort. But, if after reading this list you still feel like you want to do Burning Man on a budget, evidently admission is free if you parachute in. (So there’s that.) How you would do that with your custom steampunk-multi-level-art-bike lemonade stand in tow is unclear, but therein lies the eternal dilemma of Burning Man, right?

Colorado Renaissance Festival

Every weekend from now through August 5

Price: $22.50 (adult), $11.00 (children 5-12), free (children under 5)

When you’re considering designing a leather bustier and spending a week surrounded by strangers with questionable hygiene, you really ought to  pay your respects to the real OG feudal festival. Ever since the late 60s, Renaissance fairs have been popping up across the country to serve as an immersive educational tool for all ages—and quite possibly, to also provide a market for a lot of people to sell their strange, homemade things. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of visiting the Colorado Renaissance Festival between Denver and Colorado Springs, it really is incredible to see the commitment of these participants to recreating this strangely, enduringly alluring period of world history. First, you enter the expansive grounds through a very serious looking medieval gate. Then you spend the whole day (or multiple days) in a permanent state of confusion as teenagers on field trips and old men who somehow know a lot about axe throwing and stone masonry coalesce into a single community of oddity. Honestly, that last sentence applies to Burning Man too, but at least with the Renaissance Festival, you can compare notes onyour afternoon minutiae with Game of Thrones undertones in the comfort of your own bed later that night, far away from the sun and sand of northwest Nevada.

New Belgium’s Tour de Fat

September 1

Price: $15 (adult), free (children 12 and under)

For a variety of reasons, bikes are a big part of the Burn. It’s a seemingly endless expanse of weirdness, and if you don’t have a good bike to get you from the peyote lemonade stand to the mime orgy tent, you’re sure to get totally worn out halfway there and be left with no choice but to take a nap under the WWII-era airplane part forest. If that sentence totally exhausted you, but yet you perked up at the idea of biking, then maybe you should consider partaking in New Belgium’s annual Tour de Fat. If you’re a Coloradoan, you’re probably well aware of this micro-festival celebrating beer, bikes, and the bizarre. (With the primary emphasis being on the former, seeing as it’s hosted by one of Colorado’s most popular beer brands.) It used to be free, but they’ve since moved to a money model to help fund the philanthropic component of the festival—which we think is a good reason to pay to do anything. Tour de Fat also has an interesting tie to Burning Man, as it takes place the day before the Burn officially commences. Some might say that this is as good a reason as any to jet over to the desert promptly thereafter, but it also provides you a perfect excuse for that “friend” who insists you’re the missing link to his camp.

Emma Crawford Festival

October 27

Price: $75 (if you wish to participate in the coffin race), free otherwise (we think?)

It’s a good thing it’s still a little ways off because you’re going to need some time to make that perfectly aerodynamic, flawlessly constructed, and intricately designed coffin to compete with the greats. This brief but legendary festival in Manitou Springs is all predicated on a coffin race, which is really just a macabre soapbox derby. Evidently, the festival’s namesake came to Manitou Springs in the late-1800s to try to cure herself of tuberculosis in the area’s mineral springs, but was ultimately buried on top of Red Mountain when she eventually succumbed to her illness. About 30 years later, following some sodden Colorado spring weather, her casket slid down the mountainside in a horrifying display of agility and athleticism by the old corpse. Because nothing goes uncapitalized in America, this legendary story evolved into a festival to mock celebrate late-19th century funeral engineering, and, well…here we are. Appropriately, the festival takes place around Halloween, so if you’re the type of person who likes the physical labor that Burning Man requires, hopefully that’s enough time to create a coffin that can appropriately honor Emma Crawford’s poor, tuberculosis-riddled ghost.