For others, the holiday weekend means heading out to Hell’s backyard – the Black Rock Desert playa in northwest Nevada – with 30,000 of their closest friends so they can paint their naked bodies flourescent pink and set fire to a towering effigy of a vaguely human form.

Say goodbye to the backyard barbecue. Welcome to Burning Man.

This isn’t your granddad’s weekend camp out by any stretch of the imagination. Burning Man is described by organizers as “an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance.” Others consider it one of the last signs of the coming apocalypse.

For the vast majority of Burning Man afficionados, though, the three days of free-form music, art, expression, pranksterism – and more than a little debauchery – spell a break from the world of cell phones, suits and rampant corporate culture.

Villages spring up around the statue of the Burning Man, most with themes and activities such as Lustmonkeys of Xara, Club Seal, The Medieval Camp of the Flaming Heads, Costco Soulmate Trading Outlet, and the Alter of the Mystical Frog of the Playa. Music from drumming circles, live bands and in techno tents can be heard any time of day or night.

Visitors to Burning Man are considered participants – no spectators, please! – and can expect a vast array of performance and participation activities ranging from the sublime to the superfluous and beyond; from painting, theatre and beat poetry readings to the Naked Slip ‘N’ Slide Olympics, Fallopian Fun Run, and Butt Art Contest.

The whole thing culminates with the ritual igniting of the Burning Man effigy- a 40-foot tall edifice made of burlap-wrapped wood and neon lighting.

The event had modest enough beginnings in 1986. A small group of friends spontaneously burned a wooden symbol of no-one-in-particular on Bakers Beach in San Francisco, and decided to make an annual ritual of it. It eventually outgrew the beach and was forced to take to the desert.

Burning Man today creates “Black Rock City,” at least temporarily one of Nevada’s largest communities with a population exceeding 30,000, complete with daily newspapers, and radio and television broadcasts – all provided by Burning Man participants.

Though commercialism is possibly the only taboo (food and other essentials are either given away or bartered), the cost of attending Burning Man 2000 is a not-so-inclusive $250. Tickets must be purchased before September 1 through either Burning Man organizers or Ticketweb.

Organizers in part blame the cost on the Bureau of Land Management, which upped the user fee for the site to $500,000 this year.

Yet, they are honest about Burning Man being a victim of its own popularity – it now requires year-round preparation and staffing in order to produce what started as the simple burning of an effigy on the beach.