By Laura Hertzfeld
Updated August 31, 2012 at 07:20 PM EDT
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Painted bodies, futuristic-looking art projects, and a multitude of dusty bikes have descended on Black Rock City, Nevada for the annual Burning Man festival. Now in its 26th year, this year’s extravaganza of art and music is well underway, leading up to the climax — the burning of an effigy (the “man”) on Saturday night.

But this year you don’t have to be on the playa (what Burning Man regulars call the expanse of desert where the festival is held) to enjoy the spirit of the event. Ustream is streaming the entire week live at

Over 50,000 people attended the 2011 event. Started by San Francisco artist Larry Harvey in the mid-1980s, Burning Man has become a haven for hippie types, artists, and yes, folks seeing a good time on, ahem, alternative substances.

From performers like the aerialist pictured below, to musician, dancers, and other visitors to summer’s biggest camp, Burning Man attendees use the week to explore artistic expression.

Black Rock City bans driving (except for special “mutant vehicles”), and there is no money exchanged and no commercialism at the event — participants rely on a gift economy, creating an alternative way of obtaining goods and inspiring community for the week of the festival.