An art festival is of course how I describe it to those whom have never heard of it, but a freedom festival is a more accurate description.

Burning Man 2009, "Evolution," was my first time at the epic art festival. An art festival is of course how I describe it to those whom have never heard of it, but a freedom festival is a more accurate description.

Just about anything goes at Burning Man, where people fly their freak flags high. That may sound threatening to some, but really it's quite beautiful. Burning Man is an annual event about 120 miles north of Reno, Nev., in the Black Rock Desert. Nearly 50,000 people attend and the event, which lasts one week, culminating in an explosion of flames as "the man" is burned on the second-to-last day of the gathering.

For me the festival brought introspection and awareness. It pushed me so far outside of what I thought was normal or how things should be. Also, camping in crusty, cracked terrain with nothing more than a fine, alkali talc like dust covering the ground was like living on the moon. No bugs, no plants, no water. The conditions led to a very surreal experience for an Oregonian mountain girl like myself.

Sitting on the flat surface of the ancient lake bed, which is referred to as "the playa," realizations about how dependent we are on natural resources such as water, soil and plants came to mind. Thoughts about how conditions have to be just so for life to be sustained came to the forefront of my mind. Toward the end of the week, when water and food supplies were running low, it was evident how fragile life can be.

In such barren surroundings, people from all over the world travel to come together as a community. Camps for healing, yoga, massage, chiropractic adjustments, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and just about any group activity you could possibly imagine are a short bike ride away.

But of course the art was the focal point of my photos, most of which were shot at sunrise, when the lighting was almost magical. Sept. 4 was a full moon, which made for spectacular viewing of art on the playa. One large metal flower that looked like sculpture shining in the moonlight actually brought me to tears. What a daunting task for these artists to lug their pieces of art into the high desert, but what a privilege to have it displayed in such an other-worldly environment.