Temptation in the Desert

Seeking divinity through chemistry at Burning Man


The expectant eyes of everyone on the bus bore into me like steel tent stakes into the stiff, arid ground of the playa outside—all waiting to witness my imminent transcendence. But I felt nothing.

“Three hits of this,” Dr. Dave had assured me as he handed me a freebase pipe packed with DMT, “and you’ll be talking to God.” Eight hits later, God still hadn’t picked up the phone.

“Nothing?” he asked, dumbfounded. “Wow. Okay, well… let’s try something else. I’ll be right back.”

Thus far, my triumphant return to Black Rock City was proving anything but. First, I was informed upon arriving at the gate that the Man had been a victim of premature incineration. Then, I’d spent most of the next day trapped in my tent as a sandstorm threatened to whisk me off on the Oz Express. Now, I finally had the opportunity to experience an entheogen I’d been dying to try, and it was having no effect.

“Can I try some?” asked Sierra, who was sitting across from me.

“Sure,” I said, handing her the pipe, then watched in envious amazement as, after a single toke, her eyes rolled back and she went limp, slithering down into a puddle on the floor. She laid there for 10 minutes—grinning, mumbling and rubbing herself in some kind of masturbatory epileptic trance worthy of an X-Files episode.


“Here we go,” said the Doc, returning with a small blue vial. As a licensed anesthesiologist and self-styled shaman, Dave was the pharaoh of pharmacopoeia.

“This is Salvia divinorum. It’s a tincture made with alcohol. You put about five drops under your tongue and keep it there. It burns. In about 10 minutes, you should be zooming.”

Twelve drops and 15 minutes later, all I had gotten was that big ol’ busy signal in the sky.

“Still nothing?!?” He’d now moved beyond baffled to outright agitation. “All right,” he said, pulling out a tiny little test tube.

“This is Salvia crystal—very potent shit.” He sprinkled a generous amount on some bud and handed me the bowl. “Short of injecting you with ketamine, this is the best I can do.”

But apparently, not even the Salvia equivalent of crack would unlock my doors of perception. Was I fooling myself? Who was I that some almighty deity would deign to converse with me? Was I to be written off as some heathen hophead simply because I’d chosen to pitch my tent next to the Orgydome in a psychedelic sex camp rather than amongst the Burners for Jesus? Why hath I been forsaken?

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