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From Aspen to Burning Man

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Randy Wyrick/Vail Daily

Mark Lee and Karen Carner built a vehicle that answers the question, “Where’s your Aspen?”

The two have spent the past week converting a camper into an art car they’re calling “Where’s Your Aspen?” At least that’s the plan for now. But like all great works of art, it might evolve.

They’re building it in Tom Teal’s Ace Towing yard in Gypsum, and the long-term plan is to take it to Nevada for Burning Man, a massive confab of peace-loving types. The plan called for a test cruise through Aspen’s July Fourth parade.

They had to submit their plan to Burning Man because gluing a few tchotchkes on your car or covering it in glow sticks does not an art car make.

The car is 13 feet high, the maximum government-approved height, and has all the horns and whistles required for traveling roadways with the less enlightened.

Lee and Carner started with a camper that they attacked with a power saw and a box of blades. They cut it, gutted it and hauled three truckloads to the dump.

A resale shop donated 150 pairs of skis and 20 snowboards.

Lee and Carner had to buy the 60 two-by-fours they used. Most of the rest of the stuff they scavenged.

It not only looks good but sounds great. They have 15 speakers around the back deck.

When Lee and Carner done, they’ll have about $3,000 wisely invested in their art car. A gondola car they used cost $300, and they paid Teal $350 for the camper.

Teal even worked a couple of days to get it running, which they all promise it does.

They can sleep on their art car, and they’ve done so a few times. The only problem is that they don’t sleep that much.

“About 4 a.m., we wake up with new ideas and start working on it,” Lee said.

Lee does property management in the Roaring Fork Valley. Carner owned a retail shop in Aspen for years.

Lee went to his first Burning Man last year. Carner has been there seven times.

For the uninitiated, Burning Man is a huge human be-in in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Once a year, tens of thousands gather to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever.

This year it’s Aug. 26 through Sept. 2.

Art cars started in the 1990s when one of the surreal spectacles was a large silver shark racing across the desert with teeth bared and tail flapping. This was Ripper the Shark, an art car made by Texas artist Tom Kennedy. Ripper and Kennedy chill at Art Car Camp with other like-minded folks. Art cars roll in from Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas.

One sees boats, pirate ships, rockets, living rooms, fish, ponies, insects, cats, couches, lobsters, giant heads and flying saucers, among others. The perfectly flat and empty desert serves as a wonderful setting for the art cars, and the occasional art-car parade manages to put itself together.


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