Burning Man is kind of like skiing. For those who are drawn to each annual pilgrimage, it is worth the vital preparation, inevitable sting and mercuriality of weather, the physical toll and exhilaration. Some of us will never understand, but we’re all very curious. Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City Through the Lens of Will Roger is a stunning historical travelogue in words and pictures that defines and depicts Black Rock City, as it was conceived, as well as how it continues to regenerate. While the gorgeous pictures present themselves admirably, the accompanying essays, all written with passion and precision, relate history, process, schematics and vision.

In his foreword, Will Roger describes navigating the bureaucratic loops to build “the beautiful serpentine city” in order to create what he simply calls “land art.” William Fox, Director of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art, lends context in describing the 400 square miles of North America’s largest playa where meager blue light shifts can result in cognitive dissonance (like snow blindness!), a diminishment that “is useful if you’re seeking to un-anchor your normal sense of reality.” Tony Perez-Banuet says of the clock signage and building the city anew every year that the design was “such a damn good one that is simply prevailed.” In conclusion, Roger, a co-founder of Burning Man, recalls the aerial filming that began in 2005, crediting his pilots who helped him show an expansive perspective that truly captures the enduring power of the desert.

The results of such wide-open inspiration are pictured throughout the 200-plus pages of Compass of the Ephemeral, published by Jim Stanford and his Smallworks Press. Of course, the Burning Man himself makes colorful appearances, but site maps and topographic renderings lend visual reference. Various ticket designs and event maps flavor the stories. But Rogers’ aerial photographs will keep you turning back. They show numbers – as in grains of sand, campers, cars and tents. They show expanse of desert and sky. They show infinite beige and gradations of blue. One book defines the ephemeral, which, of course, can’t be defined. Which is why, some just have to have it. —Gwynned Vitello