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This Mad Max-Inspired Festival Is Truly Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen

mad max wasteland weekend festival

Late in summer every year, an eclectic mix of people descends on the arid expanses of the Mojave Desert in southeastern California. They come from across the world, suitcases filled with bizarre artifacts and outlandish accessories. They’re die-hard ‘Mad Max’ enthusiasts, and they thrive on all that is post-apocalyptic.

Wasteland Weekend is a five-day experience unlike any other. While it draws upon elements from other festivals, there’s truly nothing like it. Strap on those military boots, bust out those goggles, and make sure the spikes on your truck are properly sharpened: it’s time to explore a mad, mad, mad world.

1. Welcome To The Machine

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Somewhere between Las Vegas and Dante’s Inferno lie the arid badlands of the Mojave Desert. It’s there, on the outskirts of California City, that the atmosphere is ripe for a Mad Max-style apocalypse. If you pass through this stark yet ominous gateway, you will not come out the same.

wasteland festival mad max

Tod Seelie/Wired

The dedicated participants in the mass social experiment called Wasteland Weekend will immediately tell you how special and unique of a space they have collaboratively created. As your boots crunch across the rocky sand, you will quickly realize you are about to enter a world unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

2. Warrior Queen

Wasteland Weekend is the largest gathering of its kind on Earth — but it’s so undeniably unique that frankly the competition isn’t too stiff. The event advertises itself as being the world’s premier post-apocalyptic festival. It’s a place to let loose, to channel dark fantasies in a healthy, safe, respectful way.

mad max festival california desert

LA Weekly

This lady reveler has found the perfect balance between expressing her inner warrior, in the spirit of Mad Max, without hiding or negating her sense of femininity and glamour. The metallic Ottoman face mask balanced with the fractured animal skull headdress let you know you are definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Queen!

3. The Hair Is Always Greener

This young woman’s style is an amalgam of so many iconic looks throughout pop culture that symbolize anarchy, rebellion, and futuristic dystopia. She’s serving elements of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as well as Daryl Hannah’s character in Blade Runner, but she’s allowed her creativity to flow and made it uniquely her own.

mad max festival california desert wasteland


Even if it’s unclear what her prop of choice is here, this young woman proves that just a simple facial expression can be enough to make you think twice about tangling with her. Everything about this image screams anarchy, from the deliberate rips in her fishnets to the badly rusted flatbed on the BMW that she calls her throne.

4. Drummer Boys (And Lady)

Who’s to say you can’t be caught smiling, even when you’re going for a Mad Max aesthetic? With her steampunk goggles atop her crop of red hair, this reveler has given her own twist on a classic Mad Max character: Charlize Theron’s screen-conquering performance as the recent feminist icon, Imperator Furiosa.

festival wasteland mojave desert california mad max

Nuclear Bombshells

She’s paid incredible attention and care to the smallest details of her outfit, trying to be as faithful as possible to the original costume out of the film. Behind her are war drummers, who, adding to the impending sense of doom and terror throughout the film, strike fear into the hearts of their victims on massive taiko drums. In this case, though, they’re more so vital parts of a magnetic visual.

5. Beyond Thunderdome

The 1985 sequel Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – Tina Turner soundtrack hit and all – introduced hordes of fans to the Thunderdome, a barbaric caged arena within which combatants would joust with one another. Oddly enough, the spectacle also found its way to Burning Man two decades ago. It’s only natural that it would also be found at Wasteland Weekend.

thunderdome mad max wasteland festival

Tod Seelie/Wired

As brutal and primitive as it appears, it’s all in the spirit of good fun. The participants who step into the ring for a ‘brawl’ are safe and secure at all times. It’s a good way to get out aggression without causing harm. They attack each other with PVC pipes wrapped in foam. And no, there are no prizes, just appreciation for the most ferocious competitor.

6. Ride The Lightning

The Mad Max film series envisions humankind’s mad attempts at survival in a post-nuclear apocalypse world. In that society, people have reverted to bare basic survival instincts. They’ve split into tribes, but possess the technology and firepower capable of warding off attackers as well as conquering resources from the less fortunate.

torpedo mad max wasteland

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

Imitating the social structure of Mad Max, the participants at Wasteland Weekend divide themselves into tribes as well. This is similar to the camps at other, less apocalyptic-themed festivals. While this menacing warhead model can’t do any real damage, this is the space where you can freely flaunt some seriously frightening fake weapons.

7. This Is Not Sparta

One of the aspects of Wasteland Weekend that makes it so daringly unique is the emphasis on fashion. All are welcome at the festival, but there is one ground rule that goes above almost anything else. You absolutely have to be in costume, and it must be post-apocalyptic.

mad max festival wasteland

You’re free to express yourself as you please, but don’t think of coming dressed as, say, your favorite cartoon character. Your look must be grungy, dirty, and chaotic. You really truly need to look as though you’ve assembled your clothing from found parts you’ve scrounged together after a nuclear attack. Case in point: this motley troupe of post-apocalyptic gladiators.

8. Immortan Joe Rides Again

Mad Max rocketed back into the public consciousness thanks to its wildly successful 2015 installment Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy. And the most recognizable of all the film’s characters would have to be its ruthless warlord villain, Immortan Joe. No Mad Max-tribute festival could be complete without him.

mad max trucks wasteland

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

If you thought Batman’s enemy Bane’s breathing apparatus mask was terrifying, then by far this is not the guy you want to meet. With his skull-like face and flowing white locks, you can see his likeness riding atop this tricked-out ATV as he commands an army of fanatic acolytes to rumble onward through the desert.

9. Rebel Yell

Would you want to tangle with this tough fighter? This young woman proves that not everything at Wasteland Weekend has to be disturbing by definition, and that ferocity is an attitude, spikes or no spikes. We’re not sure whether the markings she has daubed on her face and neck look more like a vampire bit her or some kind of tribal tattoos.

mad max wasteland

It would certainly seem like opening your mouth in a snarl tends to be a pretty commonly accepted facial expression in this wild world. This woman’s look is part of the bizarre beauty that spaces like Wasteland Weekend allow for. Mixing steampunk, goth, military, and more to create a look that suits her best, she’s finally free.

10. Free Hugs

Would anybody like a cuddle? For some participants at Wasteland Weekend, the costume requirement is just a way to have fun. But for others, such as this fine gentleman, it is a way to show off your true creative genius. He’s taken his look to the next level of sheer madness.

mad max mohawk festival wasteland

Wall Street Journal

Just when you thought you’ve seen everything, you stumble across a dude with a miniature drill in place of an arm. To wander around sporting all those ominous sea urchin spike wheels on your arm requires a great deal of discipline. You need control over your body’s movements so you don’t accidentally hurt anyone!

11. Jugger Match

Have you ever heard of a sport called jugger? At Wasteland Weekend, it’s all the rage. Stemming from the 1989 Rutger Hauer film The Blood of Heroes (a.k.a. The Salute of the Jugger), itself heavily inspired by the Mad Max world, there are people so enthusiastic about this sport that it’s generated its own leagues across the globe.

jugger match mad max thunderdome wasteland festival

Tod Seelie/Wired

A jugger match is like rugby, capture the flag, and post-apocalyptic bloodsport all in one. The players are divided into two teams, whose objective is to capture a dog skull in the middle of the patch. Scrappy runners called ‘qwiks’ must seize the skull and dash with it to the goal. They can be intercepted by being bludgeoned — safely, of course.

12. The Cruel Bus

In the Wasteland Weekend world, influenced and informed by the chaos of Mad Max, you can delight in all things fiercely creative. In this fun world of ferocity, everything is meant to look vicious and menacing, from the people to the guard posts. And people’s rides are no exception to this rule — not to mention the high potential for ghoulish puns, as seen here.

mad max festival wasteland

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

Repurposed vehicles are in fact the centerpiece of the festival, rumbling, roaring, and careening through the rocky desert with their tribesmen and women yelping battle cries. It’s not just jalopies and banged up cars, but you can find altered and souped-up ATVs, buggies, and even this school bus — with its aptly ominous moniker.

13. Gritty Fabulous

If those eye goggles look familiar to you, there’s a good reason. You have certainly seen a plethora of photographs from Burning Man, arguably the most famous festival gathering in the Western world. Burning Man takes place in northern Nevada, just one state over, and many of its principles are in place at Wasteland Weekend.

wasteland mohawk mad max


As at Burning Man, the goggles are not only a fashion statement, but are quite a practical accessory used to keep the wearer’s eyes safe from the copious amounts of sand and grit flying around in the harsh winds of the desert. Wasteland Weekend definitely owes some of its aesthetic origins to Burning Man, but it’s intended to be a space to explore the universe of the Mad Max franchise’s dystopia.

14. Hog Wild

Even if modified cars and trucks are the centerpiece of the Wasteland Weekend, no ferocious gang of post-apocalyptic hoodlums and mayhem-seekers would be complete without a bike gang. It’s easily the most practical way to get around the grounds of this desert festival, and the riders look revved up and ready to rock.

motorcycles motorcyclists festival mad max wasteland

Tod Seelie/Wired

Amidst the tribal frolicking, the drinking, partying, battling, jousting, and generally wreaking of havoc, Wasteland Weekend is also a place for bikers to feel free to be themselves. Already having a reputation as wild, free, and unrelenting spirits, this is a space for them to truly exaggerate their features as they tear through the desert.

15. Casual Accessorizing

Sometimes, a look that’s so simple can still manage to be utterly chaotic: a Spartan crested military helmet and animal pelts. But with a vehicle as imaginative and unique as that, why bother putting too much time into a detailed Mad Max costume when you’re already going to stand out regardless?

mad max wasteland festival desert

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

A big component of the Wasteland Weekend festival is its costume competition, divided between men and women. In this case however, it appears that this gentleman placed the focus way more on this ingenious chariot contraption. Assuming it’s his, this guy deserves some serious points for the prop.

Think that’s out of this world? You’d best prepare yourself for what’s up ahead.

16. The Crow

Don’t be alarmed by the 17th-century plague mask that makes this guy look like the most unfriendly crow ever. He’s just one of the many wild and fierce spirits that descend upon the desert as though it’s their watering hole. Wasteland Weekend began in 2010, and every year, its number of participants has grown exponentially.

costume mad max wasteland festival

Tod Seelie

Whereas the festival began with just several hundred collaborators, each year it gains more and more traction. Mad Max enthusiasts, freaks, and free spirits come from all across the world to be themselves. The most recent Wasteland Weekend, in September 2018, was attended by a record number of more than 4,000 participants.

17. Jeep Wrangler

Given that the Wasteland Weekend festival is held at the end of summer in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California, this man’s costume, even if it’s undeniably awesome, looks like it might get more than a little bit sweaty and uncomfortable. He’s piled on layers of armor and other military-type gear in this elaborate getup.

festival mad max wasteland desert

Tod Seelie/Wired

This man has one of the most crafty and impressive weapon props at the festival, and that’s saying a lot. And from the looks of it, he wants you to know its intended purpose. His ‘Karpoon’ was undoubtedly designed in the mage of a sophisticated harpoon-type mechanism capable of snagging passing cars, upon which his character would probably want to leap aboard and overtake.

18. Desolation Row

While the Mad Max film franchise used the arid desolation of the endless expanses of Australia’s Outback as its canvas, it seems Southern California can also achieve the goal of emoting the same sentiments of a harsh reality. This picture illustrates the dramatically beautiful backdrop for the Wasteland Weekend festival.

desert mad max festival wasteland

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

The festival takes place just outside of California City. It’s a city relatively small in population but massive in size, spread out across the northern part of Antelope Valley in the Mojave Desert. If you’re planning on attending Wasteland Weekend, best bring some serious suntan lotion. You’ll be fully exposed to strong California sunshine, in temperatures that can easily get into the 90s.

19. Truly A Monster Truck

The participants of Wasteland Weekend who bring vehicles truly take pride in their work. Making your ride look as vicious as those seen in Mad Max requires a lot of work. You may be surprised to learn that many of the vehicle-touters can spend years altering their trucks and adding all kinds of gadgets to them for the festival.

skulls truck mad max festival desert wasteland

Tod Seelie/Wired

Decked out in spikes, netting, perches and huge exhaust pipes, it doesn’t get more Mad Max than this. Trucks like this which are extra hazardous are called buzzard vehicles. The festival organizers require them to be parked at a safe distance to avoid any unintended slip-ups. Shish kabob, anyone?

20. Full Metal Jacket

Where do we even begin with this fellow? While soldiers are definitely known to decorate their uniforms with a few mementos here and there, everything about this look screams chaos and disorder. He’s taking true delight in all things unsettling and disturbing. Wasteland Weekend is a place to brandish your fake weapon. With a strict policy against real firearms (whether loaded or not), only non-firing, replica weaponry is allowed at the festival.

festival desert wasteland mad max

Tod Seelie/Wired

And just in case you needed a reminder of how creepy dolls and mannequin faces can be, look no further than this post-apocalyptic madman’s getup. This is definitely the first time we’ve ever seen someone re-purpose a troll doll for his hat. Who knew there were headhunters so close to Los Angeles?

Keep reading for more rare glimpses into the delectably deranged world of Wasteland Weekend.

21. Not Your Average Playground

That shark vehicle is certainly sinister, giving us all kinds of Animal House flashbacks, but in a much darker way. But hold on a second: what’s a kid doing here? Surely the Mad Max universe of daredevil drivers, omnipresent spikes, and jousting is no place that a child ought to be romping around in.

cars trucks mad max wasteland festival

Shane Lopes/LA Weekly

But that’s just part of the magic in the world of Wasteland Weekend. Even if everything seems intense and aggressive, it’s all just for show. Even the operational games and activities are never used to hurt anyone. The festival is all about finding avenues to get your ya-ya’s out in a cathartic way that doesn’t actually harm people.

22. Wasteland Warboys

One of the most unforgettable images of the 2015 Fury Road film were the Warboys. They were acolytes to Immortan Joe, totally and thoughtlessly obedient. They had been brainwashed, and were truly in it for the thrill of the ride with their whooping and hollering, like all the death and destruction was one big frat party.

mad max festival california desert wasteland

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

It’s easily a common look at Wasteland Weekend, and an easy one to replicate. As recognizable as they are, the Warboy aesthetic is quite simple, based on taking your shirt off and painting your skin extremely pale. If you’ve ever wanted to have a flour fight with someone, here’s the place.

23. Double-Decker Doomsday

This truck is a perfect example of the brilliance of the Wasteland Weekend participants. The creator no doubt took plenty of pride in modifying this vehicle, stripping it of its exterior until it was little more than a bare skeleton. He or she left it functional, and then added a balcony.

truck mad max festival wasteland

Tod Seelie

Probably the best seat in the entire thing is for the mock gunner up front. It’s truly like enjoying the thrills of a video game but in real life. That pirate flag is a reminder that these outlandish vehicles are truly like ships. They’re sailing out on the wild seas of the desert sand in search of mayhem.

24. Mod Squad

The car show, a parade of modified vehicles, is an integral part of the celebrations at Wasteland Weekend. While this picture at first glance definitely looks like it was lifted from an ominous news headline about an insurgency somewhere in a desert country, these people couldn’t be farther from that.

driving mad max wasteland festival

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

Spaces like Wasteland Weekend are an important phenomenon. They are a way to disconnect from modern society and act out your passion for Mad Max-style depravity in a way that doesn’t harm anyone. It’s a place that welcomes people of all ages, backgrounds, genders, and body types. Just make sure your costume is sick!

25. Let It Burn

What would any Mad Max homage be without just a little fire? Featured prominently in the previews for Fury Road were characters that ended up being some of the coolest parts of the film: Warboys jamming on electric guitars that spat out flames. As night falls, many of the festival’s anarchic musical acts begin.

wasteland festival mad max

Tod Seelie/Daily Mail

Fire serves another purpose for this festival. Nighttime in the high Mojave Desert in California can be absolutely frigid and windy, in stark contrast to the sweat and grime of the daytime. The camp fills with trashcan fires, with the different tribes of participants huddled around bonfires to keep warm.

Sources: WiredDaily MailWasteland Weekend

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