There are festivals, and then there are festivals. At your typical music event, you can shell out a ton of money and wait in long lines to see your favorite bands — plus a few that aren’t favorites. But if you look a little bit harder, you can find fests that seem out of this world.

Every summer outside California City, a crazed band of fiends and misfits gathers in a camp filled with tents and nightmarish vehicles. It looks like they’re getting ready to take down civilization as we know it, but their actual purpose is far, far stranger.

Under the open sky of the Mojave Desert, a mob dressed in tattered leather cheers on a fire-breather. It looks a lot like some barbaric civilization risen out of the ashes of the apocalypse. But it’s something else entirely.

Las Vegas Review-Journal / Benjamin Hager

It’s a yearly festival! Known as “Wasteland Weekend,” the California event spans four days and welcomes fans of all things post-apocalyptic to party down and show off their striking costumes. One particularly big cultural touchstone inspired the festival.

Wired / Tod Seelie

The George Miller fans out there will recognize that Wasteland Weekend is all about Mad Max. This film franchise depicts a dystopian future where humanity breaks down into violent tribes and fights over the remaining resources.

With the popularity of the Mad Max films, thousands of wastelanders make it out to the festival every year. Attendees kick up a huge cloud of dust as they arrive in monstrous, tricked-out vehicles. Up close, the guests are even scarier.

Daily Mail / Todd Seelie

Each year since the first Wasteland Weekend in 2010, festival-goers show up in crazy outfits. They combine military, punk, and horror elements to create some truly frightening visuals — though it’s all in good fun.

Food and Wine

The most serious attendees put together both incredible outfits and custom vehicles to recreate some of the most iconic moments from Mad Max. It’s hard to miss one of the series’ biggest villains — or at least a guy dressed like him — perched atop this vehicle.

Daily Mail / Todd Seelie

It’s the fearsome Immortan Joe! In Mad Max: Fury Road, he rules over the wasteland with an iron fist and a massive army of cultish supporters. In real life, fortunately, Joe is just at the festival to have a wild time.

Naturally, War Boys — ghoulish members of Immortan Joe’s fleet — are a popular costume at the Wasteland Weekend. We can only hope they pack a lot of sunscreen! At the same time, the festival also offers plenty for fans of the older Mad Max flicks.


Tina Turner made a big splash back in 1985 as Aunty Entity in the series’ third installment, Beyond Thunderdome. Thanks to Wasteland Weekend, her deadly arena is more than just a figment of George Miller’s imagination.

Flickr / hytam2

Thunderdome is real! Of course, they take plenty of safety measures to ensure that nobody is actually clobbered to pieces. Participants wear safety harnesses, and the “weapons” are made of PVC pipe and foam. Still, this Thunderdome makes for a fun show.

Wired / Todd Seelie

And for guests who’d prefer not to get so down and dirty, Thunderdome also has a thumb wrestling version. The miniature cage will stop your opponent from using his other hand to cheat.

Wanderlust and Pie

Along with the number of guests paying homage to specific characters, Wasteland Weekend offers plenty of room for creativity. Many others piece together totally original costumes, with unique personas to boot. They only add to the depth of the festival.

Wired / Todd Seelie

Take, for example, this mohawked raider. Between his hair spiked shoulder pads, he sure looks sharp. There may not be much water after the apocalypse, but it looks like there is still plenty of hair gel to go around.


But this woman isn’t green with envy – except for her hair. She’s got her own dazzling get-up. Channeling a bit of Disney’s evil Maleficent, she created a character she calls The Sand Witch.

Red Bull / Jim Krantz

Speaking of apocalyptic wordplay, these gearheads transformed an old school bus and dubbed it a “Cruel Bus.” With a set of scary jaws painted on the front and a (fake) harpoon launcher on the roof, it certainly lives up to its name.

Daily Mail / Todd Seelie

The Cruel Bus isn’t the only vehicle with a bark as big as its bite. With a few buckets of paint, one owner of a finned 1962 Cadillac turned his ride into a shark. 

In addition to the cars and trucks, attendees show up with lots and lots of motorcycles. These bikes are perfect for speeding across the Mojave terrain. It gets hot riding through the desert with no roof, but lots of Wastelanders have inventive ways to stay out of the sun.

This partygoer not only covered her face in a sinister wrap and headdress; she also brought along a metal umbrella. That’s the kind of accessory that’s perfect for creating some shade and winning some glory in the Thunderdome!

LA Weekly

 With his ominous mask and black wings, it’s no surprise this reveler calls himself The Crow. It’s hard to believe that after the long weekend wraps up, The Crow probably flies back to some office job!

Todd Seelie

And if night falls before you arrive, just look for a lantern lighting the way. Professional cosplay model Jessica Nigri stole the entire show with her ghostly shaman costume. 

Las Vegas Review-Journal / Benjamin Hager

Wasteland Weekend happens at the end of every summer in California City. If you make it out there, you shall ride eternal, shiny, and chrome. Will next year be your time to take over the world?

Daily Mail / Todd Seelie