Live from Uranium Springs – The Town That Doesn’t Exist

My fascination with cities that don’t exist began when I hitchhiked to Alaska in 1988 and spent that wild summer in a place called “Cove”, a patch of forest outside the city of Cordova. About 80 people were squatted there – students, hitchhikers, a drunken gold digger, a legendary survivalist named Gene who hadn’t washed in years – in a handful of tents, trailers and wooden shacks. drink. There were no utilities or services of any kind. It was a rough and difficult life filled with almost unlimited freedom. We worked long hours in the canneries and spent our free time kicking around camp around smoky fires, exploring back roads and eating hot meals at restaurants in town. It was an experience I will never forget.

Shortly after this adventure, I dreamed of an imaginary town beyond the creek, deep in the Alaskan wilderness – an abandoned logging camp, accessible only by a long hike through a unexplored forest. It had no name and did not appear on any map. Somehow an assortment of people – travellers, mountaineers, hunters, outlaws – ended up there and shored up the decaying structures and lived there for a season, far from the country. men and machines. The sense of mystery and freedom that the dream evoked still haunts me today.

So I guess it’s no coincidence that 25 years later, in the spring of 2013, I found myself in Uranium Springs.

The ruins at the end of the world

SHACKTOWN Uranium Springs stretches hundreds of meters across the desert, a maze of slums, tents, wrecked cars, winding dirt roads and rusting trash. Photo by Mark Fernquest.

People are drawn to Uranium Springs for their own reasons, though everyone arrives for the same event: Detonation, the annual week-long post-apocalyptic festival usually held there in May. What is a post-apocalyptic festival? Think: a heavy metal Burning Man… for the set of Mad Max.

Gage Laykin bought his first ticket to Det on a whim because he needed a change in his life. The Yard Hobo was invited by site owner and event founder Rev’rend Lawless, a gamer friend. Mayonegative heard about it from her friend, Tumbelina, via the Santa Fe Underground Vine. Many people know about it through their association with Wasteland Weekend, the Hollywood-sized post-apocalyptic mega-event held every fall in the Mojave Desert, Southern California.

I found out about Uranium Springs and Det while googling “post-apocalyptic events” in 2013. Something about the event website – something outraged the name Uranium Springs caught my eye: the $10 porterage fee to drive through the “possibly flooded wash”. Really, in the middle of the desert? Was it a lark? The question bothered me. I had to know.

I took a 15-hour drive from the Bay Area and encountered a group of uniquely talented creatives gathered on a private 40-acre lot in Arizona’s Painted Desert. A mutual love for madmax Fallout movies and games formed the basis of our shared post-apocalyptic passion.

The experience was so fun and inspiring that me and others kept coming back, and more and more people arrived each year, and what started as a small annual festival turned into something Moreover. The number of participants increased from 60 the first year to more than 400 last October. The number of festival events has steadily grown, and now includes mini dune buggy races, burlesque performances by the Molotov Mollies, Road Warrior car and truck vehicle parades, night parties, karaoke, costume contests, talent shows and more.

Participants earn “wasteland” names, and moreover, tribes develop naturally, among friends and associates who meet at Uranium Springs and sometimes only see each other there. The kicker: Each tribe can claim a vacant 50-by-50-foot piece of land on the site and build a permanent, themed camp there. In this way, Uranium Springs continues to evolve from a bare prairie to a city – a city of shotgun shacks, rickety walls, stick fences and flimsy tents, all made from, in the words of Laykin, of “salvaged or salvaged building materials, or recycled items that otherwise I headed to the scrap yard.

WASTED Gage Laykin’s renegade ‘Chimero’—a $900 1986 Chevrolet Camaro with mismatched vintage bumpers and a swapped engine—met his worthy end in a wasteland on Old World asphalt. Photo by Mark Fernquest.

The remote town, 40 minutes from the boardwalk and not featured on any map, has a distinct Wild West feel…despite the presence of black leather, dune buggies and smoke-spewing wild hot rods.

Some attendees, including Colorado native 9 Yards, love it for its seclusion. “It really lets you believe you’re living in an apocalypse,” he says. “You start to get to know everyone, and it really feels like a family reunion.”

Mayonegative keeps coming back for logistical reasons. “Me and my fellow tribesmen have a permanent camp there, so it’s easy for me to jump in my truck with food, water and my kit, and drive away,” she says. “I’ve made some very close friends who are also Uranium Springs regulars, and I know I’ll be in good company.” In fact, her musically gifted child, Pipes, is a beloved festival regular.

BIKER CHIC Rocket, a member of both Machine Army and the Molotov Mollies performance troupe, catches up to a nighttime reading by the glare of a distant nuclear explosion. Photo by Mark Fernquest.

For me, the draw is in the freedom the place exudes, as my 1988 dream presaged. friendliest cannibal biker gang to ever grace the trash – and spends the week fraternizing with friends old and new, drinking cold beer in the dust, riding my Outlaw 70 dirt bike on exploratory missions in the washing up and hanging out in the free lounge, the Wreck Room.

What does a cannibal general wear

Another dream, from 11 years ago, shortly before I first heard about post-apocalyptic festivals: I was in the forest in Santa Cruz. A “tribe” of young people camped there, swarming around cooking fires. I felt a strong sense of belonging walking among them. Their clothes caught my eye – they looked leather and vaguely Ren Faire, but more modern, maybe a bit dangerous. Some people wore black biker jackets. Some carried knives.

An omen, that dream, because costume is of the utmost importance in Uranium Springs, and not just because festival rules require it. In a landscape as austere as the desert, clothing tells a story.

Laykin’s outfit, consisting of patched clothing and a leather helmet with handmade aluminum goggles, exudes a distinct future tribal air, while the well-weathered Eastern European combat suit of 9 Yards evokes his character as a retro-future Slavic desert. The good Reverend Lawless, draped in a feather duster and a leather cowboy hat, exudes the face of a mythical sniper.

My own combat jacket – a sell score of 50 cents – is adorned with 20 pounds of knives, bullets, beads, hooks, ammo pouches, V8 grenades, a coyote skull, a Grateful Dead patch, of a replica World War II-era Liberator pistol and my mother’s tarnished baptismal cup, circa 1937. The extremely heavy war garment flaps terribly and commands the full attention of all who encounter it . I once walked into my parents’ family-filled living room wearing it and after several moments of silence, my 4-year-old nephew simply yelled “NO!” But the reactions of the wastelands are more positive. The other partiers often stop to ogle him and, to be honest, the ladies love him.

And yet, more is not always better. Beetle wears thong underwear – exclusively – at Uranium Springs. The Yard Hobo often only carries a thick layer of mud. And a lot of young – or old, I don’t mean to be ageist – ladies – or man, I don’t mean to be sexist – leave copious amounts of bare flesh exposed while wearing minimalist punk clothing.

The Savages

Last year Det was postponed due to Covid and took place over Halloween weekend. One day during the celebrations, General Car Killer, that is to say myself, crossed paths with young rookie Bradley Messmer, from Denver. I invited him to a race in the desert and we went to the wash, him on his ready-to-run Kawasaki 110 and me on my Outlaw 70. I took the lead and for 40 minutes we raced a path between bushes and over sandy berms at top speed – 25 mph – in a loop to the Interstate and back.

On the way back, the young Messmer hit a big bump and crashed in a spectacular shower of sand. My God, I thought. What did I do? After removing his helmet and checking his skull and torn clothing for blood and protruding bones, we returned to camp, where Medical kept him under observation until he was judged in good health. health. Messmer’s crash landed him immediate fame and earned him a desert name, Sandbar, as well as an honorary member of my tribe, Machine Army.

This is how notoriety is achieved in waste.

Another day, while talking to Laykin about this very article, he had the idea of ​​setting me up as a gonzo reporter in an office in his camp, filled with my own typewriter. A electric typewriter. “I’ll have to hook it up to a generator to power you up,” he mused. The creative genius of writing daily missives in a wasteland on an old generator-powered typewriter, from a quonset hut in the annex, then nailing the hard copies to a pole so they be visible to the public while uploading digital photographs of the originals to social media, was not lost on me.

This is how ideas are born in waste.

End of Game

OLD BOYS Richard Kozak (left) and Sam Lawless, the caretaker and owner of Uranium Springs, respectively, hatch tyrannical plans while ensconced on thrones of pleasure at the LZRD Patch. Photo by Mark Fernquest.

Each Det brings with it new excitement to the town that doesn’t exist. Our desert family has been planning it for months, and some of us are going from as far away as Texas or California. Some adventures are written for the world to know about, while others remain secret in the trash.

I always leave Uranium Springs with mixed emotions – eager to return home to North Bay; but I already miss my earth family. There’s nothing mixed in my exhaustion, though. The trek destroys me for a week.

What about the portage to cross the “possibly flooded washhouse” to Uranium Springs? It’s true. The laundry can – and does – flood. But to my knowledge, no one has ever paid the fees. People just plow the water in their 4x4s…or sit and enjoy the wasteland until the water recedes.
For more information about Detonation, visit www.detonation.us. For the author’s two previous articles on Uranium Springs, visit https://tinyurl.com/57pvnb9c and https://tinyurl.com/mr2dz66s.

About Jefferey G. Cannon

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