Far, far away from the recesses of snowy Colorado, festival season kicks off in the American southwest. It’s a rather subtle start to some, as there’s no headliner or medic tent or even portable toilets. But for others, the event spells out a grand opening for celebratory travel shenanigans unexperienced by many mere mortal Americans.  

On the border of Arizona and California, about an hour’s drive north of Mexico, hundreds of tiny homes in the form of converted school buses, box trucks and vans converge on public BLM land for 10 days of what we can only describe as glorious wookery.

A sense of community grips an otherwise barren desert landscape as a miniature Burning Man takes flight. For the last five years, travelers from all over the country have flocked to this location to partake in various festivities, from live music to circus acts.

It’s a celebration of a newfound nomadic lifestyle that many have turned to in the last few years. Converting a vehicle into a living space and hitting the open road, either in an attempt to travel the country or just because you can’t afford to live anywhere on the Front Range anymore.

This is it: The 6th Annual Skooliepalooza Festival, near Parker, Arizona.

As we step out of our own van, a myriad of thoughts occurs to us.

For one thing, it’s evidently clear that patchouli was deemed the official fragrance of Skooliepalooza 2022, and we have little to no hope of escaping the smell for the next 10 days.

For another thing, and perhaps more importantly, we’re blown away by the convergence of subcultures that we see intermingling. It’s like a family-friendly 4th of July Parade had a child with the parking lot of a Widespread Panic Red Rocks Show.

Gangs of homeschooled kids play hard on bare feet and bikes, retired couples make Moscow Mules on the roof of their motorhomes, and a white man with dreadlocks strolls by with a wide gait as he offers us hits of Molly and LSD.

“By the gram,” he says, passing us.

We turn to catch up with the man, offering a longwinded paragraph on how LSD is measured in micrograms, and to take a gram of LSD would surely render a person inoperable for days.

Yet, the faraway look in his eye makes us stop short as we suddenly wonder if this scruffy-looking pigpen lookalike really has eaten 10,000 hits of high-powered blotter acid. In what can only be described as a mix between a whinny and a squeal, he assures us that it’s real and authentic, to which we thank him for his time and turn on our heels.

It’s 2022, and the days of eating pills that we found on the ground (or their equivalents) are well behind us.

The event wasn’t without fault, however, with organizers and participants catching their fair share of shit. When Skooliepalooza had almost concluded, organizers of the event released a statement on Skooliepalooza’s Facebook page explaining that they were aware mistakes were made and that were stepping down from their roles and passing the reigns on to the next willing volunteer. So what all went down?

For one thing, the mass turnout of participants wasn’t anticipated. Though the event has grown with each rendition, a combination of internet popularity, COVID boredom and the absolute explosion of those living the van life caused a turnout that many would argue needed better organization and was unethical to impose on our public lands.

The amount of people resulted in a large outcry from participants, with people chastising the organizers for not getting a permit for the event and not providing amenities such as portable toilets. 

Though the event was guaranteed to be in the area, the exact location of the event wasn’t announced until days before, presumably to prevent people from boondocking at the site early.

The original location was announced as being in California on BLM land, with the event’s entire populous driving out to that one spot.

A few days into the event, a California Bureau Of Land Management officer came out to the event, and, citing the mass population and trampling of vegetation, ordered all participants to vacate the site within 24 hours.

This roadbump was solved with a mass pilgrimage back to the event’s previous site, with hundreds of school buses and nomadic vehicles firing up their diesel engines and creating an epic convoy that even Canadian truckers would be jealous of.

The last hiccup stemmed from multiple Jolly Rogers being stolen from vehicles. For those not aware, it’s common practice at other festivals filled with dirty hippies to steal pirate flags from camps and fly them at your own camp. It’s like a lazy game of THC-induced capture the flag, and for the most part it’s usually great fun.

Though, this time, someone commented through the event’s Facebook page to say that their flag had been taken, and if it happened again, they were going to shoot the would-be pirate thief. It was a preposterous conclusion that could only be reached through a Facebook comment section and old men on the internet, but it certainly gave many participants pause.

But here’s another concise thought that the desert bespoke to us on a handful of substances: all of this negativity, whether it is weekend warriors upset that they must poop in the ground or some old fart threatening to shoot somebody, came from the internet.

As soon as a person put their phone down and walked out into the mass neighborhood of school buses and campsites, there no longer was a need to complain or impose violence. In 70 degrees of Arizona sunshine, conventional human hostilities melt away as the millennials get their own shot at a Woodstock Hippie age. In the far back recesses of an abandoned section of desert, capitalistic America falls to deaf ears as we trade two Tecate lights for a homemade quesadilla, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” plays on a blown-out speaker as the sun spray paints a crimson ejaculate across the Arizona skyline. 

All Photos By: Hannah Friedrichsen