There’s nothing quite like an abandoned amusement park. Forlorn, seemingly forgotten and graffiti’d to the hilt, the place still imbues a whimsical peek into better times when it was filled with throngs of sunscreen slathered fun-seeking families and teens.
If you listen carefully, you may even hear echoes of laughter and shouts of glee on the wind. Can’t you smell the scent of baby oil and corn dogs in the air?
Presently, the park is not open to the public, but its energy remains. Lake Dolores Waterpark is a painted lady down on her luck with one foot on the past and the other on a banana peel. But she may have one more trick up her sleeve.
Lake Dolores Waterpark in Newberry Springs, California, just 100 yards from the roar of busy Interstate 15, was originally designed and built by local businessman Bob Byers for use by his extended family. Lake Dolores was named after Byers’ wife.
The initial phases of conception, planning and construction took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Over the next 25 years, rides and attractions were added, and the site evolved into a waterpark, which was advertised on television with the slogan:
“The Fun Spot of The Desert!”
The park saw its peak attendance between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s. After a downturn in popularity in the late 1980s, the park closed.
The defunct Lake Dolores Waterpark was sold in August 1990 to Lake Dolores Group LLC, a three–member investment group led by Oxnard businessman Terry Christensen, who envisioned a more polished park with a 1950s theme.
In 1995, the original waterslides on the hill were removed to make room for new installations.
The park reopened under a new name, “Rock–A–Hoola”, on July 4, 1998.
Millions of dollars were spent in 1998 to renovate the park with a stylized 1950s / Route 66 theme. New rides and futurist buildings were added. Thousands of shrubs and trees were planted. The site exploded with color and activity.
Why did it close you may ask? In 1999 an employee of the park used one of the slides when the park was closed, and the catch pool didn’t have enough water in it. He became a paraplegic in the accident and was awarded a $4.4 million payoff. It was a contributing factor in the demise of the waterpark.
The theme park struggled for six years under three different owners (which operated under the names Lake Dolores, Rock–A–Hoola Waterpark and Discovery Waterpark), finally closing for good in 2004.
While the water slides themselves are gone, the property still sports acres of gutted buildings, empty pools and debris laden canals. Despite the recent, successive name changes due to two separate transfers of ownership, the site is still far more commonly known by the general public as “Lake Dolores”.
This part of the Mojave Desert is harsh, with temps over 100F all summer, bitterly cold winters and a grit-filled wind that howls all year round. It is readily apparent humans have been more destructive to the waterpark in recent years than the weather has.
Despite appearances, the former Lake Dolores Waterpark is far from dead.
In March 2008 the park appeared in an episode of the reality show Rob & Big on MTV. Professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek and friends used the waterpark and its slides to perform skateboard stunts for the show.
The waterpark, whether intended or not, now sports an edgy hipster vibe.
Pop culture, may in fact, save Lake Dolores.
In 2011, a group called Oasis Themepark announced a project to renovate and reopen the park, but progress has been slow.
In June 2012, another skate film “Kilian Martin: Altered Route” directed by Brett Novak and sponsored in part by Mercedes-Benz showed the park in its current state while reflecting on its past appearance.
In 2013, TrustoCorp, a group of artists from New York City, transformed the park into a “TrustoLand” as an artistic statement, by repainting many signs and buildings with unusual images and messages.
Lake Dolores Waterpark re-opened briefly on May 26, 2014, to feature the X-2 Rocket Launch.
On September 30, 2014, the park was used by Top Gear America as an obstacle course in Season 5 Episode 7 “What Can It Take”On November 7-9th, 2014 The park was used as the site of an Operation Lion Claws airsoft event,’War of Angels’.
In Spring of 2015 the park was used in a commercial for BMW Mini Cooper. The waterpark was also used in the music video for “Reapers” by the British rock band “Muse”.
It is our hope that this painted lady down on her luck formerly known as Lake Dolores will continue to hold the public’s interest and nostalgia, at least until her next reincarnation. Let’s just hope it’s not another outlet mall or solar farm. The Mojave Desert is full.