Lake Dolores Waterpark in California: What Happened Here?

Lake dolores waterpark
Photo by Unsplash

Off Interstate 15 in the Mojave Desert in Newberry Springs in California lies the now abandoned Lake Dolores Waterpark. Once a lively and energetic waterpark, it is now a sorry vestige of what it used to be. Dilapidated and abandoned, it’s hard to imagine that this waterpark once welcomed throngs of eager families and friends.

Back when the waterpark was in operation, its management changed hands several times. Along with the changes came tweaks to its name. Lake Dolores, Rock a Hoola Waterpark and Discovery Waterpark, this humble waterpark operated under these names at different points of its history.

The Three Faces of Dolores

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The waterpark began with its name Lake Dolores. Did you know its name was actually a sweet declaration of love? Dolores was Bob Byer’s (the businessman who originally designed and built the waterpark) wife. True love never dies, y’all.

In the 1990s, the waterpark’s popularity decreased and visitors lessened. As a result, Lake Dolores Group LLC bought it.

Later on, in the second (spoiler alert: futile) attempt to save the waterpark, it underwent a massive renovation project. The costly endeavor, amounting to almost US$400, 000, sadly did not reap any rewards. The park was already on its way to desolation, a trend that many investors deep in the claws of debt and despair refused to see. Indeed, just two years after its ambitious makeover, Lake Dolores Waterpark closed its doors. Forever.

Three beautiful names once graced this waterpark. Sadly, today, these names no longer roll off the tongues of excited children clamoring to visit. What happened? How exactly did this famous waterpark fall from grace? We take you through Lake Dolores Waterpark from its rise as a family-favorite holiday destination to its fall to the abandoned, derelict grounds it is today.

What Happened To Lake Dolores Waterpark?

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Humble Beginnings – Glory Days In The 70s And 80s

The waterpark began on a humble expanse of arid land. Built in the early 1960s, the park gradually expanded with the addition of more rides over the years. The early 70s and mid-80s saw Lake Dolores Waterpark in its most glorious heyday. Attendance peaked in those golden years as throngs of eager visitors flocked to the waterpark to have fun.  The park was raking in serious dough and visitors were having serious fun.

A top favorite ride at the Lake Dolores Waterpark was undoubtedly the human cannonball ride. Roughly 46 meters long, and ending about 4.5 meters above the water surface, this ride shot you down the slide like a human cannonball. Lake Dolores Waterpark must have been the perfect picture of glee and excitement back then.

Other thrilling rides included one where visitors will zip line down a cord and be thrusted into the lagoon below. The park also installed huge trapeze-like swings atop a high platform. The rider could launch themselves into the waters below on the swings.

Additionally, the park also featured a raft canal ride where visitors could relaxedly drift along the park.

However, the fun and laughter only lasted for short while. In the late 1980s, the park saw an unexpected downturn in popularity. The slump lasted for longer than anyone expected, a sign of darker days to come.

The Start of Desolation – A Futile Attempt to Revive the Park in the 90s

Unable to return to its glory days, Lake Dolores Waterpark closed soon after. Then in the 1990s, Byers sold Lake Dolores Waterpark. Here, we see the first name change occur. The waterpark was now Rock a Hoola Waterpark. In a bid to entice visitors to come back, the management decided to go along with a 1950s theme for the park. Rock and roll music of that era constantly blasted throughout the park.

Unfortunately, their efforts were for naught. Popularity was still low whilst the park owners slowly racked up debt after debt. Over the years, the park amassed a debt of three freaking million dollars. As if that wasn’t stressful enough already, a larger problem soon hit the waterpark. In 1999, an employee was crippled in a horrifying accident in the park. Apparently, the employee decided to go on a ride, after closing hours. However, unknown to him, the ride did not have enough water. He sped down the ride, only to meet a painful end. Crippled for life after the accident, the bitter employee sued. He won the case and the park was ordered to compensate $4.4 million dollars in damages. This blow proved to be fatal. In 2000, the waterpark filed for bankruptcy. Rock a Hoola Waterpark was no more.

Doom is Likely Inevitable – A Last Ditch Attempt to Save the Park in the 21st Century

In 2002, Lake Dolores Waterpark underwent a massive renovation project and was renamed Discovery Waterpark. The attempt was sorely unsuccessful. Somehow, the park was just no longer the same. It almost felts like the charms, that once drew flocks of visitors to Lake Dolores Waterpark like moths to a flame, disappeared into thin air out of the blue. No matter how hard the management tried to promote the park, nothing seemed to work. Eventually, in 2004, just 2 years after its (extremely costly) re-opening, the waterpark shut down once again. Its doors have remained closed since.

Desolation, Dilapidation, Dereliction – Present

Would it be tasteless to joke that the ‘D’ in Lake Dolores Waterpark stands for desolation? It does feel that way. Entering Lake Dolores Waterpark, it almost feels like stepping into space where time has been bizarrely frozen. Signboards of the past stand out from corners to corners, stained yellow with old age. Colorful graffiti adorns the walls, the handiwork of mischievous pranksters. Stained canals still filled with stagnant brown water snake through the park.

Back in the 70s, the park was probably filled with the raucous chatter of excited visitors. But today, you are surrounded by silence. No screaming children, no gleeful laughter, no splashing of waters. The silence is almost deafening.

The park today is in literal ruins as some of its rides have been dismantled and sold to other waterparks. Furthermore, trespassers have broken into the park several times. These intruders have dismantled and stole random wires and scraps of metal in the park. Now, what’s left are odd components and parts, hinting of a grander and livelier past.

The walls of the buildings are slowly in decay, rotting away at the hands of time. Walking around the park, you’ll find buildings with large gaping holes in their walls. Dirt and dust cover the floors, attesting to just how long the waterpark was abandoned for.

Palm trees that must have once seemed like such a beautiful exotic sight now stand solemnly, towering above the ruined buildings, acting almost like loyal guards to the place. The heads of trees have been cut off too, leaving just the stark barks of the trees. It’s bizarre. It’s creepy. And oddly enough, it somewhat heart-breaking too.

As if the decay by the hands of time wasn’t cruel enough, Lake Dolores Waterpark has also suffered at the hands of playful law-breakers. Just last year, arsonists broke into Lake Dolores Waterpark and set it aflame. Many of Lake Dolores Waterpark’s iconic rides and buildings were razed to the ground in the inferno. This crime left the already derelict Lake Dolores Waterpark looking even more tragic.

Lake Dolores Waterpark in the Media

Thanks to its “unique” look today, Lake Dolores Waterpark has earned the attention of the media. Lake Dolores Waterpark has been used as the filming site for various television shows.

In 2008, professional skateboarder Rob Drydek used the waterpark to film stunts for the reality tv show Rob & Big on MTV.

Then, in 2013, a popular Scottish electronic music duo, Boards of Canada made their public debut at Lake Dolores Waterpark. For the first time in a good few years, the abandoned waterpark welcomed music and crowds.

Later in 2014, Lake Dolores Waterpark was once again featured as an obstacle course by the popular show Top Gear America.

Other televised appearances include appearing on the TV show ‘Abandoned’ in 2016 as well as in the skate film Kilian Martin: Altered Route.

One can’t help but wonder if the park had received such great media coverage when it was struggling to stay afloat in the 90s, would things have turned out differently?

Final Thoughts on Lake Dolores Waterpark

It’s both sad yet deeply fascinating to watch a once-popular waterpark waste away. Every corner of the now deserted waterpark has a story to tell, about the happier days of the past. Days filled with more life, more energy, more hope. Today the park stands in its ruins, a grim reminder of what it used to be.

Have you been to Lake Dolores Waterpark before its tragic end? Share your experience with us in the comments below. We’d love to learn more.

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