As if from a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie, a lone hill located halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas leaves its unsightly mark alongside a desolate stretch of Interstate 15. The stairs appear to lead to nowhere.
The billboards, once boasting this abandoned fun park's amenities, are left to crumble in the unforgiving desert sun. Dilapidated structures rot among the sprinklings of palm trees and an endless parade of rolling tumbleweeds.
With a barren backdrop, the urban graveyard appears suddenly and mirage-like out of sand dunes. Looking perfectly out of place, it is truly one of the largest of the Mojave Desert's many oddities. This urban graveyard is the abandoned Lake Dolores Waterpark.
The brainchild of Bob Byers, the park was named after Byers' wife, Dolores. His vision was to treat weary motorists traveling between L.A. and Vegas to a sanctuary that allowed it's visitors a chance to shake off the desert dust and relax.
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Byers designed a 273-acre system of interconnected faux ponds and channels fed by an underground spring. With the dirt leftover from the lake excavation, Byers created an extensive dirt mountain. One side of the pitch was dedicated to 150-foot long Speed Slides and the other to zip lines descending from the hilltop.
On the other end of the hill sat Lake Dolores' notorious Stand-Up Slides and a high-rise trapeze platform, both of which became synonymous with guest injuries. The property was opened to the public in 1962 and Byers continually updated old attractions while adding new ones, such as bumper boats, go-carts, and an arcade.
However, over the next twenty years, Bob and Dolores' dream slowly became a nightmare. Despite the couple's best efforts, Lake Dolores faded into obscurity and closed with little hoopla in the late '80s.
In 1990, a small group of investors acquired the park and began making significant changes. The new owners installed all the accouterments of a modern waterpark, including safe slides and an eatery. Reopened in 1998 as "Rock-A-Hoola," the park was slated to be a booming 1950s themed attraction but failed to excite young guests.
Plagued by millions of dollars of growing debt and an employee injury lawsuit for $4.4 million, the park was only open for three seasons. After several desperate attempts to stay afloat, the owners filed for bankruptcy in 2000. The property was returned to Dolores Byers that same year.
Yet another group of investors attempted to reopen the park in 2002 under the moniker, Discovery Waterpark. The buyers spent over $400,000 to renovate the facility but opened the park solely on weekends for nearly two years. This ill-advised effort to revitalize Bob Byers' dream was in operation for less than four years, leaving its buildings and attractions to the elements.
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Photo Courtesy of Architectural Afterlife
Aside from the occasional film crew, the park is now home to illegal urban exploration and graffiti. Abandoned since the park's previous owners decided to close its doors for good, the site currently hosts more No Trespassing signs than guests. However, despite being dormant for close to two decades, there may be another life for this park yet.
Plans were approved in early 2020 to bring the park back to life. Repairing and rehabilitating the 41-acre waterpark is no small undertaking. Current developers believe the revitalized park could open as early as 2023 and foresee the entire renovation completed by 2026.
After the restoration, the 22-acre artificial lake and the 2-acre pond will welcome its guests to take advantage of boating, swimming, and camping. The plans also include commercial and retail space and a library, an amphitheater, hotels, and restaurants.
Given the checkered history of the waterpark, the revitalization plan is risky. Many developers have come and gone over the years. Most have either failed to get their vision out of the planning phase or met with financial ruin.
Whatever happens to the property, many former guests, urban explorers, and travelers have fond memories of the park as both a pleasant break from the highway's monotony and a blank canvas for the imagination.