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Road Tripping: An Abandoned Waterpark in the Desert

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If you've driven the I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, you've probably noticed signs for the eerily empty Rock-a-Hoola Waterpark. Ever wondered what the heck that creepy, colorful, sketchy place was?

It's been a long time since fun-seekers got soaked under the sun in the Mojave Desert; after seeing numerous incarnations in the same spot since the early 1960s finally closed for good in 2004.

But if you're a little adventurous, and you don't fear trespassing where it may caution not to, you can sneak onto the curious property and poke around. You'll be joined by other rebels, like photographers and skateboarders, the latter of which have a pretty steady thing going within one of the old park rides.

What is the backstory for this desert oddity? The venue began as a private recreation area known as Lake Dolores, a man-made-lake designed and built by area businessman Bob Byers, who named the area for his wife and intended family members and friends to use the site. Byers opened it to the public, and continued to develop the land. Rides and attractions were added over the next 25 years.

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"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," says Wikipedia. Byers sold the park in 1990, but it was reborn as Rock-a-Hoola Waterpark, complete with new waterslides and features; it opened in 1998. But the fun didn't last long. An on-site off-the-clock employee accident in 1999 put a dark cloud over the fun spot.

Rock-a-Hoola also wasn't making any money, and the owner went into serious debt. He filed for bankruptcy. After much paperwork, legalese, and fiscal finagling, a new owner came on and gave the venue a go as Discovery Waterpark in 2002. By 2004, the park was shut for good.

The property has sat, unchanged save for the ongoing crumbling, vandalism, and illicit visitors, since then. The parts of the rides have been sold off and set up again here and there; a water slide once known as the "Big Bopper" during the Rock-a-Hoola 50s throwback rock 'n roll era is now "Colossal Canyon" at Cultus Lake Waterpark near Vancouver, Canada, for example.

It's a little dicey and intimidating, as well as strewn with broken glass, so admittedly I didn't venture too far in to take photos. If you're feeling brave, you may want to give it an exploration...but don't tell 'em we sent ya!

More reading:
Photos from 2003
Quartz City blog, 2006
"Lake Dolores: America's First Waterpark" Movie on Facebook