Ghost Town: Lake Dolores


From the highway it looks like a mirage — a post-apocalyptic oasis with swirls of vibrant color framed by thirsty palms in the middle of an empty desert. Upon closer inspection I saw that it was actually a ruin transformed by spray paint into something of a guerrilla art installation. Alternatingly known as Lake Dolores, Rock-a-Hoola and Discovery, it was once an amusement park — or more precisely a “water park” which in and of itself is bizarre considering it is in a drought-prone desert.

The original Lake Dolores Waterpark, designed by local businessman Bob Byers, was named after his wife. It opened in 1962 with the unimaginative slogan “fun spot of the desert,” but managed to attract enough of an audience to survive, providing motorists traveling between Las Vegas and Los Angeles with a refreshing respite from the summer sun. After a peak in attendance during the 1970s, the park experienced a downturn in popularity, and closed for the first time in the mid 1980s. It reopened as Rock-a-Hoola in the 1990s, and only lasted a few years before filing for bankruptcy in 2000 after an employee injury lawsuit. It opened again as Discovery Waterpark in 2002, but closed for good in 2004 and the rides were dismantled.

After it’s final abandonment the waterpark fell into ruin, and became an unsanctioned canvas for graffiti artists.

The entire site is covered in layers of graffiti inside and out, creating a surreal environment.
The artwork at this site goes way beyond simple graffiti.

The juxtaposition of desolate decay and bright colors set against the monotone of the Mojave is enticing. It draws you into a surreal space, enveloping you in the psychedelic mash up of a rainbow. The buildings themselves are in various states of degradation, stripped of scrap metal, and crumbling in places. But inside the ruins, mixed in with the more mundane graffiti tags, it is possible to discover a hidden gallery of fabulous artwork.

Where once there were water slides, rides and concessions, there is now a montage of art and destruction. A beautifully illustrated wall, smashed and crumbling in the middle, frames the desert landscape behind it. A building fallen in on itself reveals a mural on the wall behind it. A labyrinth of columns and nested windows leads to a lifelike portrait in stark black and white staring out from the mass of color.

Harsh light and shadow sculpt the ruins as I wander randomly from building to building. Outside headless palm trees rise up from the cement walkway or lay fallen across the desert sands beyond. It is a unique and ephemeral landscape.

Because of its easily accessible location just off the I-15, the site has become popular among photographers and film crews, and it has appeared in a Mini Cooper commercial with Tony Hawk and British rock band Muse’s music video for “Reapers”. In 2014, it was used as an obstacle course by Top Gear America in the “What Can it Take” episode, and in 2016, it was featured on the Viceland Network’s Abandoned TV show.

The old park may not be a ghost for much longer, there has been talk of Lake Dolores being given new life. A private firm, G&GF Enterprise purchased the site for $2 million in 2013, and in 2019 a plan was submitted to the San Bernardino County Supervisors to redevelop the 267-acre park in five phases over five years. The plan received approval in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit.

As of 2021 the future of the site is remains unknown.

Currently it is possible to access the graffiti covered ruins by simply detouring off the I-15 at the Harvard Road exit, then following Hacienda Road, which parallels the freeway, to the site location. Accessibility may change if the development project gets underway.

The structures are in various states of ruin, some completely collapsed and others relatively in tact.


All text and photos ©2021 JoMarie Fecci/ Please contact us for any usage permissions or for further information about the journey or locations included in this reportage.