The Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark is located on Lake Dolores, at Newberry Springs, east of Barstow on Interstate 15. It was originally built in the 1950s as a private resort. In 1962 it opened to the public, eventually closing in the late ’80s.
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. The first time I passed it on a road trip shortly after it opened, I instinctively knew that some day it would be abandoned and I’d get to shoot it at night.
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, finally closing for good in 2004. While the slides themselves are gone, the property still sports acres of retro-futuristic buildings, empty pools and canals. This part of the Mojave Desert is harsh, with temps over 100˚ all summer, bitterly cold winters and a grit-filled wind that howls all year long. Just six years after its closure, it’s developed a wonderful patina.
One of the major additions in the 1998 renovation was the Lazy River, a looping canal inner-tube ride (the largest of its type in the world at the time), which circled around the kiddy-pool, café and picnic areas. With all its abandoned snackbars and underground plumbing, the property is teeming with cockroaches. Big, brown 2-inchers. That fly. They were crawling on my backpack and gear during the shoot, getting into everything.
There’s nothing quite like an abandoned amusement park. After a few hours of quietly hanging out waiting for the exposures to burn in, you can feel a palpable sense of loss in the stillness of this once bustling site. This place that was once so much fun is now only a reminder that the fun never lasts.
After my first visit during the May 2010 full moon, I knew I needed to get in another night of shooting at the Hoola before it decayed any further, so I made a quick solo run in June. I hit the road at 1PM. 420 miles later I arrived just as the sun set at 8:30. I immediately got to work, shooting until 2:30AM. Then I “slept” in the backseat in the parking lot for an hour, only to wake wearing a halo of mosquitoes. Back on the road again at 3:30, I pulled into my driveway at 11AM. The moonset/sunrise at 5AM, between Kramer Junction and Mojave, was spectacular. Just epic. Actually, the whole trip was epic, it felt much longer than just 22 hours.
Since shooting this work the Rock-A-Hoola has seen even more vandalism and decay. Salvagers have gone in with cutting torches and stolen all the light poles and the buildings are severely damaged. Investors are being sought and efforts being made to resurrect the Hoola, but it will probably be too little too late to save the site as you see it here.