“Nude Bowl” Near Palm Springs Has Lured Pro Skateboarders for Decades

Deep in the desert hinterlands, a fabled pool rests beneath the sand, its concrete walls over time a sacred backdrop for skateboarders, nudists, and generator parties.

Jason Buhrmester Sports

Ruby Lilley does a crail slide in 2022 over the Hot Lips logo.

The first time Eddie Elguera heard the story, he couldn’t believe it: A couple of locals on motorcycles had stumbled upon an abandoned swimming pool in the middle of the desert outside Palm Springs. For Elguera, a two-time world champion skateboarder, the rumor sounded too good to be true.

It was 1982, and skateboarding was in decline. Skate parks across the country were shutting down, leaving skateboarders with fewer places to ride. An empty, concrete swimming pool was something die-hards dreamed of finding. Plus, this pool was far out in the desert, unreachable by anything resembling a road, meaning authorities would leave them alone. It was the definition of an oasis for Elguera. He had to get there.

“I wanted to see this pool in the middle of nowhere,” recalls Elguera, now a resident of Palm Desert. “I had high hopes that it was going to be rad, but it was beyond my expectations.”

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How did a swimming pool end up in the middle of nowhere in the first place? The story turned out to be a missing piece of Greater Palm Springs history involving a different group of California adventurers searching for a place to express themselves: nudists.

Jeff Bowman, former president of the Desert Hot Springs Historical Society, recalls hearing a local photographer reference “the old nudie place” during a historical society meeting.

“Being the history guy that I am, I thought I knew about all the places in the area,” Bowman says. “How wrong I was.”

Bowman happens to be a nudist who previously owned a clothing-optional resort in Desert Hot Springs with his wife. The rumor of a nudist haven washed away in the desert sands outside Palm Springs piqued his interest, so he dug into an archive of vintage nudist magazines and literature in hopes of locating any references to a resort in the area. To his surprise, he found it.

According to an article Bowman located in the magazine Nudist Newsfront, the location dates back to 1962, when Gordon Dixon and his wife, Terry, gave up their television store and repair service in Los Angeles to pursue their dream of opening a nudist resort. In February 1963, a small advertisement caught their eye: 80 acres near Palm Springs. Small cabin. Swimming pool. Lots of water.

The Dixons pooled their money with Terry’s sister and her husband and purchased the property, which included a 700-square-foot clubhouse overlooking a 20-by-40-foot swimming pool with a whirlpool spa. They named it Desert Garden Ranch and officially opened in 1964.

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Skateboarders perch on the rooftop of a crumbling building, once the resort clubhouse.

“Their club was going fairly strong,” Bowman says. “They were the first nudist resort in the Palm Springs area. Subsequent to that, others started coming in, mostly hotels. The Desert Garden model was more about bringing your tent or trailer and enjoying the amazing views.”

Visitors arrived to camp among the cactuses and Joshua trees, float in the pool, and congregate in the clubhouse overlooking the recreation area. The couples joined the Western Sunbathing Association, the country’s leading nudist organization, and Desert Garden Ranch began charging the association’s standardized fees: $100 for annual membership, $3.50 per day, or $6 for a weekend. The resort flourished with healthy memberships for more than a decade until it abruptly, and mysteriously, shut down.

“Somewhere in the late ’70s, it disappears from the nudist magazines,” says Bowman, who has continued his research into the closure. “Suddenly, there are no more advertisements.”

What remained of the Desert Garden Ranch suffered years of disrepair under the desert sun until Elguera and other skateboarders arrived in 1982. By this point, the dirt road leading to the resort had eroded, leaving the resort stranded deep in a sea of sand. The skeletal remains of the stucco clubhouse stood next to a swimming pool filled with years of refuse. Locals had used it as a trash pit.

“The pool had a bunch of stuff in it — a palm tree stump, tires, junk that was left behind,” Elguera says. “The wall of the pool had bullet holes. It looked like people used to sit at the top and shoot guns down at the pool.”

Skateboarders spent two weekends in October 1982 bailing out water and clearing away trash. Elguera arrived on the third weekend of work, just as the pool was cleared, and became part of what is now a historic first skate session.

“We didn’t do much maintenance. It was like, ‘Let’s skate it!’ ” Elguera recalls. “It was a bit rough when you rode over the bullet holes.”

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Rowan Zorilla, 2016.

Forty years later, excitement still resonates in Elguera’s voice when he talks about just how perfect the pool is for skateboarding: good size, not too small, big enough to do a lot of tricks.

“Some of the pools back then were so gnarly,” he says. “But this was the perfect backyard pool in the middle of the desert.”

They nicknamed it the Nude Bowl, an homage to the property’s history. For a while, the Nude Bowl managed to remain underground, so to speak, aided by the remoteness of the location and the arduous, off-road journey required to reach it.

“You really need four-wheel drive or a pickup truck,” Elguera says. “And you still have to go slow. There are a lot of crevices and gullies.”

Word spread among skateboarders, even though many of them wondered if this hidden backyard pool in the middle of the desert was real or a rumor. By 1984, the secret was out, and the Nude Bowl had become one of the premier locations for skateboarding, attracting top skateboarders from around the world.

“Being the history guy that I am, I thought I knew about all the places in the area,” Bowman says. “How wrong I was.”

“A pool that size was a big draw to those guys because they were the original pool skaters,” says Ozzie Ausland, a skateboarder who chronicles the sport’s history on his blog, Blue Tile Obsession. “I’ve seen pictures with Alan Losi, Micke Alba, Steve Alba, Duane Peters, and Eddie Elguera skating there. You’re talking about the top five skaters of the Hester Series skateboarding contest in ’78, ’79, and ’80. The crème de la crème of vert skaters were riding the Nude Bowl in its heyday.”

Throughout the 1980s, the Nude Bowl hosted legendary skateboarding sessions that often ran late into the night, illuminated by generator-powered lights. Visitors filled the empty hot tub with wood for bonfires and began camping out by the pool. The location soon became host to multiday parties that included live bands. These “generator parties” featured out-of-town bands and locals like Kyuss, who’s guitar player, Josh Homme, would go on to found the Grammy-nominated band Queens of the Stone Age.

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John Worthington, 2020.

By the end of the decade, the growing scene at the Nude Bowl was attracting people who didn’t care about skateboarding, seeking only a place to party far from police intervention.

“A lot of people would go up there, not for the purpose of skating, but just to party and do whatever they wanted,” Elguera says. “They would get out of hand and wild. It was hard for the police to get there. And you would know if they were coming because you could see them from far away. It took a while to get there, so you would be able to hide or run.”

The scene almost turned deadly in 1999 when a partygoer was stabbed. An article from the magazine Transworld Skateboarding at the time reported: “A Nude Bowl party loaded on three bands, seven kegs, and upward of 200 revelers erupted violently on Saturday, May 22, as drunken punkers squared off against out-of-place muscle men resulting in an all-out brawl that left dust flying, young girls crying, and four fighters with upper-body stab wounds. One victim suffered a life-threatening knife jab that punctured the protective membrane surrounding his heart.”

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Eddie Elguera in 1987.

The victim survived, but the Nude Bowl did not. Skateboarders returned to find the pool filled with dirt, effectively putting an end to 17 years of epic rides. Who buried the Nude Bowl remains a point of debate, with some claiming the police and others pointing to nearby residents, frustrated by the all-night parties and lawlessness.

“The authorities didn’t shut it down,” asserts Ausland, who cites rumors pointing to residents of a neighborhood below the Nude Bowl. “They got tired of the shenanigans and people driving up and down all night, so they drove a bulldozer up there and pushed the wall and debris into the pool.”

Ausland and a group of skateboarders hosted a funeral of sorts, placing stones that spelled out “R.I.P.” in the deep end on a mound of dirt piled as high as the coping. The death of the Nude Bowl would not last long. One year later, a group of skateboarders working with a television series called Bluetorch TV arrived with a backhoe and shovels. The crew of six spent roughly 28 hours clearing out the pool, jackhammering and replacing the coping, and applying a fresh coat of paint.

The resurrection was short-lived. Within months, someone bulldozed dirt and another nearby wall into the pool. The job was so thorough that only the faint outline of a pool remained in the desert sand.

“The locals had enough,” Ausland maintains. “This time, they went up and really filled it in.”

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Overview in 1987; a group shot snapped the same year.

While the Nude Bowl sat entombed under the desert floor, the pool’s legendary status continued to hang over the Coachella Valley. When the Palm Springs Skate Park officially opened in 2003, the 30,000-square-foot concrete hangout included a re-creation of the Nude Bowl. City literature describes it as “unquestionably the most popular and challenging feature within the city’s skate park,” while adding, “pool skating in California is at the heart of the sport of skateboarding.”

Skateboarders were not going to leave the original Nude Bowl, the heart of pool skating for decades, buried under sand forever. In 2015, after more than 10 years beneath the desert floor, a group of skateboarders used a rented backhoe to dig it out again. The skateboarding resumed, but the wild parties did not.

The Nude Bowl remained unburied for a year until an unlikely hero stepped in: President Barack Obama. On Feb. 12, 2016, Obama issued a presidential proclamation creating the Sand to Snow National Monument. The monument encompasses 154,000 acres surrounding Greater Palm Springs and is designed to protect “one of the most biodiverse areas in Southern California, supporting more than 240 species of birds and 12 threatened and endangered wildlife species” and “hundreds of sacred American Indian petroglyphs, archaeological, and cultural sites.” A close reading of the map shows the Nude Bowl tucked into a corner, barely within the official monument border but leaving it protected by the conservancy, for now.

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Dave Eassa, 1982.


Still, the skate scene lives on. Just last year, to announce a special collaboration collection with The Rolling Stones, the watch brand Nixon cleaned out and repaired the pool and hired muralist Damin Lujan to give the bowl a fresh paint job with the iconic Hot Lips logo. According to Nixon’s own coverage, “When it was over, they left no trace. A fresh bucket [of paint] was poured out to bury the evidence.”

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Catching air at the Nixon watches event in 2022.

Official protection for the Nude Bowl is still possible. Deirdre Encarnación, a researcher specializing in history, archaeology, and multicultural studies, recommended the Nude Bowl for a listing in the California Register of Historical Resources based on the skateboarding history that took place there.

“I was working on assessing anything of potential historical or archaeological value in the area that could be negatively impacted by development,” Encarnación says. “I felt that [the Nude Bowl’s] contribution to California culture was significant enough to make it eligible for that status.”

Encarnación notes that while the Nude Bowl has not yet received special designation, this can be revisited in 2027, once it reaches the 45-year threshold, since the site “is associated with a pattern of events and a historic trend that has made a significant and lasting contribution to the growth of the skateboarding community in the region and beyond,” leading to events such as the X Games, produced and broadcast by ESPN, and the recent inclusion of skateboarding as an Olympic event.

“I’ve met people there from all over the world,” Bowman says. “They’re old skateboarders or young guys. They feel they have to make the pilgrimage and pay homage. It needs to be protected. It’s a special place.”

Elguera agrees.

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Steve Alba rides an edger, circa 1987.

“The Nude Bowl is one of the oldest legendary spots,” he affirms. “I’m stoked at being a part of that first session and that it’s still there 41 years later.”

Ausland sums up what makes the Nude Bowl so special: “There was a lady named Mama Ceneris out by the surf spots in Baja. When they put in the toll road, she said, ‘Toll roads bring all people, but bad roads bring good people.’ I think that relates to the Nude Bowl really well. To get there, you have to want to get there. And when you get there, it’s just people who want to be there too. There’s no agenda. There’s just you and your friends skateboarding for the purest reason, the reason you started — fun.”