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Day Trips with a Splash: Swimming Holes of the Southwest Paperback – April 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


On steamy summer days, it's tough not to envy Pancho Doll. For the past eight years he's devoted himself to discovering, chronicling, and just plain enjoying the country's choicest swimming holes. Operating out of his battered 1995 Toyota pickup, the 42-year-old San Diego resident has logged more than 250,000 miles, poured over countless topographic maps, pried information from often tight-lipped locals, taken the plunge into upward to 700 holes, and managed to turn out four critically acclaimed guidebooks in his Day Trips with a Splash series. (In case you re wondering, Doll describes a swimming hole as moving water on a river or creek six feet deep or deeper. The water is fresh and clean) "Pancho is a swimming hole master guru dude," says actor John C. McGinley (Scrubs) who along with pal John Cusack spent three days last summer cliff diving into some idyllic Southern California spots. "He's just got this wonderful combination of expertise, enthusiasm and daffiness." Even today, stumbling upon a fresh beauty is like finding an emerald in a pile of rocks, says Doll. And in it's own way, quite precious. "It's the feeling or immersion where you wash away the dust and anxiety of the work week, he explains. It's more than a buzz. It's like a baptism." --People magazine August 22, 2005

Pancho Doll (is) America's foremost professional swimming hole sleuth. he lives out of his truck, canvassing small towns for the best places to cool off on a hot day and pacing the area until he finds them. He takes notes and pictures, then heads back to San Diego -- his base, if it can be said that he has one -- to self-publish his own series of regional swimming hole guides. Anyone who has felt the roots of his or her own life tug too deeply can admire his independence. --National Geographic Adventure July 2003

In the season of crowded beaches and pools there is a tranquil alternative. Pancho dolls spends his days driving the back roads of America and hiking remote trails hes looking for those hidden places where mountains, rivers and rocks come together to form the perfect swimming hole. "The holy trinity of swimming hole quality is height depth and privacy." The old swimming hole is something that lingers in the American imagination. It's where your great grandfather went swimming. In a world of water parks and swimming pools most Americans have probably never seen a swimming hole, but there are thousands of places like this in nature more fun and more interesting to swim in than anything built by humans. It's a water park built by nature, and it s free. --ABC World News Tonight May 30, 2004

From the Author

Try this. Make an appointment with your banker. Explain that you want a business loan to open a chain of lingerie shops in fundamentalist Moslem countries or to sell beach chairs in the High Arctic. The reaction you get will be similar to puzzled expression friends and family made when I announced plans to write a book about swimming holes in the desert.

I wasn't really sure whether to take myself seriously either, so I picked April 1 as the date to start the research and the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson as the place.

Contrary to apprehensions, when I asked about swimming holes, enthusiastic volunteers pointed me up what seemed like every canyon. Most of the time they were right.

It began a season of discovery. Plunge pools scuba deep and great slabs of sandstone form smooth containers of cool water. In the Southwest a person can enjoy an intimate tub deeply shaded by sycamore or the Gothic shock of tall rock stretching 1/4-mile along deep water.

Many places featured here are so little visited that they don't have agreed-upon names. In most cases, the names I selected are based on the canyon the hole is in, the trail it's along, or natural features nearby. Where there are more than a couple of holes on the same stretch of water, I made up the name myself.

All of them are lovingly recorded in a collection of photos painted in the primary colors of the Southwest: blue sky, red rock and green water.

I also gathered some interesting geologic samples. I had little spheres of sandstone called Navajo marbles that I picked up near Lake Powell and some geodes I found up near Zane Grey's cabin in Payson, Arizona. The collection rode along unobtrusively for 20,000 miles, all held in place by camera bags, climbing equipment and so forth... all until I got home.

Too tired to unpack, I flopped on the bed, pleased and maybe even a little smug about my success with such an unlikely topic.

While I enjoyed a self-satisfied rest inside, thieves jimmied the driver side door. I didn't discover the theft until the first stop sign the next morning when I heard the stones roll forward and crash against the cargo box in the back of the truck.

The first thing I looked for were the photos. Still there. But the thieves inadvertently grabbed a bag containing the microcassettes I used to record field notes. They amounted to six months of research without which I could not write the book.

I cleared my schedule for the next summer and prepared for the Zen exercise of paying twice for the same real estate.

While not strictly speaking a spiritual experience, the act of reliving a portion of one's life delivered some fascinating symmetry. Fifty three weeks later, on the last day of the desert redux, my truck got burglarized again.

It was at a canyon I'd failed to find twice before. But, since swimming hole scholarship doesn't favor slackers, I made a last attempt and was rewarded with four magnificent places that I photographed before turning back toward the research vessel where I would drink a beer then drive west toward my reward. Just a few steps remaining.

But what's this? The cooler was missing. Other stuff, too. Again.

After some time gesturing wildly with a pistol, I decided the only remedy was a search for meaning.

It might be a straight up Sunday school story about pride prefiguring the fall. Perhaps it was some karmic debt repaid with double compounded interest or simply the cruel teeth of a meaningless universe.

Experience favored the latter. In becoming a swimming hole professional, I learned that goalposts keep moving. The physical objective is always deeper down the canyon or higher up the watershed, farther along the road and closer to the middle of nowhere.

The burglaries only showed that an object, once collected, resists possession and the purpose to which it's dedicated evades completion. Gravity is real; rocks are hard. Disorder is the rule and entropy always wins.

I still lock doors and back up data, but the most durable defense is to accept reward in the activity itself.

By that measure the loss of property and the expense of 40,000 miles felt good. It felt really good. It felt like finding water in the desert.


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Product Details

  • Series: Day Trips with a Splash
  • Paperback: 211 pages
  • Publisher: Running Water Publications; 1 edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0965768627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0965768627
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,214,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Joe Bartels on January 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a fun book. Water holes and waterfalls are covered from Tucson to Moab. Several are short day hikes suitable for any fit person. Owning a large selection of hiking books I was surprised to find rarely mentioned areas. Pancho Doll really did explore the state to find some rare gems. He is a very likeable guy with a great sense of humor. Topographic maps are included in the book. The book is tied together with a website. You send in your receipt to get a password. Then you can print out the maps so you don't need to carry the whole book. In all honesty though... GPS readings are not real accurate on several spots. You can find the spots without GPS so it doesn't matter. A skinny dipping symbol indicates your chances of finding a secluded spot. After each region is a "why bother" list of area's Doll doesn't recommend. Keep in mind the why bother is referring to swimming holes and waterfalls. I say that because areas I consider awesome are mentioned on his "why bother" list. Ironically some of the spots in the book carry a boom box symbol indicating large or rowdy crowds. Seems those should be put on the "why bother" list!
Overall this is a great book. Pancho worked hard on putting it together. With over seventy destinations it's a great value. I give the book a 4 because it's proved valuable over the years. It appears Poncho prints this book himself. The effort is recognized and I'm sure it will only get better in future editions.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jan P. Schrage on August 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is definitely a book that I wish I had years ago. It has tons of different places to hike to in Arizona and Southern Utah with swimming holes. It can be somewhat challenging to find water in the Southwest, so this book is a great guide. It is filled with lots of descriptions of the places, maps and pictures of each water hole. This is an ultimate book for exploring the southwest.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Pete Kosednar on May 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Nice places to go to in Arizona.
Well thought out and written. I enjoy seeking out new places to go and the book has a bunch of neat places to explore.
Please remember though that this is Arizona. I mean a nice pool of water described might be just that in Feb or March - but come May or June it might be a flowing river of green! And a nice pool described in the book ya need to take with a grain of salt!! Some places I have enjoyed the discovery of finding it and soon thought jeez this is just the same ol same ol stuff. Make an adventure out of seeking out the places and enjoying the outdoors.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazoniac on July 5, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hey, I'm discovering places I never knew existed. Even during the Arizona drought there are these hidden away spring-fed swimming holes that are absolutely awesome! This book is written excellently, and the icon-based ranking and rating system is really cool. Thank You Pancho!
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Very easy to follow book of some great places to go and visit. Grab you GPS and get out and have some fun.
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