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
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.