America's Best Swimming Holes

Expert Explains the Makings of the Perfect Places to Plunge

Pancho Doll dives into a hole at Fossil Springs

hide captionAuthor Pancho Doll takes a dive at Fossil Springs in Arizona's Tonto National Forest.

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Pancho Doll, Running Water Publications
'Day Trips with a Splash: Swimming Holes of the Northeast' by Pancho Doll

hide captionDay Trips with a Splash: Swimming Holes of the Northeast by Pancho Doll

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Pancho Doll knows what makes a good swimming hole. The author, who has written a series of books exploring the often hidden recreational treasures, says the holes are "not just a flat spot in the river." He looks for high rocks, water deep enough to dive in, and some sense of privacy — perchance to skinny-dip.

"It's got to have some vertical element, whether it's a nice wall or in some cases a really good enclosure of rock that's been worn out over 10,000 years," Doll tells NPR's Bob Edwards. "It almost has an architectural feel..."

And "it should have a fat, deep end," Doll says. "I try to focus only on places that are deep enough that your average NBA player would have to tread water."

Many of his favorite places have 35-foot-high rocks as jumping-off points. Aztec Falls in California's San Bernardino National Forest has a ledge measuring over 50 feet tall. It's one of the 15 "perfect pools" Doll selected for the June/July issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine.

But it's not all about height. Smooth, flat rocks provide a perfect place to recline. "Ideally, I'd like to find a very smooth sandstone that's been polished [and] buffed out... there are some metamorphic rocks that'll just get polished so fine, it's like butter on your backside."

Privacy is also crucial. He avoids bottle-strewn roadside party spots and makes sure to warn his readers about places where clothing is optional. "It can lead to some embarrassment and some confusion, especially in places like California's Mother Lode, [in] the Sierra Nevada, where there are just a lot of unreconstructed hippies... and none of them [have] tan lines," he says. So when you show up with your family, "you'd better have the anatomy lesson ready..."

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