He's in the swim

Cool off with swimming-hole guru Pancho Doll
Ken McAlpine

A motto tells much about a man. Pancho Doll has two: "Get wet" and "I get lost so you don't have to." And who is Doll? For the last seven years, the 41-year-old San Diegan has rattled about the country in his Toyota Tacoma truck (250,000-plus miles and rising), hunting for the perfect swimming hole. He has published his finds in a popular series of guidebooks, including Day Trips with a Splash: The Swimming Holes of California.

For Doll, Southern California is a swimming-hole wonderland. "The geography here," he explains, "is outstanding for them." What makes a perfect swimming hole? It must, Doll says, possess "the holy trinity ― height, depth, and privacy."

Doll's search for ideal swimming holes has had its perils. He has been scratched, parched, bruised, and ― recall his second motto ― lost. Visiting Tennessee in 2002, he was boxed in by police cars after being mistaken for a terrorist.

For good Southern California dunking, one Doll favorite is Tenaja Falls in southwestern Riverside County. The road there can get rough, but the watery rewards are great. To reach the falls from Interstate 15 near Murrieta, take Clinton Keith and Tenaja Roads south 11 1/4 miles and bear right for about 1/4 mile. Go north on Tenaja Truck Trail for 1/2 mile to the boundary of the Cleveland National Forest ($5 day pass; www.fs.fed.us/r5/cleveland or 909/678-3700); drive 4 1/4 miles (unpaved) to the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness and park on the west side of the road. Hike the trail north across the creek and follow the abandoned road uphill for about 3/4 mile to the upper falls.

Hole truth

Pancho Doll's Day Trips with a Splash: The Swimming Holes of California (Running Water Publications, 2003; $19) is available from outdoors stores, bookshops, and Amazon.com.