God's Own Plunge Pool

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Vacation Special, August 1997
 S W I M M I N G   T H E   L O W E R   A M M O N O O S U C  

God's Own Plunge Pool

A grotto behind the waterfall, a bracing New Hampshire river, and thou.
By John Jerome

August 23
Dolphins to Dragons
Sand Castle Creations

St. Pete Beach, Florida
Past sculptures have ranged from a Norman Rockwell knockoff to a presidential seal. 800-282-1116.
August 23-24
Straits Underwater
Preserve Treasure Hunt

St. Ignace, Michigan
Divers scour Lake Huron's Mackinac Underwater Dive Preserve. 800-338-6660.
August 24
Wacky Water Race
Skowhegan, Maine
Contestants race down the Kennebec on their choice of buoyant object; you sink, you lose. 207-474-3621.
During a desert-dry lull in an otherwise water-obsessed lifetime — in west Texas — I used to drift off to sleep imagining perfect swimming holes. They always had a waterfall, for aesthetics and to keep the air moist, and cliffs for diving, Ç la Acapulco. The diving had to be into a deep pool of exceptionally clear water, with underwater formations to explore. The outlet was usually a tumbling riffle over smooth granite. Maybe fruit trees lined the banks, dropping, oh, ripe plums in my lap while I sunbathed.

Years later I discovered just such a place, although the fruit is blueberries and their season ends just before the swimming gets really enjoyable. My nomination for the world's best swimming hole is the Upper Falls of the Lower Ammonoosuc, near Fabyan, New Hampshire. Pure snowmelt flows from Mount Washington, plunges 12 feet into a succession of three glacial potholes, and exits gracefully over the required smooth rock, spilling into a trout pool to break Izaak Walton's heart.

The slick granite chute above the waterfall is sized for human buttocks, a natural slide. A small cave behind the waterfall can hide a couple of swimmers at a time. But it's the potholes themselves that cause swimmers' hearts to flutter. The first, probably 20 feet around and nearly as deep, is ringed by 20-foot cliffs. The second, connected to the first by an underwater passageway, is larger, and its cliffs offer launch points from perhaps 10 to 40 feet, choose your height. The third pothole is larger yet, with even more diving heights, and sunnier, thus attracting more leisurely attention.

Pardon my obsession with structure: The sheer geology of the place offers all a swimmer could devise for fun in water, except a rope swing. Its only problem: See "snowmelt," above. The water temperature is bearable for about three weeks in August, past the blueberries' prime. So bring your own.

W A T E R I N G   P L A C E S
Joan Wulff, fly-fisher since 1937 and author of three books on the subject, including the forthcoming Joan Wulff's Fly-Casting Accuracy (to be published in November by Lyons & Burford).

"I've always loved the Gallatin River in Montana. I love it because it's not too large, you're fishing on foot, it's still got wild trout, and it's got lots of character. That's the place with the best ambience for me. But my favorite river is the Upsalquitch, in New Brunswick, which runs into the Restigouche. It's remote, small, intimate, and an Atlantic salmon river. I'm able to wade, and I just love the size of the pools and the water. Even if I'm not catching fish, that's the place I'd rather not catch fish."

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!