The Devils Millhopper
Florida isn’t all beaches and crocodiles. Outside of Gainesville, the ground steeps down to create a bowl-like 120-foot-deep cavity on the Earth. Inside this limestone sinkhole is a miniature rain forest with small streams and lush vegetation. At Devils Millhopper Geological State Park, visitors can hike down a stairway through the forest to find an oasis at the bottom of the sinkhole, complete with crystal clear blue waters, enchanting waterfalls that trickle down from above, and plentiful greenery that provides shade from the hot sun.
The creation of the formation began when rain water soaked into the ground and created small cavities in the limestone layer underneath. Over many years, the cavities grew in size to create large caves under the ground. The ceiling of the cave then collapsed, as the weight of the earth above became too heavy and created the unique sinkhole.
In the mid-1800s, early settlers found the enchanting site. They likened it to a hopper from a mill, which is where the grain is funneled into for grinding. Animal bones and fossils were found at the bottom, and the settlers interpreted it as a place where animals met the devil, hence the name Devils Millhopper. There are no shortage of superstitions and legends about the sinkhole, some of which are even told around the campfire today.
It has been a local attraction since the 1880s, but with the advent of social media and photo-sharing websites, it has exploded in popularity as travelers from across the globe can appreciate the natural beauty found in the park.
The geological site has also helped researchers study the past. Fossilized remains of extinct animals have been found at the sinkhole, which allows the scientific community to greater understand the natural history of Florida.
There is a half mile nature trail to reach the rim of the sinkhole, and visitors can observe the unique nature and animal species that are found in the park. After that, there is a 232-step staircase to reach the bottom of the site close to the pool, which is fed by 12 surface streams. After heavy rains or hurricane weather, the boardwalk is often underwater, so plan your trip accordingly. Dogs with a six-foot leash are welcome on the nature trail and in the picnic area.
If hiking isn’t enough, it is also a popular destination for wildlife viewing and bird watching. Common animals like squirrels and rabbits are often seen scurrying about. The damp environment is also home to a wide range of reptiles and amphibians, as well as birds of the pine lands and suburbs.
For an in-depth experience, guided tours by experienced park rangers are held every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Tourists can learn more about the park at the Visitor Center, which has exhibits that explain how the sinkhole was formed and how important it is to the local environment.
Devils Millhopper Geological State Park is open on Wednesdays through Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $4 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians or bikers. For more information, visit their site at floridastateparks.org or call 352.955.2008.