Florida is really, really flat.
I know you know. But sometimes you see something that, by its very un-flatness, reminds you of just how flat everything else is around here.
And that something, in this case, is the Devil’s Millhopper sink hole in Alachua County.
The sink hole is part of Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park (the only geological park in the state). And I know what you’re thinking – Don’t we hate sink holes? Aren’t they those things that swallow houses and insurance companies refuse to pay for? - and you’re right for the most post part.
But this sink hole is big, and old, and cool.
In fact, it’s very big. The sinkhole is deep – 117 feet. If you were to lower the Statue of Liberty into the sinkhole, you wouldn’t be able to see… well, you wouldn’t be able to see her knees. Maybe that’s a bad example.
But you could comfortably fit an 11-story building into the sinkhole, which could come in handy next time you need to hide an 11-story building.
The park has built a wonderful staircase down into the sinkhole (232 steps), and being at the bottom of a deep sinkhole is an interesting experience. Once you’ve reached the bottom, you are entirely surrounded by exposed limestone. A dozen springs empty into the sinkhole from all around you, so that water (albeit modest amounts) cascade into the sinkhole all around you.
Everyone I talked to agree that it has a decidedly Jurassic Park feel to it. It’s so lush, and so deep, and the sound of the water is so hypnotic that it’s quite easy to forget that you’re in Gainesville. It’s also a bit cooler than at the surface. In fact, I’d quite like to camp down there if it was allowed (or if nobody was looking).
Things to do at Devil’s Millhopper:
Besides the sink hole itself, there really are only two things to do.
The first is the education center. With a ranger on staff, a video on loop and several informational displays, it’s enough to keep you occupied for a few minutes and it’s a good way to learn a little about the geological history of the sink hole.
The other thing to do is walk around the sink hole. The half-mile loop around the sink is a nice little walk through a pine forest, though not particularly long or interesting. Unfortunately, the loop doesn’t get close to the edge or offer any looks into the sink, likely to keep idiots from falling in.
But I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining. The sink hole is cool enough to justify a trip to the park – really, it would be unfair to expect much else.
Why is it called Devil’s Millhopper?
Lucky for you, I read all of the information signs (I love those darned historical markers).
At the bottom of the sink, early adventurers found fossilized bones and teeth, remnants of long dead animals that were exposed when the ground caved in. Recently dead animal, likely from falling into the hole, added a layer of fresh bones to the depths.
Thus, it was said that the sink hole was the hopper that fed bodies to the devil.
Personally, I don’t buy it. I’m pretty sure that if the devil has a portal to the underworld somewhere in central Florida, it’s in Starke.
All in all, this park is definitely worth the visit, especially for geology nerds. It’s only minutes from San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, so if you’re in the mood for a longer hike, you can easily do both parks in the same day.
Devil’s Millhopper is located at 4732 Millhopper Road in Gainesville, a few miles east of I-75. Dogs on leashes are allowed. Admission is $4 a car. Find it on Google Maps.