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The Devil's Millhopper of Gainesville

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Who says sinkholes ain’t wild? The impressive Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is an ancient sinkhole complex located just outside of Gainesville. As a natural wonder, it’s among the South’s best. Florida sits on a gigantic slab of limestone, and the water that percolates through erodes from below and can cause a collapse. What’s leftover, formations called karst topography, are sinkholes, springs, caves and cenotes—the natural wells the Maya considered sacred and worthy of sacrifice. The Devil’s Millhopper, so named for resembling a grist mill of enormous size to early settlers, and a collection of fossilized bones, is not your standard sinkhole. At 500 feet across and 120 feet down it’s massive.

Millhopper facts:

  • It’s so deep the climate actually cools as you descend
  • Waterfalls cascade from side fissures—in a state with a highest natural elevation point of just 336 feet
  • A zigzag 250-step stairway leads to the bottom and into a rain forest
  • Is part of a huge complex system of natural springs, rivers and wells that crisscross the area
  • Even locals enjoy going here “to get away from it all”

Waterfalls and Weird Geology

The rare waterfalls, the cutaway geology visible in a descent through lush vegetation, and the dozen or so bubbling springs feeding the pond at the bottom combine to create tangible beauty. An observation tower offers spectacular wraparound views; nearby, the occasional fossilized tooth of a megashark or bone from a prehistoric beast turns up. A half-mile nature trail that traces the sinkhole rim wends throughout this 67-acre National Natural Landmark. Frogs, mammals, reptiles, and birds of all kinds flitter or scuttle through the odd pine tree, hammock, and sandhill forests. But remember that over-enthusiastic exploring, especially in summer, can be risky. So enjoy a midday rest in the shady picnic area, and talk with a park ranger to learn more amazing facts about this locale. There’s a small entrance fee, and a visitor center that features interpretive exhibits and offers guided walks with a ranger. This unexpectedly cool commune with nature is a far different vibe from the sand and sun that’s usually associated with Florida.

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