Descend into the Devil’s Millhopper!

1 Mar

A hidden national landmark lies just to the northwest of the University of Florida campus near Gainesville. If you believe there are no natural waterfalls in Florida, think again because at Devil’s Millhopper State Park you will find a few. Granted, they are not the towering, roaring falls that you see up north, but it is a peaceful,  serene landscape thousands of years in the making. Here is the legend as quoted from an unknown source.

Devil's Millpond State Park 031Once upon a time, there a was a beautiful Indian princess who lived in a village near the location of the present day Devil’s Millhopper. The Devil wanted to marry the Indian princess, but she wanted nothing to do with him. So one day he decided to kidnap her. He grabbed the Indian princess and ran.

On hearing this, all the Indian braves were deeply saddened and began to chase the Devil and the Indian princess. As the braves began to get closer and closer, the Devil created a huge sinkhole for the Indians to fall into. This sinkhole is the Devil’s Millhopper you see today.

When the braves tried to climb out of the sinkhole to save the princess, the Devil turned them to stone. To this day, it’s said that the weeping of water from the stones along the slopes of the Devil’s Millhopper are the tears the Indian braves shed for the beautiful princess.

So, what exactly is a millhopper? Millhoppers are funnels used by farmers in the 1800s that held grain before it was fed down into grinders. Devil’s Millhopper is actually a giant sinkhole 120 feet deep and 500 feet wide. Over the centuries rain and spring water has flowed down the slopes to form a pond at the bottom. A layer of limestone and clay give the water a beautiful clear blue hue. The clay prevents the water from escaping so an ecosystem all its own has developed from the rim down to the water’s edge. The sinkhole was given its name because natives believed fossilized bones which rest at the bottom of the sink are a sign it is a place the Devil used to feed bodies down into his domain. Today, descending down the boardwalk from the rim, you can see signs of Florida’s ancient geologic history in the rocks.

Devil's Millpond State Park 036

You enter the park off Millhopper Road on the north side of Gainesville. The park is only 62 acres. It’s the only geologic landmark in the Florida State Park system. The parking lot circles a tree covered picnic area. An information booth and restrooms mark the beginning of two trails. The rim trail runs the circumference of the sink. It’s well-marked and level which makes it a great place to walk or jog for exercise. Several scenic views of the sink can be found along the rim trail.

The real experience begins when you descend down a 232 step boardwalk to an observation platform at the bottom of the sink. You’ll see and hear the water flowing through and over the rocks serving as a backup vocalist to the native songbirds. Many species of ferns, gums and willows make the base of the sink more like a rain forest compared to the hardwood pines, oaks and grasses around the rim. Once you reach the observation platform, relax and enjoy the sounds of nature more comparable to something you would find in the Smoky Mountains rather than in Florida. Countless species of birds, reptiles and amphibians call the park home just like you would find in any rain forest. Gather your energy while taking it all in. You have the same 232 step climb to get out of the sink. AND keep your eyes open! No one knows who or what still lurks under the water at the lowest point of the sink!

Devil's Millpond State Park 034Devil's Millpond State Park 032 Devil's Millpond State Park 028Devil's Millpond State Park 024Devil's Millpond State Park 023Devil's Millpond State Park 006There aren’t many places throughout Florida where you can clearly see how the passage of time affects the land we hold so dear. Devil’s Millhopper State Park is one of those rare places you don’t really think of going out of your way to visit, but once you do you are really glad you did. It’s not a place where you will spend an entire day, but it’s definitely a must see if you are in the Gainesville area. When you think of a national landmark, you think of landmarks such as the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon or Old Faithful. Devil’s Millhopper is right there with these other amazing sights. It’s a Florida gem that many don’t know even exists.

 

 

 

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