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Devil's Millhopper State Geological Site
Although we have visited Florida on several occasions we had never really ventured further than the Orlando Metropolitan area, the Gulf Coast and the Kennedy Space Center. So on our last trip we decided to take a few days out to explore new territory
Our route took us north via Interstate 75 on our way to our ultimate destination of Pensacola on the ‘Panhandle’. About a hundred miles out of Orlando we decided to take a short break and grab a bite to eat, so we looked at the map for a suitable place to stop and spotted an entry for Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park which was located just a few miles north of the city of Gainesville. It sounded intriguing so we thought it may be worth a small detour to take a look. We certainly were not disappointed.
From looking at the brochure we are told that although the park is only 67 acres in size there are three very different ecological areas that exist within the park, based on exposure to the sun, fire, and water
The hammocks support broad leaf trees and more low vegetation because of their moist soils, while the swamp areas only support flora and fauna adapted to the wet conditions which are present all year. In the sand hill environment, the sandy soil and regular forest fires result in pine trees being the predominant vegetation.
But the main attraction is a huge sinkhole 500 feet in diameter and120 feet that you can actually descend to the very bottom by way of 232 wooden steps. As you descend the Devil's Millhopper sinkhole, it's like moving into a different world. It was a hot day when we visited and the temperature differential was considerable the further down we went.
The plants and vegetation were a verdant green and very lush, small streams cascaded from sides of the enormous bowl forming mini waterfalls that disappeared in the abyss below and the coolness of the air was quite appreciable.
We thought the name Devil's Millhopper was quite unusual and the brochure explained its origin that back in the 1880s farmers would grind grain in a “gristmill”, which apparently had funnel-shaped openings at the top called "hoppers". As the sinkhole can be described as funnel-shaped, Millhopper seemed an appropriate choice.
Also during that period when people were exploring the bottom of the sinkhole, they were finding all kinds of fossils, shark's teeth and a variety of bones. It was therefore rumoured that these had been left in the sinkhole for the Devil…. . . so there you have it.
A word of warning, going down is a breeze, but if you are not quite as fit as you think, take a rest at some of the landings and admire the view on the return ascent.
Absolutely magical, and a must if you are in the Gainesville area.
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