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Devilk's Millhopper

Northwest of Gainesville, Florida, is a gigantic, funnel-shaped hole in the ground that is an astonishing 500 feet across, 120 feet deep, and nearly a half-mile around its rim. This geological wonder, now owned by the state, is called the Devil’s Millhopper...a portal straight to hell...according to some old timers.

I arrived early in the morning and was the first to break the spider webs strung across the path to the weird cavity. It is amazing that you can hardly see this hole until you are right on its rim. The foliage around the edge hides the hole and what looks like bushes hiding the opposite side are really the tops of trees that are growing down in the hole. The only way to get a full appreciation for this geologic wonder would be to clear all the trees away, of course we don’t want to do that.

Among the many weird stories about this hole, the earliest comes from Indian legends regarding a princess that the devil wanted to marry, and to make a long legend short, she ended up being swallowed by the hole. Another tale, supposedly from the 1880s, is about a black pioneer family who were on their way to town with a wagon-load of cotton when they saw the hole open up and gobble down an acre of tall pines. As a preacher once repeated their story, “The ground began rumbling like Satan himself was coming out of the earth, then a big, frightening hole opened-up swallowing trees, rocks, and at least one liquored-up sinner.” The Devil’s Millhopper was well known in early preaching for eating up a sinner or two, usually drunk ones. A traveling evangelist, in a fire-and-brimstone sermon aimed at persistent sinners, once preached, “It’s the gateway to hell; the devil’s own door!”

The funnel-like shape of the hole reminded pioneers of a hopper on a gristmill, which held corn as it was fed into the grinder. When prehistoric bones were found in the bottom of the hole, people claimed it was a hopper that fed bodies to the devil. Thus began the name Devil’s Millhopper.

There are more recent yarns about the Devil’s Millhopper, probably generated by students from nearby University of Florida, that claim a man once fell into the hole and was swallowed up. If that was true, it means the poor soul ended up in our drinking water, since the aquifer is directly beneath the hole’s bottom.

There is a wooden stairway of 232 steps leading from the rim down to a viewers platform in Millhopper’s bottom. I know because I counted the steps and can tell you going down is easy, but it’s a pretty good exercise going back up. There is a remarkable difference in temperature between the surface and Millhopper’s basin, where even on hot days it remains pleasantly cool. There are twelve springs in the bottom and a diversity of plant species resembling the flora found in the Appalachian Mountains.

The real story behind this big cavity, according to the state geologist, is that it’s an ancient sinkhole, probably formed in two stages, the first about 10,000 years ago and the second stage about 1000 years ago.

Weird Florida

 

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