Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

So What is a Devil’s Millhopper?


Wednesday April 1, 2015
Paynes Prairie State Park
Micanopy, Florida

Note: Just wanted to answer some commenters who asked in the initial Paynes Prairie Post (see it here) about the Buffalo and the heat and humidity of Florida. Buffalo are native to most of the eastern United States. They were just extirpated earlier here because it was settled by the Europeans sooner and more heavily than the west. It’s plenty hot on the Great Plains too. Buffalo shed and deal with conditions much the same way that cattle do, they lay around a lot and graze in the shade and when the sun is down.


Today, David sets out for Florida Cancer Specialists in Gainesville at about 7:45am for his 8:15 appointment. Since he’s able to do this by himself and we never know how long these will take, I don’t go along. Instead I post the blog, take a shower and change the bed sheets. He returns in about 2 hours. That’s about the shortest time ever and includes driving.



We want to go back to the state’s only Geological State Park which we were unable to see the last time we were here because we didn’t check the “park” hours before we went. We falsely assumed that all state parks were open every day.

Not so. This park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  But today is Wednesday so we make some lunch and then head up to see the Gainesville Sinkhole known as the Devil’s Millhopper.

It’s a relatively short trip and when we arrive the gate is open this time.


I’m not sure why they need to close it for two days a week since there are no staff here. There is an iron ranger, $4 to park. There is an outdoor information roundhouse with a nice film and information about the sink and its name.   I suppose someone has to come by and collect the money, turn off the film and lock the gate.






The name comes from its funnel-like shape. During the 1800’s, farmers used to grind grain in grist mills. On top of the mill was a funnel shaped container, or hopper, that held the grain as it was fed into the grinder. Because fossilized bones and teeth from ancient life forms were found at the bottom of the sink, this was said to be the millhopper that fed bodies to the devil, hence, the Devil’s Millhopper. Now that’s just a whale of a story. I think I like the Native American version better.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful Indian princess who lived in a village near this location. An evil man wanted to marry her but she wanted nothing to do with him. He decided to kidnap her. One day he grabbed her and ran. on hearing this, all the Indian braves were deeply saddened and began to chase them. AS the braves begin to get closer and closer, the kidnapper created a huge sinkhole for them to fall into. When the braves tried to climb out to save the princes, the evil man turned them to stone. To this day, it’s said, that the weeping of water from the stones alone the slopes of the Devil’s Millhopper are the tears the Indian braves shed for the beautiful princess.

And now for the science. Researchers have learned about Florida’s natural history by studying fossil shark teeth, marine shells and fossilized remains of extinct animals found in the sink. It is 120 feet deep and 500 feet across.

The water flowing down the slopes of the sink begins as rain seeping through the surrounding landscape.  It drains through the soil into a layer of limestone.  Clay beneath the stone prevents further downward movement causing water to then flow across the limestone layer. It then spills out to form the springs around the sinkhole. There are about 12 natural springs, some cascading to the bottom where they flow into a natural drain in the sinkhole which eventually finds its way to the Gulf of Mexico.    Hold this thought until later.

The slopes of the sinkhole provide a cut-a-way view of central Florida’s geological past. Each layer of sediment contains a record of the events and animals that occurred during a particular period.

A half mile nature trail follows the rim. A 232 step stairway descends to the bottom of the sink.




We start out with the nature trail which as you can see from the map goes around the edge of the top of the sink. We walk counter clockwise so that we will end up at the stairs going down. We cannot see into the sink from the rim which is fenced off and has a heavy cover of bushes and trees. The natural way of things obviously and I’m sure the path was constructed this way to avoid erosion.





We begin our descent. The sides of the sinkhole are lush and green.





There are some information signs along the way down. Good excuses to stop and take a break although the trip down isn’t where they are probably needed. From those signs we learn that the depth of the ravine, the presence of certain plants and animals unique to this area, and archeological clues suggest that the sink hole is quite old. The upper half or so may have been formed ten to fifteen thousand years ago. The lower, more vertical portion does not appear to be more than one thousand years old indicating the millhopper was formed in at least two stages.




We see the springs dripping. The sounds are lovely so soft and gentle. There are few people down here and they are all quiet and respectful of this beautiful place.






We stay a while just to be in this serene natural place. Others come and go. They don’t bother us.




We wonder why the water is so milky looking. None of the information explained that.



Time to leave and climb the 232 steps back up. They don’t seem as bad as I was imagining. And I could easily have done them twice just for the exercise in such a wonderful environment. How many times do you get to walk down into the ground this far without being in a cave?




When we started down the stairs, these two were coming up. When we start up the stairs they are coming down. When we get to the top, I decide to walk back down until I meet them to see if they are doing this for exercise and how many round trips they have made. 

They are.  When I ask the woman tells me she walks them a few times a week 4 or 5 times round trip. She comments that they cured her back problem and she lost 15 pounds.

Since she’s obviously from this area, I ask her why the water is milky. She says the question is why is there water at all. Until recently the sink bottom has had several little streams flowing across it and lush vegetation around them. Something has blocked the sink exit and it is now filling up with water. She says she doesn’t really know about the color but wonders if it is something running off nearby subdivisions.

As we walk on up the stairs, she invites me to a vegetarian potluck which she describes as the best food in town, this Saturday night. Sounds like fun and our kind of thing but we will be on our way by then unfortunately. I thank her for her information and invitation and it isn’t until I am back in the car that I realize I didn’t get her name.




We’ve solved the mystery of the Devil’s Millhopper and I’m very glad we came back.  It is a lovely peaceful place for being in such an urban setting. 

Back in the car we head on to our afternoon activity, one that several people have said we must see while we are in this area.  It is thirteen miles down the road but this venture further afield is for another post.


  1. The tears of the braves may not explain the science, but they do explain the magical serenity of the place. And the draw to return and experience it. I'm afraid all those stairs would have me in tears as well today. By the time we make our way out there I intend to "want" to climb them more than once just like my hero :-)

  2. What an amazing special place you found. You and David have shown there is so much more to Florida than beaches and Everglades.

  3. I was enamored of the sinks in Florida. Pretty cool place you explored! I wonder about the milky water too...

  4. Such a gorgeous place. Especially hard to say why the water is milky if it hasn't always been that way. I don't know about multiple trips on the stairs, but once down there I'd want to stay for a while.

  5. My first post to thank you for educating on places to go and things to see in Florida. We have just purchased our first travel trailer and look forward to making a visit to FL a priority during next years winter cold! I have begun taking notes...thanks so much! Rhonda, in middle TN

  6. Very nice:) We will have to add this to the state parks to visit.

  7. Wow! That is some way to exercise! And get to see an amazing sight to boot. Another wonder from Mother Nature. :c)

  8. What a beautiful place! So green. Losing 15 pounds on those stairs; that's a great story :) I imagine that was a peaceful hike with the dripping waters and the sun coming through the leaves. Special find.

  9. Thanks for the tour -- we never got around to going there, so it's nice to experience it through your description and photos. I like climbing up and down stairs, especially in a beautiful natural setting. :-) Can't wait to see what your afternoon adventure is!

  10. Beautiful and Interesting...love the Native American version much better;o)) It is difficult to find that type of elevation change in Florida!!!

  11. That looks like a lovely spot, bet their tushies are firm from all those stairs every week!

  12. I really like the way the native stories connected the people to their places. Their little story is how they knew this place and is much more personal than the bare scientific facts which tend to put a person at more of a distance from the place as if we are not part of nature, we are just here to study it.

  13. The staircase reminds me somewhat of staircases that are occasionally placed in hiking trails up here. Quite a place to visit.


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