In the Devil’s Millhopper

Such an incredible name for such an incredible place!  The Devil’s Millhopper is a huge sinkhole in Gainesville that’s so deep, it seems as if it could go straight to the bowels of Hell.  Well, maybe not really, because you can see the bottom, but it’s still pretty deep.  Almost like an inverted mountain, where you hike down instead of up.  Well, a very short mountain, since it’s only about 120 feet deep.  Oh, and you use stairs, because too many people used to down there and scuff things up and take plants and generally ruin it (mostly unintentionally), so now there is a boardwalk and you are not allowed to leave the boardwalk.  It’s an amazing place though, where the timeline of the area’s geology is clearly visible.

I would like to be able to tell you that I can read the layers and give you some kind of science lesson, but not only would that probably bore you to tears, the fact is that I just don’t know much about it.  I just know it looks cool and that most of it is limestone.  Most of Florida is made of limestone, which is a pretty amazing rock.  It’s relatively porous, so water flows through it quickly.  That allows the ground to percolate quickly, and makes the water easily available to plants, animals and humans.  Unfortunately, that very porousness also makes the aquifers susceptible to chemicals and other toxins.  The water in Florida is still very good, but the quality and abundance has declined over the years.

It is possible that I might do a bit better at naming the plants and telling you about them than I will the geological strata, but the fact is, I really do prefer to just enjoy the scenery (not that I allow the kids that privilege; they have to read the signs or look up the plants).  And that scenery is an HGTV landscaper’s dream.  Almost anything you see built in a back yard can be found here in it’s natural form.  Incredibly green plants of every type, grasses, ferns and vines, line the floor and grow out of spaces in the rock.  Mosses cloak trees and rocks in coats of verdant velvet.  Streams trickle through the rocks and plants, with waterfalls crashing down the sides of the crater.  Even before you can see the water, you can hear it all around you, like a Zen water garden, echoing around the sinkhole.  There is a calm to the area that makes me want to take up residence.

And speaking of sounds, there was a screaming bird or animal there while we were this morning.  It screeched like a monkey, but there are no monkeys here.  At first I thought it was a hawk, but the more it screamed, the less hawk-like it sounded.  We never did figure out what it was, but our story is that it was a squirrel being eaten by a hawk.  My children have a tendency toward goriness.

After that sordid tale, I present to you these beauteous visions of moss covered limestone.

As we were coming back up from the bottom, the light was changing, highlighting these trees and which had previously been in shadow.

Look at the texture on this old tree, the beauty of that grain!  The bark is gone and the tree is dead, but it hasn’t fallen over yet.  And of course, you know how I feel about roots by now.

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