Thursday, June 11, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 10, Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park

Devil's Millhopper
In 1996 when our family was first in Gainesville for a recruiting visit just before moving here, our hosts took us to the Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park to get a taste of natural Florida. The Devil's Millhopper is a huge sinkhole with a wooden staircase taking you 120 feet down to the bottom. There are 232 stairs, a fact not lost on my pre-teen daughters on that visit many years ago. Once at the bottom you look up and out of the bowl to the forest above. The sinkhole ecology is different and more like a rainforest than the surrounding forest and there are mosses and ferns and damp loving plants like Jack in the Pulpit. Coming from Wisconsin in March, it was a very exotic location. And we were pretty tired and sweaty by the time we reached the top. Florida was much hotter and sunnier than the winter weather we'd left in Madison.

Sinkhole Development, From the Visitor's Center

More Sinkhole Information

The Long Stairway Down

About Halfway Down--You can see the water in the bottom. There are fish and frogs.

My understanding is that before it became a State Park, the Devil's Millhopper used to be a place where people could just explore on their own, clambering down the steep slopes and swimming in the water in the bottom (when there was any--water levels are seasonal and variable). It was also a dumping ground for trash like appliances and cars. But in the 1970's it was turned into a State Geological Park, recognizing it's special significance. Fossils and artifacts found in the park tell the history of the area.

The Bowels of the Earth?

I have happy memories of this park. There is a half mile trail around the rim of the sinkhole and it can be a nice place for nature viewing. We brought my husband's mom to the park and walked the trail at Christmastime one year when we first moved her. I identified my first Northern Parula on the bridge that crosses a ravine when I first got into birding, a few years ago. Our family would take our visitors to the park to show them the unique Florida geology and we saw birds, snakes and armadillos. It's a tiny park, nestled between neighborhoods and a TV station, but it's a neat place.

Moss and Ferns on the Limestone Outcropping

I didn't have any particular bird in mind when I stopped in on Wednesday, but I thought it would be nice to walk the stairs and see the sinkhole again, just for old times sake. I guess I chose the busiest time to come because the park was crawling with people out for their day exercise. They walk laps around the 1/2 mile trail and then walk down and back up the 232 stairs, over and over and over. A mom's group with babies in backpacks passed me going down. They were very fit. I felt totally out of place with my camera and binoculars and pants tucked into socks to avoid ticks. Everyone else was in exercise gear. But each to his or her own. It is a beautiful place to get your cardio.

Looking Up and Out

With all the activity--people walking and running, many with dogs and kids--I didn't see much wildlife. Squirrels, Cardinals, Bluejays, Carolina Wrens. But it was nice to see the park so busy. I wasn't too surprised that I didn't find any new birds because I've reached a point of diminishing returns with my June Challenge list. I've found a lot of the easy and obvious birds and what's left I'll need to hunt in specific places, or be very lucky, or not find at all this year. I stopped at a Purple Martin house on my way home to add at least one bird today, bringing my totals to 81 birds and 14 parks.

Ranger Station/Visitor's Center

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