Words and images by Megan Massion
Sunlight pierced through the cave’s chimney upon the aquamarine water, illuminating the entire cavern with light. Vines draped through the conduit, creating a spotlight that pierced the water, which allowed you to see every detail of the crystal clear spring’s rocky abyss. The walls looked like they were breathing as the shadows from the water rippled across the cave’s walls. Beneath the earth’s surface lay a natural wonder known as the Devil’s Den — a pre-historic underground spring inside a dry cave.
The Devil’s Den is a scuba resort located on privately owned land in the small town of Williston, Florida. The water sits at a temperature of 72 degrees, which allows for visitors to comfortably dive year-round. Its name was given by early settlers who saw steam like smoke rising from the cave’s chimney on cold winter mornings. Remains of both humans and extinct animals have been discovered at the Devil’s Den — even some that are over two million years old.
The cave’s only entrance is located directly outside the main office. The first flight of stairs descends into a dark, narrow passageway of the cave, giving visitors no initial indication of what lay at the bottom. The feeling of approaching the unknown quickly diminishes at the foot of the stairs when the tunnel abruptly transforms into a massive underground cave and spring — a captivating site that will take your breath away.
Devil’s Den is open seven days a week, year-round. On weekdays, the cost to snorkel is $10 and on weekends, $20. Visitors can rent goggles, snorkels and flippers for $10; however, visitors are welcome to bring their own. There are wet suits available to rent for $15 for those who aren’t accustomed to cold spring temperatures. Those with an open water certification can scuba dive — giving them the unique opportunity to swim through the underwater caves within the den.
.But there are other activities besides snorkeling. There are bridges and trails that wind around a scenic, man-made pond and throughout different areas of the forest, allowing you to explore the land. The resort also has multiple pavilions with picnic benches and grills, as well as a campsite and cabins for visitors who want to make a night or weekend out of their visit.
Devil’s Den is about two hours south of Jacksonville, not far from Gainesville. The majority of the trip is spent cruising through small towns that seem mildly abandoned. You may find it hard to believe that a place as majestic as the Devil’s Den is located in such a remote area.
Even though Rowena Thomas has worked at the Devil’s Den for over 15-years, her job never gets old.
“It’s nature,” Thomas said, “and it’s really interesting because we meet a lot of people from out of state and all over the world. That’s why I love it.”
There are unique places on the way to and within the small town of Williston, such as antique shops and quaint local restaurants. There is also a botanical garden and nature preserve called Cedar Lakes Woods & Gardens right next to the entrance of the Devil’s Den.
Lisa Ervin, a server at the Green Shutter Restaurant, located about two miles from the Devil’s Den, explained that many customers are tourists who grab a bite to eat after their dive. “It seems like it’s a pretty popular spot,” Ervin said.
She has met divers from all over the country and of all ages, said Ervin – from 15-years-olds to 60-year-olds. Some have been diving professionally for years, while others are diving rookies.
There is one thing, however, that they all have in common – they all leave with an appreciation for the natural beauty of Devil’s Den and the unique experience it offers.