Friday, January 21, 2022

Deep Into Devil’s Den

Having an old green VW bus is fun!

Over the past couple of years, it has made it to a couple of music festivals close by, been on display at the Kiwanis Car Show, and also at the Bug Jam in Dade City which sees almost 800 Volkswagens in all their forms. Recently, we took a trip to Devil’s Den in Williston, Florida. Until then, we had not ventured far with the bus to just camp.

The Devil’s Den was a perfect choice for us, and the four young adults and two dogs who joined us. It offered a nice camping location in addition to something of interest for the adventurous ones in our group. Despite being loaded with coolers, chairs, groceries, firewood, and everything else, the old bus made the five-hour drive without a hiccup. The route to Williston is just under 300 miles and can be reached by taking Highway 17 through the middle of the state or taking I-75. It is north of Ocala and still south of Gainesville.

After some research on the internet, we became a bit concerned that some of the reviews weren’t the best, but being Easter weekend our choices for accommodating our group, including the dogs, were limited. We are SO happy that was the case, we LOVED it! It was an old Florida atmosphere with well-manicured farms all around. Huge beautiful old trees dotted the campground which was next door to an emu farm and neighboring Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens.

Devil’s Den is a prehistoric cave filled by crystal clear Florida springs. It is 120’ in diameter and 54’ deep with constant 72-degree water year round. It is a popular diving and snorkeling spot, so you can expect to wait. Our kids went snorkeling both days there. The first day they were given lots of rules and instructions. The second day was much more relaxed with different crew manning the cave. There were fish and turtles in the water. Devil’s Den has stalactites and the fossil bed, according to the brochure, dates back to 33 million years. Fossils found are of the Pleistocene Age and are displayed at the University of Florida Natural History Museum.

The camping was my favorite part. The Devil’s Den does not allow dogs near the grounds of the “swimming hole,” but they are allowed in the RV camping area, which is where we camped with the bus. We arrived about 10 PM on a Friday night to find the gate locked! There was phone number on a large sign but before we could call, someone was leaving the property to get a late night snack and let us in. We found an RV spot for our tiny bus and pulled in. One set of our kids arrived a couple hours later (and they called the number and were given a code to get through the gate.) The “kids” delivered their dog to us in the RV side and they retreated to the “tent only” area and set up their tent. The following day, I went to the office to confirm we were onsite and they reassigned our camping spot to an even nicer spot. It had a very large lawn area behind it which was ideal for long games of fetch to tire out the dogs. I swear they were having as much fun as we did! Our other two children joined us that afternoon and set up a tent near the first under a massive old tree.

We enjoyed a campfire, cook outs and even toasted marshmallows. There were long walks to explore. There is a heated swimming pool for campers and showers on both the men’s and women’s side. We loved the old Florida countryside. On our departure there was a crossing guard in the road complete with vest, flashing lights, etc. However, it wasn’t children crossing for school… it was a horse crossing from one side of the road to the other. In town, there were all the normal amenities such as Winn-Dixie, McDonalds, Taco Bell, etc. We encountered a pleasant surprise when we decided to stay an extra evening and go out for dinner. We found a restaurant open on Easter Sunday after 6 PM, Shogun Sushi. We rate it highly for the vast selection and good quality.

We found the Devil’s Den office to be very helpful, which seemed to contradict a few reviews. However, with a hundred people in line by 9 AM, each with their own questions, concerns and issues, I am not surprised some would not be satisfied with a lack of immediate response or attention. Our experience was great. We understood divers took precedence. In fact, one member of our party lost a Gopro camera during a snorkel. We stopped in the office to report it but since it was a crowded weekend we were not at all hopeful for its return. Four hours later the office called to inform us a Gopro had been turned in. When we picked it up they even made sure we were the correct people getting it. We were grateful!

We left Devil’s Den and decided to explore a bit on the way home. Less than an hour away we found Manatee Springs State Park. Although it was not season for it, a manatee was sighted the day before. This spring goes to the Suwanee River. There is a long boardwalk, which only is a fraction of the eight and a half miles of trails in the park. A concessionaire rents paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. And, there is plenty of camping! We can’t wait…

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