Imagine taking a walk out in the hot desert of Nevada. The rocky dirt trail crunches underneath you. The sun is bright and hot and reflects off clumps of hard rock so that you have to shield your eyes with a flattened hand. All around you everything is beige, the color interrupted only by sage green bushes scattered across the valley floor and the grey-blue mountains rising up beyond.
Scrambling down some boulders in a narrow gully you come across a hole in the ground, a small rectangular pool of clear, deep blue water. There is a short algae-covered shelf of rock jutting out across a third of the pool, so you roll up your jeans and step in. The water is warm and welcoming, and as you slosh forward, you get to the shelf’s end. Peering over the side you see shimmering shelves of blue and white and green. You decide to take a dip. As you ease yourself into the water, you find a need to tread water, as the sides of the pool are vertical rock, and your feet don’t touch the bottom of this narrow oasis.
In fact, your feet won’t touch for at least another 400 feet down. You are now dangling on the surface of a column of dark water over 40 stories high.
Devil’s Hole is the entrance to a vast limestone chasm whose depth is still not known. United States Geological Survey cave divers sank through the inky blackness to the 436 feet mark in 1991, and with their powerful flashlights could still see for another 150 feet below before it curved out of sight. According to professional diver Jim Houtz, “at the end of the tube it opens again into something else. We don’t know what the next room is, or if it’s a room at all. It’s like infinity.”
The unique nature of Devil’s Hole allows it to perform another cool trick: It serves as an indicator of distant seismic events. An earthquake occurring thousands of miles away will shake the vast reservoir of water deep within Devil’s Hole, and having nowhere to go but up, the pool will violently climb the rocky sides of the cavern only to be sucked down again. This occurs over and over again, appearing very much like a toilet being flushed.
Unfortunately for those enticed by bottomless pits and the claustrophobic abyss, Devil’s Hole is off limits to the public, as it houses one more secret: It is home to the tiny, critically endangered Devil’s Hole Pupfish. In fact, it is the only home of these little bluegrey (male) and brown (female) fish, whose total population hovers around one hundred. These pupfish, or C. diabolis, are extremely endangered, and so their sensitive habitat is surrounded by a tall prison-like barbed wire fence. You can walk out along an enclosed walkway to view the hole from above, but that is as close to the bottomless void as you will be able to get.