In the heart of Gator Country, a deep sinkhole swallows the waters of Paynes Prairie at its northeastern rim in Gainesville: La Chua Sink. On a prior, drier visit, I could see Sweetwater Branch cascading down into the throat of the sink, but the bowl’s pretty full right now, and water is gushing down into it at an incredible rate.
A new boardwalk guides visitors around the sink to a lookout point over the broadest part, where the alligators have their say. You’d think you were at a gator farm with all the creatures you see thrashing about in the shallows and sunning on the banks, but this is the biggest gator hole in Paynes Prairie, and they flock here from all over. What was truly freaky, however, was the high-speed run that Sweetwater Branch makes down from an old weir and culvert into the sink. Complete with its own rapids to rival the Little Shoals of the Suwannee, it also offers the scariest water hazard you’d ever encounter — massive gators around every bend. What do you call whitewater with alligators?