Leave The Turnpike At Fort Pierce And Go West
by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)
On June 15, 2011, I was returning from Miami to Mount Dora and was on the Florida Turnpike. Traffic was very heavy on this Friday afternoon before the weekend, so I decided to get off and enjoy the peace and quiet of the back roads.
I got off the Turnpike at the Fort Pierce exit and went north on CR-713 for a about 2 miles to State Road 68, also known as "The Florida Cracker Trail". Two lane CR-713 goes west for about 24 miles to US-441.
The Florida Cracker Trail goes through vast reaches of cattle land. I probably only saw two or three cars on the entire 24 miles stretch. One of the biggest of the ranches is the Adams Ranch, established in 1937, and currently run by Florida pioneer Alto "Bud" Adams.
At the intersection of US-441 and Florida Cracker Trail is the MacArthur Dairy Farm, one of the biggest in the state of Florida.
I turned north on US-441 and went north toward Yeehaw Junction. Almost no traffic. I stopped in Fort Drum, about 6 miles north of where I got on US-441, and about 14 miles south of Yeehaw. Fort Drum was one of several forts built in the desolate wilderness of this area during the Seminole Wars.
I visited the old Fort Drum cemetery and looked at the graves of pioneers of this vast empty stretch of cattle land. The cemetery is about one mile east of US-441 on a paved road and is well maintained except for a few old tombstones that have tumbled down.
As I passed through Yeehaw Junction I noted that there is now a
full blown traffic light. It replaced a flashing yellow light that was probably there 30 years or more. Before that I remember there was no light, only four way stop signs. Progress, I guess. The Desert Inn (on the National Register of Historic Placess) had several cars parked in front; it was cocktail hour and there isn't another place around for miles in either direction. I didn't go in but imagined thirsty travelers enjoying their favorite beverages to wash down the famous Desert Inn chili.
I kept north on US-441 to Kenansville, then headed west on County Road 523 also known as Canoe Creek Road. As I passed through Kenansville, I noticed that the Heartbreak Hotel is for sale. Again, almost no cars until I'd gone about 30 miles through cattle land to the south edge of St. Cloud. Traffic began to build as I passed through St. Cloud, but since I had just come from Miami it didn't phase me at all.
I then meandered north and then around East Lake Tohopekaliga and went east along the north shore of the lake until I came to County Road 15 (also known as Narcoosee Road) which I then took north all the way to Aloma Avenue in Goldenrod then west into Winter Park and had dinner at Bosphorous, a Turkish restaurant, on Park Avenue.
From St Cloud all the way north to Winter Park is now largely urban with sprawling residential subdivisions and shopping centers. It's hard to believe that I had just spent more than one hour driving serenely through cattle ranges that had not changed much at all in the past 100 years or more.