Archive for June, 2010

In LaBelle, looking north along SR 29

Finally reached the booming metropolis of LaBelle. I say that sarcastically, but it is a nice town, and bigger than I expected. It looks isolated on a map, but it’s not far from Fort Myers, and is the county seat of Hendry County. Crossing the Caloosahatchee River bridge (above), I was right at the beginning of the local historic district (photos and street view). I parked and started walking. There was some sort of church party going on at the park there, then realized, of course, ‘cause it’s Easter. Another small district, only a block long (I like those). Just beyond it was the Forrey Building (photos), which looked rather modern and not NRHP at all. There was a restaurant in it and I was hoping I could eat there (theme 3, if anyone’s counting, or is it 2), but it was closed.

Back in the car and heading south for my next stop, the Old Hendry County Courthouse (photos). Can I just say I think it’s neat? The tower on one side is so odd, and makes it different from any of the other courthouses I’ve seen. I got shots of it and the local history museum a couple of blocks away. Stopped at Wendy’s for lunch, since I needed something and the Forrey place was closed. Next went to city hall that was about a mile away. Very impressive, very solid. Then it was to the Capt. Francis A. Hendry House. Captain Hendry was the person after whom the county was named, big surprise. I could tell the house had been reno’ed, and a very expert job was done. It looked spiffy. That finished LaBelle.

Or so I thought. After I left and was a good many miles away, I was checking my lists, and realized I’d missed one NRHP site, the Caldwell Home Place. Oh, I was peeved to no end. The thought of having to make a special trip back to LaBelle, which really isn’t on the way to anywhere I still need to go. I’ll just have to make it be on the way for some trip. Maybe to Fort Myers, as there’s a few spots I didn’t get to on this trip. Of which, more later.

Speaking of Fort Myers, the next leg was a jog almost to there. I was planning to go through it via Naples, but there were some spots on the eastern outskirts that weren’t too far from LaBelle, so I thought I’d hit them up. First was Fort Denaud (photos), not much more than a traffic sign on SR 78. I crossed a bridge over a small canal, then stopped at the local cemetery. Because I have a thing for cemeteries. The historicity of them, doncha know. Didn’t get out, just drove by and snapped a couple.

Panorama view of the Alva Consolidated Schools

Continuing west, I began the next phase of the schools theme. Three in a row. The Alva Consolidated Schools, Olga School and Buckingham School. The last two are now community centers, but it’s nice to see them all still being used, in whatever capacity.

Construction on SR 82

When I got to SR 82, I took a wrong turn. I wondered why I was seeing multi-story buildings, then realized I was headed towards Fort Myers. Not yet! I U-turned and headed east, where I meant to go. And oh goody, construction for miles and miles (above). Just before I got to SR 29 again, I saw Hotel 82. Looks well-kept, but how it stays in business when it seems so isolated, who knows?

Not long after I got to Immokalee. The Roberts Ranch (part of a museum) was the only thing I needed, and of course it was closed. Yeah, Easter Sunday. Found out it’s open by appointment only anyway. Got what I could from outside the fence. I could try coming back in future, but I won’t cry if that doesn’t happen.

SR 29, a few miles south of Immokalee

Now was a good stretch of driving. SR 29 is very straight around here. More lush vegetation around, which ain’t a surprise, since I was getting near the Everglades. Then I entered the Florida Panther NWR, and suddenly there were tall fences on both sides of the road. There looked to be culverts here and there too, so panthers could pass under the road. And for the first time in all my travels, I saw signs that had day and night speed limits listed. To reduce the risk of hitting stray panthers, one supposes.

Eventually I got past the NWR. I wanted to see Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, but too much else to do, so more skipped. Reached I-75, which SR 29 goes over. I like the look of the area, see if you agree (street view). After another 10 or 20 miles I got to US 41. Or as this stretch is better known, the Tamiami Trail. Since it connects Tampa and Miami, doncha know.

Everglades Community Church

I’d return to it later, but continued south into Everglades City, which was only 4 miles further. Now this is a place I could see myself revisiting. I don’t know why I like it, but I do. Maybe the small townyness, but not too small. I was a little confused getting around at first, but sorted that out. Found the traffic circle where the old community church was, and the old county courthouse (photos) almost across from it.

Quick history. Everglades City was the original county seat for Collier County. Then in the 1960s the seat moved to Naples, most likely because it was larger and not as remote. The original courthouse building still stands though, and now is the city hall (street view). Apparently it got seriously damaged during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, but it was restored, thank goodness.

All the stuff I needed photographs of were on or near the circle. Besides the two previously mentioned were the Bank of Everglades Building (for sale), the old depot (now a restaurant), Everglades Laundry (a local history museum) and the Rod and Gun Club, one of the oldest such clubs in the state.

Another 4 miles south was Chokoloskee, on Chokoloskee Island. A veritable mountain in the area, about 20 feet above sea level. Mostly because it’s a giant shell midden. Some mild confusion again, but found the Ted Smallwood Store (photos). Would have been nice to get there earlier, ‘cause the light wasn’t as good as I would’ve liked. But hey, if I ever get back to Everglades City, Chokoloskee’s only a shell’s throw away. The store is another one of those buildings I’m amazed is still standing. That it’s up on high pilings helps, I’d think.

Tamiami Trail, looking west at the SR 29 intersection

Back the way I came, and I’m at the Tamiami Trail in no time. Well, some time. But not much time. Another skip, Monroe Station. It’s too late, and too far east. So it’s west on the Trail, to Naples.

I can only imagine what it was like driving between Miami and Naples back in the day. I think Mom and Dad made the trip a few times, though maybe it was on Alligator Alley. Even now, there’s not much of anything, except swamp. And I don’t think the road was in as good condition years ago. Many would consider the area desolate, even though there’s a whole complex ecosystem working all around. There’s a simplicity of purpose to places like this. Maybe it’s the lack of human presence that I find so serene. You can forget about all the complexities of modern life. I think it’s one of the big things that attracts me to the backroads.

I reached the Collier-Seminole State Park (photos), which was still open, but not for long, since sunset was soon. The pictures I got weren’t great, but they’ll do. The Bay City Walking Dredge No. 489 impressed me a lot.

After leaving the park, it was less than 10 miles before I reached the outskirts of Naples. The backroads part of the trip was over. It’d be big city roads after this.

It was about 7, so well time to find somewhere to crash. I wasn’t going to, but I decided to try the Bayfront Inn, pricey place though it looked to be. My luck was good, though, since I got a 3rd floor room for about $100, about $30 less than normal. Probably because it was a Sunday night, and what with the economy and all.

The hotel was part of a mall type of complex, so I walked around after checking in and found an Italian restaurant, Portobello Cafe. Which was ironic, since the only portobello dish on the menu was an appetizer. They had the doors open, which was a thrill, since it was definitely toasty and muggy. I toughed it out, and it was so worth it. I got chicken veggie soup and garlic bread to start, and spaghetti and meatballs. Sometimes simple is best, and that was the case here, ‘cause it was all good to very good. The one curious note was that the staff all seemed to be Hispanic, nobody Italian there at all. But hey, considering the results, maybe there should be more like that.

Back at the hotel I watched Iron Chef America. It was Morimoto and the secret ingredient was leeks. Mister Iron Chef won, as expected. Mom would’ve like this one, she had grown rather fond of leeks.

I had been tired on and off since 2 pm, so a good night’s sleep would do me world of good. Yet I stayed up later than planned doing map and itinerary sorting. Still, went to be bed about 12:30, which wasn’t that awful.

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It’s called Time Crash, a one-off Children In Need special from 2007. It’s set between the seasons with Martha and Donna. I stumbled across it a while back, and it’s overdue that I let others know about it. It’s really a sweet little gem of a story. Enjoy.

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Wound up waking up at 7, ‘cause I didn’t notice there was a window in the kitchenette area, so failed to cover it. Live and learn. Got cleaned up and some coffee in me, which pepped me up. Loading the car helped too, since it was a bit brisk and breezy outside. Not a cloud in the sky either. The weather proved to be spectacular the whole day.

One of the two Clewiston Historic Schools buildings

Got out by 8:30, and found my first photo op easily, the Clewiston Historic Schools (photos). This was the beginning of second theme of the trip. The first, lest we forget, was construction. Number 2 was schools. I saw more historic schools all over the place than I have on any other trip. Usually for me it’s churches that I run across. The school theme, though, will become obvious as I recount my journey. The sub-theme of this was that almost all the schools I ran across were closed, even the ones I hit on Monday and Tuesday. I guess it was spring break in southwest Florida. Lucky me.

Next I got three historic houses that were fairly close together. And theme number 1 reared its ugly head, as the street they were on was tore up. Not so much that I couldn’t get close enough to take pictures, but still.

Then I went back to the Clewiston Inn and parked. From there I was able to walk and get the rest of the stuff in town I needed (the Inn, the Dixie Crystal Theatre, the local history local history museum, and city hall). As a bonus, I stumbled across the offices of US Sugar, so I snapped a couple of that.

I headed west about 10 and stopped at the local Super Wal-Mart before I completely left town. Mostly it was because of a minor recurring car issue. I picked something up that corrected the problem for the rest of the trip and a few weeks after, hurrah. Also picked up some trail mix to snack on if need be, and these cool individual powdered coffee creamer tubes that Mom found out about and liked. Didn’t take too terribly long and was back on the road soon after.

I kept an eye out, and still no mile markers. It must be something they’re doing in Palm Beach County only. The US 27 and SR 80 intersection (street view) is jazzed up. I can remember on my numerous trips to Miami how basic it was. Stop sign from the SR 78 side and that was it. Now there’s lights and nice road paving and everything.

Yes, I would go down US 27 to Miami, not the Turnpike. Back in the 80s I hated being a hostage to it. The tolls, the expensive food and gas at the toll plazas, it was a racket. It’s better now, but I hardly ever need to use the Turnpike anyway, ‘cause it’s not usually convenient to the way I travel. The day before was probably the third time I’ve used it in 10 years. US 27 was so much more scenic, and only took an hour longer. The only bad part was south of Lake Okeechobee, and that’s finally been four laned, so it’s all good. Mind you, there’s been a crapload of development on some stretches, especially around the main routes to Orlando. Still, I prefer my good old US 27. A friend of Mom’s still goes that way to visit her family in south Florida, so I’m not the only one.

Heading north on US 27, it’s only a few miles before you see the bridge over the Moore Haven Canal (above), bigger than life (street view). It’s the biggest thing in Moore Haven, really. It’s strange seeing it this way, since as much as I hate the Turnpike, I’d usually drive it on the way back from Miami. Driving US 27 at night was scary. There was so much nothing, and being way before cell phones, God help you if you had a car problem.

So there’s the bridge and what’s the first thing I see after I’m over it? The Glades County Courthouse (above). It was getting well after 11, and the midday light (the couple of hours before and after the sun hits its zenith) is the best for photos, I think. Though near sunset has its advantages at times. While photographing, I looked and looked, and couldn’t see the waterline. When the area was flooded in 1926, the first floor of the courthouse was totally submerged. There’s still a faint line where the water rose to, but I couldn’t see it. Something to think about, though.

I backtracked to hit the downtown historic district (photos and street view) first, since it’s only a block long. The dilapidated state of the old buildings is sad, and an odd contrast to the new park across the street from them. My favorite part of the district, though, is on the canal which was dredged years ago to connect Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River. Right there at the end of Avenue J is the Lone Cypress Park (street view), one of the smallest parks I’ve seen. I don’t think it’s even half an acre. At the center is the Lone Cypress, used as a navigational aid way back when. It really stands out, as you hardly ever see cypress trees like this in Florida. And this one looks like, I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it looks like a giant bonsai. It looks very sculpted and stately. Peaceful, too. It’s the kind of tree you could sit under and read a book for hours.

A Masonic Lodge, in the residential district

After that I drove around the residential historic district (photos) and took pictures. The houses are all very old frame vernacular style buildings, quite a few on the ramshackley side. I’m not sure if any of them were survivors of 1926 flood, but if not they were probably built not much later.

I stopped at the larger city park and called my friend Richard. I used to call Mom around 11 when I was at work, and did the same when I was on a roadtrip. Then I’d call her every two to three hours after, so in case anything happened to either of us, the other could notify authorities and that sort of thing. Now that she’s gone, I thought it would be a smart idea to still continue that, for safety reasons. Even though it was nearing noon, it was still cool in the shade. I love spring in Florida.

As I headed west out of town, I thought of all the people who’ve driven through Moore Haven over the years. Passing through, with little thought of where they were, only where they were going. A few minutes, a half-hour, just a little time taken out of their travels and they could have discovered a little gem like the Lone Cypress Park. I’ve said for the longest time that you should enjoy the journey as much as the destination. So many are in such a hurry, how much better our lives would be if we slowed down every so often to enjoy the scenery.

I thought there weren’t any BP gas stations for a ways, but before I got out of Moore Haven, whoomp, there one was.

To explain. I got gas cards for BP for this trip. That way I wouldn’t need to carry as much cash. They’re much more convenient, and BP gas is often the cheapest. This was all before the spill, mind, but I may still use them in future, since it takes some of the worry out of travelling.

I really wanted to see what was left of the Cypress Knee Museum (street view), but it was rather out-of-the-way, so skipped it.

Ah, the Cypress Knee Museum. So sad it closed back in 2000. There’s not much left of it, I gather. I always looked forward to it on my trips down to Miami. I never actually stopped there, but it was a comforting landmark. And all the Burma-Shave style signs the owner put up along US 27 to let people know about it. The place was everything I love about kitschy tacky touristy Florida. Some may not like that aspect of our fair state, but to me, that’s part of its charm. I finally did stop there a couple years after it closed, and I can only imagine what it was like in its heyday. If I’d taken half-an-hour whilst it was still in business… Ah, regrets.

Just about when I decided to skip the museum, I saw one of the familiar brown signs for a Florida Heritage Site. One that I never knew about. It wasn’t much of a detour, so I took a turn and headed down SR 78. Which went through major cattle country. I really hadn’t realized how extensive the industry was. It looks like it’s in every county around Lake Okeechobee, and the counties next to them.

Panorama view in Ortona Indian Mounds Park

I reached Ortona, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Drove by the local cemetery, where Billy Bowlegs III is buried. Just past it is a dirt road which leads to the heritage site, a park behind the cemetery. Ortona Indian Mounds Park, that is (street view of entry road). I didn’t see much in the way of mounds, as they appeared to be overgrown. Nice little park, however. Had a small portable building that was a police station. The park was right on the shores of Lake Wobegon too. No, not that one.

Onward after that to SR 29 south. I soaked in the isolation of it all. Hardly any signs of civilization. This is what Florida must have looked like back in the 19th century and before. An air conditioned car stocked with Altoids, the open road, what more could you ask for?

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What a beautiful episode. It’s so refreshing to see a show actually wrap up story lines at the end of a a season, and Glee did so with several, very satisfyingly. About the only low point for me was the Vocal Adrenaline performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody“. It was so stagey and artificial. Technically done well, but the feeling was lacking. It’s everything I hate about Riverdance and Celtic Woman and all that kind of stuff.

The high point was near the end, when New Directions sings… no, I won’t spoil it. You can watch it yourself. I’ll just say it’s a song from a ’60s movie, and is perfectly placed, plotwise. And if you’re like me, you’ll bawl like a baby. I just watched it again, and the tears, they were a-flowin’. Can’t wait until the fall. Plus they’ll be adding John Stamos to the cast! The show keeps getting better and better.

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The Desert Inn

So my first real stop was good ole Yeehaw Junction, home of the Desert Inn and Restaurant (photos and street view), listed on the NRHP. Middle of nowhere now, but a popular passthrough for farm workers and cattle drivers back in the day. Got a meal to go, which I’d never done at an NRHP site. That turned out to be one of the themes of this trip. More on that later.

The road through the Preserve

Down US 441 I went, turning off eventually to visit Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (photos). Good lord, talk about out of the way. Anyone who says Florida is overdeveloped, just go to this park and you’ll be disabused of that notion. I did my usual quick hit-and-run tour, since it would take the good portion of a day to explore the whole place.

Leaving there, I headed south again until I reached US 98, which took me to the city of Okeechobee (photos). It’s bigger than one might expect, considering its location. No skyscrapers or such, mind you. There are a lot of visitors that go boating and fishing on the lake throughout the year, which I suppose helps. I’m not strongly moved by the city; don’t particularly love or hate it. To me, it’s a gate to other places.

Amongst the pictures I took, I got some of the Freedman-Raulerson House (photos), the only NRHP site in the city. South on US 441 again, I started the loop around the east side of Lake Okeechobee. I couldn’t find the Okeechobee Battlefield, which is not only on the NRHP, but is a National Historic Landmark. Have to do more research, since it’s the only place keeping me from having photos of all the NRHP sites in Okeechobee County. I love when I can knock out a county like that, and hate when I get close but can’t.

After a bit, I hung a left and caught State Road 710 to get to Indiantown. What’s in Indiantown, you may ask? The Seminole Inn (street view), I answer. It’s main claim to fame is that Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, stayed there because her uncle had built the hotel and helped develop the town. They also say they make great fried green tomatoes. I wish I’d had time to try them out.

Back to US 441, and Port Mayaca. Got shots of Cypress Lodge, best I could. Down to Pahokee. I couldn’t find the old Pahokee High School. When I got home, I discovered I’d had an imprecise location, and had driven right by it. Couldn’t check it off, therefore.

I did get to accomplish one of my big goals for this trip, which was to drive the entire length of US 441 in Florida. When we lived in Miami, it was a few blocks from the house and I drove up and down it a bunch. Then we moved here to Ocala and I moved to Gainesville, so I drove the stretch of US 441 between the two for more than 20 years. Over time, I’d driven every other section in the state, except the one bit between Pahokee and US 27. The last time I was there, in 2005, there was major construction going on. Not resurfacing, oh no. The road was gone. They’d removed an I-don’t-know-how-long stretch of it (several miles, at least), so I had to detour. Well, 5 years later, it was all done, and very nice it is too (street view).

On to Belle Glade, then left and heading west on US 27 through South Bay. I’ve heard there’s problems with the Dike, but I didn’t see anything. I noticed mile marker signs, like on the Interstates. Weird. They stopped at the Hendry County border. I wonder if it’s something that’s in the works for all the US routes?

I made no hotel reservations for the trip, since I didn’t know how far I’d get each day. I had a feeling that I’d have to stay in Clewiston the first night, and so it was. I hardly got any pictures, since it was close to sundown at this point. I found a nice efficiency style hotel, and only about $50 a night. The room had a full kitchenette! I’ll have to remember to look for this kind of place on future trips.

Where to eat? I decided to indulge and went to the Clewiston Inn (street view), which I’d say is the most important NRHP site in town. They have a gorgeous mural in the room where the bar is. The place is, as they say, top drawer. Sadly, I had the entire dining room to myself. A couple did come in after I sat, though. The waitress brought out some very good cornbread. There was barbeque on the menu, from the Old South Bar-B-Q, a place that had burned down and the Inn had acquired the name and recipes to use. But I didn’t want to go someplace that fancy and have barbeque. Since it wasn’t Good Friday, I didn’t need to restrict myself to fish. So I had prime rib (good, though a bit more rare than I ordered), mashed potatoes (good and fresh, with chunks and bits of skin), and hushpuppies (very good, but odd, since I’ve always gotten them with fish) Had room for desert, so I tried their key lime pie. Really good, and not too tart.

I returned to the hotel and called my friend Jeff, since I was so close. He lives in Broward County, and was only about 70 miles away. We talked, then I watched TV for a while. There was no FNC, though, how annoying. I did get to bed early, well before 10 PM.

That was day one. The editted highlights. And I got started late. Hang on for the next three days!

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