Posts Tagged ‘Dundee’

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My first encounter with the northern half of State Road 17 (also known as The Ridge Scenic Highway) was back in the ’80s. I was on my way back from Miami on US 27. I tended not to go on the Turnpike, about half for monetary reasons, and half scenic. It does have the advantage of speed and directness, I’ll admit.

But not only are there the tolls; back then the prices at the rest plazas were exorbitant. You were a hostage if you wanted gas or food. Admittedly, gas was less than a dollar a gallon back then (I know, hard to believe), but with the budget I was on, that was a lot. Plus I got bored with the scenery on the Turnpike.

US 27, conversely, went through moderate sized towns. You could get gas at any number of stations, and food not only at fast food places, but even supermarkets, if you wanted.

And the scenery. It was curves and rolling hills, and large stretches of open spaces. It’s flatter when you got south of Lake Placid, but with even more openness. It’s built up rather a lot since then, but it’s still isolated for the most part from Lake Placid down to I-75.

But even back then, I got bored with the same scenery. So I was looking at a map and saw the section of SR 17 near Frostproof. It paralleled US 27, so it would be easy to get back on it whenever I decided to do so. It’s also possible I may have read about the road, and it sounded interesting enough to explore. I’ve not visited the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, but I put it on the list in case folks want to hike and such.

Anyway, I don’t remember much specific from that first trip. I do know that it hasn’t changed much since then. I doubt (and hope) it never will. Because the road is like a time machine back to the Florida of almost a century ago.

It also now holds added meaning to me, since one of my last excursions with Mom was partly along this road. I’m glad I was able to share it with her. Good memories.

The first town you’ll encounter is the aforementioned Frostproof. Not a lot to see there, but below are some points of interest. If you’re there in February, you can attend the Orange Blossom Festival. (see Google map)

Continuing on, you’ll find the one thing I very distinctly remember from that first trip. It’s also why I recommend taking this roadtrip south to north. Because you won’t get the same dramatic impact going in the other direction.

You’ll barely get out of Frostproof when you’ll see the road ahead looking like it’s going to go over a cliff. There’s hills with orange trees and a lake (Lake Moody) in the distance. It actually freaked me out some when I first saw it, as I have an unfondness for heights. It’s not quite a phobia, more of an extremely healthy respect.

Soon you’ll see that the road drops down and curves to the left around the lake. Drive as slow as you can, traffic permitting, so you can get the full effect. It’s especially pretty in the evening, an hour or so before sunset. The gold and orange light on the hills and lake, sheer magic.

Immediately thereafter, you’ll go back up a hill. There’ll be much more of the up-and-down, and orange grove covered hills the rest of the way, as this is the Lake Wales Ridge. It’s the closest thing to a mountain range that the state’s got.

Next town, in about 7 miles, is Babson Park. Not much to see here, at least in my opinion. There’s Webber College, on Crooked Lake, and the Babson Park Woman’s Club.

After some more hilly driving for nearly 5 miles, you’ll reach the largest city on the route, Lake Wales. Well, actually the outskirts and Casa De Josefina. Nice Mediterranean Revival-ish style house, and there’s some others like it nearby, if you want to wander. (see Google map)

Once you get into Lake Wales, it can be a bit confusing, so have your maps on hand. If you’d like more info about the history of the area, go to the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot, which now houses the local historical museum.

Fall is the time to be in the area, if you like festivals. In October is the Pioneers Day Festival here, and the Fall Festival up in Haines City. Also in Haines City in November is the Swamp Cabbage and Wild Game Festival.

There are two historic districts in downtown: the small commercial one and the larger residential one. But the highlights to me are a National Historic Landmark and a gravity hill.

The last first. Spook Hill. I’ve been interested in the odd and unexplained since I was a kid. I’d read about Spook Hill, and wanted to experience it for ages. I had a time finding it once I started exploring Lake Wales. I finally found it next to the high school name after it.

Is it as weird as claimed? Pretty much. I’m sure it’s an optical illusion, but it really seems like your car is rolling uphill. Plus it’s free! How many of those kind of tourist attractions are there left in the world?

And before you leave Lake Wales proper, you must visit Bok Tower. It’s about 12 bucks to get in, but such a deal!

First off, after paying admission, you drive through more orange groves until you get to the parking lot. It’s a bit of a ways, so be patient. Go to the visitor center to get info about the area.

Then stroll to the tower itself. It’s on one of the highest points in peninsular Florida, which was as intended. Gorgeous as it is, though, equally as beautiful are the gardens surrounding it. Walk around and relax. Worth the trip, ain’t it? I was disappointed that one can’t get inside and to the top of the tower, but you can’t have everything.

Near the tower and part of the attraction is El Retiro. I was happily surprised, as I couldn’t find out exactly where it was beforehand, and there it was, part of the Bok Tower experience. This, you can get inside of, and there are tours offered. Separate admission price, though. Hopefully they got rid of that hornet’s nest nearby. They had gotten into the house when I was there, but was able to avoid them.

More NRHPs that I coincidentally found were the Mountain Lake Estates Historic District and Mountain Lake Colony House. Well, not the latter, but I assume it was somewhere in the area. There was an open gate near El Retiro, and it connected right to Mountain Lakes. It’s apparently a private residential community now, so gaining access any other way would probably take some doing. I was content enough to see what I could see this way.

If you want to see the two state parks in the area, Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek and Lake Kissimmee State Park, this is about the best place to get to them. They’re both well out of the way. I visited them because, you know, I wanted to visit all the state parks. The Broussard one, not much to see. It’s more for hiking and horseback riding, neither of which strikes my fancy. Lake Kissimmee at least has a picnic area. Both are in the “get away from it all” category of Florida state parks. (see Google map)

Just north of Lake Wales is Chalet Suzanne. Also a smidge hard to find, but worth the visit. Very quaint, it is. I didn’t eat there, but I might someday, ’cause I think it’d be trippy. There wasn’t anyone there when I stopped by, though, and I wonder if it’s long for this world. With the economy, I have my fears. So stop by soon, just in case. (see Google map)

In roughly six miles you’ll hit Dundee. Not a lot to see there, ‘cept the old railroad depot. Check it out.

Another pleasant six miles or so, and you’ll reach the next city. Haines City, that is. I like what they’ve done with the place. The old school is being used as a theatre, the old armory is renovated and in the middle of a park, the old motel (which reminds me of the old Marion Hotel here in town) is in use and the downtown historic district is in great shape. Thanks to the state’s Main Street Program, I’d wager.

Only a hop, skip and a jump north (less than 4 miles) is Davenport. The NRHP is the town itself, or the central part, at least, which is a historic district. If you park near the center, you can walk it in one go. But I’d recommend parking in a couple different spots and walking around those. I’m a big proponent of pacing yourself when doing historic districts.

So that’s the end of this roadtrip. Depending on where you live or are staying, you can continue on US 92, or head over to US 27. I’d suggest at least popping over to US 27, so you can visit Webb’s Candies.

I remember seeing the signs for their goat’s milk fudge on many a trip to and from Miami. Always meant to stop and check it out, but never did. Then I plum forgot about the fudge until I started my recent traveling. After driving through the area several times, I finally broke down and visited.

The fudge doesn’t taste goaty at all. I was expecting it to taste different somehow, so in a way I was a little disappointed. But not too much, as it was very good. Their ice cream is good too, and excellent value. The amount I got for the price I paid was much better than I expected. It was plenty enough to fill me up and tide me over the rest of the way to Ocala. I have got to get back there sometime.

That’s it, folks. See you on the road!

Route length: 40 miles

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Couple of weeks back I stayed away from home Saturday and Sunday. I partially re-enacted my Easter trip earlier this year. Managed to knock out 4 counties worth of NRHPs, Okeechobee, Glades, Hendry and Highlands. Also made more of a dent in Polk. The routes:

Day 1Day 2

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