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The Search for the Giant Alligator: A Motorcycle Ride through Florida

A Motorcycle Trip in Florida: Day Two

We left Sebring early and rode east on US 98 to Okeechobee through a thick morning fog. Crossed the Kissimmee River in the fog and saw nothing except a couple of Sandhill Cranes along the road.

We ate a bad breakfast in Okeechobee, at a little Mom and Pop restaurant on the square. Several of the diners were Seminole Indians, probably from the nearby Brighton Reservation.

We motored along the rim canal of Lake Okeechobee on SR 78, near the edge of the Brighton Indian Reservation, past many fish camps and several good spots to see the lake. We rode over the dike and down to every boat ramp we could find. The entire lake is surrounded by a huge dike, built after the killer hurricane of 1928, to prevent flooding. You can ride all 100 or so miles around Lake Okeechobee and never see the lake itself unless you cross over the dike.

Next, we rode north on US 27 to Palmdale and stopped at Gatorama, a classic 1950's Florida alligator attraction in the middle of nowhere. Covered boardwalks take you past several gator ponds and other captive wildlife. Gatorama has seen better days as far as the tourist trade goes, but it's still an impressive gator pit. To the best of my knowledge, there's only about a dozen of these old time gator attractions left in Florida

After leaving Gatorama, we attempted to find the old Cypress Kneeland attraction in Palmdale, but couldn't locate the remains. Cypress knees are those curiously shaped "roots" that grow at the base of large Cypress trees. Cypress Kneeland existed on US 27 for many years and was advertised by the hand made wooden signs the proprietor, Tommy Gaskins, placed up and down the highway for miles in all directions. The last one I saw, back in the early 1970's, said "Lady if he won't stop hit him on head with shoe."

Tommy Gaskins died and Kneeland sat abandoned for years. Vandals broke in and stole many of the knees. I read a few years ago that his son was trying to reopen the attraction, but apparently nothing ever came of it. On to Moore Haven for a gas stop.

We then headed south on 833 through the Devils Garden. This whole area is primarily cattle farms, orange groves and cypress swamps. Few tourists come this way. The road was almost deserted and we saw several Swallow Tailed Kites, lots of hawks and many buzzards. Later, we stopped under another giant oak tree for a break. We were there for a half-hour or so and I don't remember seeing a single car drive by. It's hard to find a more isolated place than this in Florida.

We rode further south on 833 to the Big Cypress Indian Reservation for a stop at Billie's Swamp Safari (more giant alligators, swamp buggy and airboat rides) and a ride through the reservation. This place is not on the way to anywhere and you have to intentionally come here; no one drives by accidentally. This is the Big Cypress Reservation and not affiliated with the giant Miccosukee Casino in Dade County.

We leave the Indian Nation heading south on the Snake Road and came out at Alligator Alley. (I-75) We decided to make an exception to our no Interstate rule and rode our motorcycles on the Alley west through heavy traffic and high winds. Even though it is a modern interstate, it crosses a beautiful landscape of sawgrass and cypress swamps. Few people notice as they zoom through at 75 miles per hour.

We leave the Alley and turn south on SR 29. This road runs south to the Ten Thousand Islands and Everglades City and crosses the Tamiami Trail at Carnestown. We turn off SR29 at the little town of Copeland. Copeland is the gateway to the Fakahatchee Strand and one of the most isolated towns in Florida. If you don't mind riding on dirt roads, Jane's Scenic Highway is a must. This road runs north from Copeland through the heart of Fakahatchee Strand. The Strand is a jungle full of orchids and cypress swamps and one of the last haunts of the Florida panther.

We arrived in Everglades City where we stayed for the night. Everglades City was built as a company town in the 1920's by Baron Collier, a millionaire land developer. It's unique in two ways. First, it was a planned city and still looks that way today. Many of the old buildings are still there, although a block of old commercial buildings on the main square burned down in the 1980's. Secondly, it's totally surrounded by hundreds of square miles of mangrove forests and saltwater wilderness.

We checked into the Everglades City Motel. This was a very decent little motel that was exceptionally clean and neat. The parking lot is paved but it has the required plastic chairs by the door.

After a ride around the city, we headed to the Rod and Gun Club. The club was originally built in the 1920's as a private home but was soon turned into a hotel, restaurant, and watering hole for rich fishermen. It's paneled in dark pecky cypress and the walls are covered with mounted fish and old photographs. Today it's still a hotel and restaurant and is open to the public.

For a better glimpse of the old days in the Ten Thousand Islands, check out the Smallwood Store Museum in Chokoloskee; a small island just south of Everglades City. Ted Smallwood built the store just after the turn of the century as a trading post with the local Seminoles. It sits over the water and is shaded by numerous palms and pine trees. It's now operated as a museum.

If you're interested in what passes for nightlife in Everglades City, you must go to the Chickee Bar at the Baron River Resort. It's nothing more than a beer and fish joint under a giant chickee. It sits right on the river and has an interesting clientele. Be sure to check out the blue neon snook in the parking lot.

The whole city was bug free until near sundown, when the Yellow Flies came out. Soon after that, the mosquito trucks started making their rounds, so we went indoors.

A word to the wise - the mosquitoes in this area can be ferocious from April through October, depending on the weather. Always carry insect repellant and use it.

Travel Pictures

Motorcycle Ride in Florida
Motorcycle Ride in Florida


Fxrguy says:

Great trip. I live in Florida and a lot of the places you describe are places I ride quit a lot but I still learned about a few places. Loved it!
Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 9:47 PM

warhoop63 says:

This is the type of adventure, trip down memory lane that I love. Great journaling of the trip. A wonderful trip, and a wonderful read!
Sun Sep 14, 2008 at 5:47 PM

BilltheDiver says:

Great story and some good pictures! I moved here in the 70's and have been to most of the places you visited. Brings back memories. There are more spots to be discovered like Solomon's Castle and the Linger Lodge. Thanks for sharing the adventure!
Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 12:55 PM

Riverman777 says:

That was a good adventure story. Nice job. I'll bet you guys enjoyed it. I live up around the Crestview area. I'm looking forward to making that trip soon. Good luck and happy trails. michael
Fri Mar 16, 2007 at 7:56 AM

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