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

A Motorcycle Trip in Florida: Day Three

Huge storms moved through the area during the night. After watching the Weather Channel for an eternity, we elected to make a run for it. We suited up and headed east on US 41, known in Florida as the Tamiami Trail.

The Tamiami Trail was hacked out of the Florida Everglades in the 1920's. Until that time there were no roads south of Lake Okeechobee connecting Dade and Broward Counties to the cities along the Gulf of Mexico. This was a wilderness inhabited primarily by scattered bands of Seminoles. The Trail is still a two-lane road and it's still possible for traveler's to get a glimpse of old-time Florida. It's dotted with little towns, Indian villages, airboat rides and old style tourist attractions.

The roads were wet but the skies were improving. We stopped in the tiny little town of Ochopee and visited the Skunk Ape Research Center (also home to the world's largest concrete panther) and Wooten's Airboat Rides and Gator Pit.

Wooten's has been in the airboat and gator business for a long time and they have a truly impressive collection of very large alligators. On a busy day, their giant airboats roar off into the sawgrass at regular intervals. They sometimes display Big Al out front. Big Al is an enormous blue inflatable cartoon alligator that I believe is an affront to every giant fake alligator in Florida.

We also ride by the Ochopee post office, which claims to be the worlds smallest. It's about the size of an outhouse.

Bill and I stopped at what's left of Monroe Station. Now it just a boarded-up old frame building with nothing on the outside to distinguish it. It used to be a fascinating combination of a trading post, bar, barbecue joint, general store, gas station and a gift shop. The walls were covered with badly stuffed animals, wise-ass signs and giant pairs of women's panties with bawdy jokes printed on them. It was the only establishment of any kind for miles. It closed many years ago when the Big Cypress Preserve took over the property and the Trail hasn't been the same since.

We rode on through the Big Cypress Preserve and pulled into the Trailtown visitor's center for a rest stop. We pressed on through the sawgrass and the Everglades National Park portion of the Trail, with a ride through the Miccosukee Reservation. (More gator wrasslin')

The Tamiami Trail is dotted with Indian villages. In the early days of the Trail, these were the tourist attractions. Each one generally had a recreated Indian camp, gator wrasslin' and airboat rides. Most of the Old villages are still there but few still operate as attractions. They can't compete with the modern day Indian attraction - casinos.

The giant Miccosukee Casino on Krome Avenue marks the end of the rural portion of the Tamiami Trail. We turn south on SR 997 to Florida City. Even though this portion of the ride takes you through urban Dade County, it was much better then we expected. The traffic was light and the scenery was fairly pleasant. (Lots of tropical plant and palm tree nurseries)

We stop at the famous Robert is Here fruitstand, just west of Florida City, on the road to Everglades National Park. Robert has been selling produce and milkshakes here since 1960. He also keeps a herd of giant tortoises out back. Try the Key Lime shake.

We left Robert and headed south for Flamingo, in the Everglades National Park. As you ride up to the Park entrance, you see a wall of trees reaching for miles in both directions. Once you pass through this wall, you are instantly transported to a different world - tomato and bean fields on one side, a wilderness on the other. The transition is just that sudden.

The ride to Flamingo is breathtaking. We had the road almost to ourselves; a 38-mile stretch of two-lane road with no other vehicles in sight. We slow down to below the speed limit in order to make the ride last as long as possible. Eventually, we pulled over at a point about twenty miles north of Flamingo, and were absolutely alone in the middle of the Everglades. Few cars passed and sense of isolation was overwhelming.

We made stops at Paurotis Pond, Coot Bay Pond and West Lake and saw nesting Wood Storks and many Spoonbills. We saw four American Crocodiles basking on a mudbank across from the marina. Once in Flamingo, we pulled into the Buttonwood Restaurant and Lounge for a break, and then rode back to civilization.

We spent the night in Florida City at a chain motel. This was not in keeping with the spirit of the ride, but seemed like a good idea for our own safety. You should pony up for a good motel in this part of Dade County. This may prevent drug dealers and prostitutes from knocking on your door in the middle of the night.

The Oversea Highway to the Keys begins just a few miles down the road from Florida City.

Travel Pictures

Motorcycle Ride in Florida
Motorcycle Ride in Florida

Comments


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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